Grab This!: JOHNNY GRIFFIN
Johnny Griffin (ts) Paul Bryant (org) Joe Pass (g) Jimmy Bond (b) Doug Sides (drs)
Recorded on Los Angeles; June 28, 1962
Grab This! (6:03) (Johnny Griffin)
63rd Street Theme (5:29) (Johnny Griffin)
Don’t Get Around Much Any More (8:33) (Ellington – Russell)
Offering Time (6:11) (Paul Bryant)
These Foolish Things (6:32) (Strachey –Link –Marvell)
Cherry Float (5:25) (Johnny Griffin)
JOHNNY GRIFFIN is surely one of the more adventurous, as well as one of the most stimulating, musicians on the current jazz scene. So, although there have been tenor-and-organ albums aplenty before this, it’s likely bet (and, as it turns out, a winning one) that Johnny’s first such effort would be something much more than a routine example of this sort of thing.
To be “adventurous”, of course, one doesn’t have to be a dabbler in strange, guaranteed-far-out sounds and chord patterns. Griffin, on the contrary, stands pretty firmly in the blues-rooted middle ground of today’s music. But he is far past the stage of merely turning out a series of indistinguishable, interchangeable “blowing” dates. He has, rather, turned his attention during the past couple of years to a wide variety of unconventional but also ungimmicky musical offerings – a with-strings album of songs associated with Billie Holiday (“White Gardenia”); the first merging of soul-music with a big band sound (“The Big soul-Band”); and unusual group of originals scored for a background that featured two basses and French horn (“Change of Pace”); an up-dating of folksongs (“The Kerry Dancers”).
Much the same spirit of soundly-constructed originality is in evidence on this LP. There is plenty of the deep-dyed earthiness, the excitement, and the blues-drenched atmosphere that the instrumentation sphere would lead you to expect. What is missing is the honking and wheezing and endless riffing so often found on outings of this type, the seeming inability to play anything except a 12-bar blues with back-beat – all the things make so many such dates sound several degrees raunchier and even more unbuttoned than honest rhythm and blues. IN short, Griffin ahs avoided the nonsense, the corn, and the apparent illiteracy, leaving us with the clean-limbed structure of a swinging, blues-y emotional and musically valid album.
It may be of importance that, in selecting his accompanying personnel, Johnny moved far afield from the usual Eastern stamping grounds. As it happened, he was to be finishing a job in San Francisco at a time when Riverside A&R chief Orrin Keepnews was also in California. Having set their plans in advance, the two made a swift trip to Los Angeles. Their object: to team Griff with some of the very funky talent that has come along in recent years to destroy the former image of “West Coast Jazz” as meaning only the ultra-cool and rather bloodless music of the late 1950s. Aided by a probably unprecedented amount of cooperation from another record company (Dick Bock of Pacific Jazz made available not only two of his exclusive artists and his recording studio, but also his own services as engineer!), they spent one afternoon in letting Johnny get the feel of exactly what the other musicians were into, and a second in recording a remarkably happy and, right from the start, relaxed date. A couple of standards (These Foolish Things for ballad tempo, and one of Ellington’s best to stretch out on); a new tune by organist Paul Bryant with a full quota of “church” in it; one previously-recorded Griffin number (63rd Street Theme, which refers to his Chicago origins) and two brand-new ones – and there it was.
Despite never before having been recorded in exactly this context, Griffin comes quite naturally to this or any other kind of blues feeling. Beginning his career with Lionel Hampton just after graduating from a Chicago high school, he then spent some time with trumpeter Joe Morris in what was basically a rhythm-and-blues band, although it had to be an unusual one, since the lineup also included Elmo Hope on piano and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Later training grounds included groups headed by such deep-rooted giants as Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey. From 1960 5o ’62 Johnny co-led a quintet in which his horn was effectively blended and contrasted with the heavier tenor sound of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. (Several albums by this widely successful ad excitingly booting group can be heard on the affiliated Jazzland label.)
Both Paul Bryant and guitarist Joe Pas are young men with bright-looking futures. Bryant was teamed for a while with saxophonist Curtis Amy and has since worked on the West Coast with groups of his own (Doug Sides is his regular drummer); he demonstrates here a more versatile touch than that of the more frequently encountered nothing-but-the-blues organist, but with a full measure of the right kind of soul. His opening solo on Grab This! Proves from the start that Paul’s groove is strictly topsoil (which, according t my dictionary, is the richest and darkest kind of earth). Pass hasn’t recorded much as yet, but is being carefully brought along by his several strong West Coast enthusiasts. After working with him here, Griffin was insistent in announcing that Pass is ready! Bassist Jimmy Bond, originally from Philadelphia, has fro some years been indispensable to a great many Los Angeles dates.
“Grab This!”, as an album title, might sound a bit like hard-sell advertising copy. But once you listen, chances are you’ll agree that it’s nothing more than good advice!
JOHNNY GRIFFIN ‘s other Riverside albums include –
The Kerry Dancers (420; Stereo 9420)
White Gardenia – a tribute to Billie Holiday (387; Stereo 9387)
Change of Pace (368; Stereo 9368)
The Big Soul-Band (331; Stereo 1179)
Johnny Griffin’s Studio Party (338; Stereo 9338)
The Little Giant (304; Stereo 1149)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RICHARD BOCK
Recorded at Pacific Jazz Studios, Los Angeles
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photographs by WOODY WOODWARD
This recording is available in both Stereophonic (RLP 9437) and Monaural (RLP 437) form.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GARUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, New York