Johnny Griffin

Released: 1998

  RW 103 CD | EAN: 8018344021034 | Buy CD
  RW 103 LP | EAN: 8018344121031 | 2LP Out of stock
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The uninhibited, boisterously extrovert nature of the Clarke-Boland Big Band was in stark contrast to the personalities of its co-leaders. Both Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland were self-effacing, unassuming characters who were always modest about their own musical accomplishments. As I have observed in the past, neither Kenny nor Francy were ever in danger of engulfing one another in explicit mutual admiration. As Boland remarked to me on one occasion: “Kenny was a very reserved person and he kept his thoughts to himself. He never expressed enthusiasm when I came in with a new arrangement; though he might give me a compliment – a small compliment – from time to time.” However, Gigi Campi remembers an incident which speaks eloquently of Clarke’s high regard for his partner. The band was rehearsing on one occasion without Kenny – he was standing out in front, rolling a joint. Suddenly he looked up in mock disbelief and genuine joy and said, “This band doesn’t need a drummer. That Belgian m-f swings it just with his writing, Goddam it!” Boland’s reputation as an outstanding arranger was well-earned. Not only was he a superb writer for big bands, but he was equally creative when arranging for small groups – as witness the sextet and octet tracks on this album. However, he has had far less public recognition for his distinctive and elegant piano playing, although it earned great respect from his fellow musicians. Says Johnny Griffin: “He has a very delicate style of playing, reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal. He has a special touch – instead of hammering the piano like Bud Powell, he gets a bell-like sound from it. lt is a very distinctive approach”.

Francy’s piano artistry is well in evidence on the first three tracks of this album, on which he is accompanied by the ever-supportive bass of Jimmy Woode and the inspired, immensely swinging drumming of Kenny Clarke. “Gamal Sadyi’n’Em” is a modal composition by Jimmy Woode who tells me that “Gamal” is Swedish for “old” and is used here in the sense of “good old”. The piece is dedicated to the trio’s rhythm section colleague in the C-BBB, Fats Sadi – and the rest of the guys. Woode opens the proceedings with some mellow ad-lib bass. Boland’s refreshing solo makes use of some oblique lines based on a wholetone scale and Woode follows, first in tempo and then a cappella with Clarke laying out.

Neal Heftiis appealing minor-key composition, “Lonely Girl”, is taken at a lively tempo and has a fine, free-wheeling solo from Boland, who clearly enjoys exploring the rich harmonic changes. And just note the tremendous lift imparted to the piece by Kenny Clarke’s faultless brushwork.

“Gyson’s Bag” is a Jimmy Woode blues in D minor. (Gyson was Kenny Clarke’s nickname for Gigi Campi). Boland’s solo has fine, flowing lines and there follows a two-chorus work-out on brushes by Clarke, the last four bars of which feature a typical Klook rhythmic pattern. Woode then solos against Clarke’s brushes and light cymbal beat, finishing unaccompanied and out of tempo.

The next three tracks are variations on a theme which was later recorded by the Clarke-Boland Big Band at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London in February 1969 as “The Girl And The Turk”. Here the trio is augmented by ldrees Sulieman on trumpet, Àke Persson on trombone and Sahib Shihab on baritone saxophone and flute. ldrees Sulieman, from St. Petersburg, Florida, is a highly articulate bop trumpeter whose credentials include work with Thelonious Monk, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie. He made his home in Stockholm in 1961 and joined the Clarke-Boland Band in 1963. Àke Persson, from Hasselholm, Sweden, has been described by British writer Brian Priestley as “a brilliant improviser…with a melodic grace and fire all his own:” He worked in Sweden with Arne Domnerus, Harry Arnold and Lars Gullin and later recorded with George Wallington, Roy Haynes, Benny Bailey, Quincy Jones, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. From 1961 to 1975 he lived in Berlin and was a member of the RIAS Big Band. He was a founder member of the Clarke Boland Big Band in 1961 and was with the band until the end. He died in February 1975. Sahib Shihab was born Edmund Gregory in Savannah, Georgia, and played with Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk and Tadd Dameron in the forties. He later worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Pettiford and, in 1959, was a member of the Quincy Jones orchestra which toured Europe. That orchestra included other future C-BBB members Benny Bailey, Àke Persson and Joe Harris. Shihab joined the C-BBB in 1961 and, like Persson, was with the band until it broke up. He was an irrepressible individualist whose solos on baritone and flute were always challenging and unpredictable and frequently quixotic. He died in October 1989.

What stands out when you listen to this “Turkish delight” section of the album is the superlative solo-work of Francy Boland and the horns and the consummate arranging craft of Boland, whose writing cleverly imparts a big band sound to the sextet.

The excitement builds up as the suite proceeds, reaching a climax with “Muvaffak’s Pad” (the title refers to Turkish trumpeter Ahmed Muvaffak Falay – a one-time member at the C-BBB) which opens in 5/4 time in Bb minor and then moves into 3/4 and and D minor for the solos.

The next five tracks, featuring Milt Jackson with Sahib Shihab on flute and the rhythm trio, represent an unexpected bonus because, with the exception of “I’m A FooI To Want You”, they have not been issue before. Milt Jackson had come to Cologne originally to record with the big band but somehow the plans did not materialize and this smali group session was arranged instead. For Milt it provided a happy reunion with Kenny Clarke with whom he had founded the Modem Jazz Quartet in 1952 after they had worked together in the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. Milt recalls, “Kenny was one of the all-time great drummers – one of the most swinging cats who ever sat behind a drum kit”.

From the first bars of “Just Friends”, Jackson’s verdict is endorsed. Kenny Clarke’s light cymbal beat and his characteristic snare drum accents give the music a tremendous vitality. Jackson plays the theme with an obbligato from Shihab’s flute and there follow fine solos by Milt, Shihab and Boland.

Jackson steps out from behind the vibraphone for the next track and takes the vocal mike for “I’m A Fool To Want You”, a melancholy ballad of unrequited love. Milt, whose discography includes a couple of vocal albums – one, “Milt Jackson Sings”, recorded in ltaly for Festival with the Enrico Intra group in July 1964 and the other for Pablo, “Soul Believer”, made in 1978 – sings with what might be described as a musician’s voice. The intonation is sometimes a little wobbly, but the feeling is there.

“The Jumpin’ Blues”, a Jay McShann original which McShann first recorded in July 1942, follows. Milt solos with typical Elan, making much use of those trade-mark triplet quavers, Shihab follows with three choruses, the last featuring the flute and vocal unison effect and then Boland produces a solo which is most thoughtfully developed. Finally Shihab and Jackson swaps fours with klook before the theme is reprised.

The Jackson section concludes with two highly durable standards – “Like Someone In Love”, taken at a good walking tempo, and “Just You, Just Me” which is a feature for Jackson, with Shihab laying out. The concluding five tracks of this fascinating collection find the Littie Giant, John Arnold Griffin III, in exuberant form – and once again the resourceful smali group writing of Boland is powerfully in evidence.

George Duvivieris easy-tempoed 12-bar blues, “Foot Patting” is first up and it has inspired solo work by the splintering trumpet of Benny Bailey, the laconic, lugubrious baritone saxophone of Shihab, Persson”s trombone, muted but powerfully expressive, the sprightly, sparkling Boland and the fiery, spirited Griffin who, true to character, manages to incorporate quotes from “Nobody Knows The Trouble l’ve Seen” and “Mairzy Doats And Dozy Doats” into his solo.

Griffin really preaches the gospel on Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love”, sharing solo honours with Àke Persson, who has the last word with a deep, sepulchural Ab at the end.

“Deep Eight” is a Boland original in 6/8 time which features more blistering trumpet from Bailey, some typical, honking, visceral note patterns from Shihab’s baritone, Persson, authoritative as ever, and the unmistakably serpentine sounds of Griffin.

There follow two unison riff choruses and then Boland takes the piece out with a vamp figure. Johnny Griffin’s powerful blues, “The JAMFs Are Coming” – which, as everybody knows, heralds the arrival of those Jolly American Musical Fellows – has fine solos by Bailey on flugelhorn, Shihab on baritone – generating a wonderful, blues-intlected sound and smearing notes magnificentiy – Boland’s spare, elegant piano and then the mighty Persson – and note how the opening phrase of his solo is echoed by Kenny Clare. Griffin is last to solo, beginning sweet and low, buiiding up the heat and the tension as he gets into his stride and offering two more excerpts from his almanac of quotes – “The Campbells Are Coming” (as a change from the JAMFs) and “Baa Baa Black Sheep”.

The final track, “Lady Heavy Bottom’s Waitz” – Griffin’s tribute to an unspecified pear-shaped lady – is a showcase for the composer. It is an unusual 88-bar theme, the A section being a 24-bar blues and the B section a 16-bar bridge with some delightful changes. Boland’s arrangement is superb, with Persson taking the lead voice backed by Shihab’s baritone, Baiiey’s flugelhorn and Griffin’s tenor. It sets the seal on a collection of smali group jazz which, even three decades later, is still state of the art.

Mike Hennessey