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Bebop Spoken There

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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Tonight's Blue Note: Johnny Griffin Quartet - The Congregation

Johnny Griffin (tenor sax); Sonny Clark (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Kenny Dennis (drums).

It was JC who brought my attention to The Congregation, a Blue Note that had somehow slipped off my radar which is inexcusable as it is deserved of being included in anyone's 'best of' lists. I don't think Griffin made many recordings for the label but the two that I have, this one and Introducing Johnny Griffin  (Wynton Kelly, Curley Russell, Max Roach) are absolute crackers and Griffin more than holds his own compared to the label's big hitting tenor players such as Dexter, Hank, Joe Henderson and co.


Although regarded as a fast man, his prodigious technique didn't eschew feeling. He made every note count and I'm cursing for letting this one gather dust on the shelf for so long.

The title track, as the name implies, is along the lines of The Preacher and grooves along over the same changes. It is said they were looking for a disco hit which it wasn't (thank you God!). Latin Quarter is a so thinly disguised version of Tangerine that to call it a contrefact  would be stating the obvious. It doesn't make it any less of a classic track.

Other great numbers are, It's You or No One; I'm Glad There is You; I Remember You and Mainspring.  

Sonny Clark, naturally, is superb, Chambers equally so - particularly when he lays off the arco solos - Dennis is okay, how could he not be in this company? but I'd have preferred Max Roach from his previous session or Art Blakey with whom Griffin had done some messengering.

Thinking about Johnny Grifffin, who passed away aged 80 in 2008, brought to mind the fantastic JNE concert he played at the, now long gone, Connaught Hall in Newcastle back in 1967. Charlie Carmichael and I were having a pre-concert beer in the nearby Eldon Grill when in comes Johnny Griffin and his pianist Damian Robinson. Charlie, like Lester, leapt in and immediately begun to ask Johnnie about which reeds and mouthpieces he used. Johnny's reply was brief, concise and to the point "What beer do you recommend?"

In many ways, The Congregation is the jewel in the crown of the Blue Note catalogue in the Wolfe/Lyon days - to my eyes it still is.
Lance
PS: JC's particular interest was in the Andy Warhol cover design. Hopefully he'll check out the title track here.

7 comments :

Ron Ainsborough said...

Lance I was also at the fantastic concert in 1967 in the Connaught Hall'.

One anecdotal story I do remember was that at half time we ran down the stairs in the Eldon Grill for a drink thinking we would be ahead of the half time rush.

Not. So!!! The whole of the band including Johnny Griffin had drinks in their hands. Before we arrived.

The concert was another of my I was there on my list. On stage Johnny Griffin use to Lean in the curve of the grand piano if he was not doing one of his fantastic solos. I wonder if the beer was a little to strong for him ,but in no way did it inhibit his wonderful musicianship.
Great nights jazz.

Lance said...

Lucky Thompson once said that he asked Johnny Griffin how come he could play so good when he was stoned. Griffin replied "Because I was stoned when I learned to play"!

Ron Ainsborough said...

Love it, Lance!

JC said...

Thanks, Lance. What a brilliant piece that is by Johnny Griffin. A really muscular but beautiful sound. I don't think I had heard anything of his before.

If all the Blue Note LPs are as good inside as the outside cover, do you happen to have in your extensive archive Stanley Turrentine Rough 'N Tumble with McCoy Tyner and others?

By the way, if some people are old enough to have been at a Johnny Griffin concert in the Connaught Hall in 1967 then in the current circumstances they may well be in an at-risk group (aren't we all?). I assume they had permission from GP, Police, local TimeLord to be time travelling more than 2km from their home.

Lance said...

I have a couple of Stanley Turrentine's - Common Touch & Look Out but not Rough & Tumble. It's probably on YouTube or Spotify.

Roly said...

My favourite live recording is Full House - Johnny Griffin and Wes Montgomery with the Miles rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers & Jimmy Cobb. They all play out of their skins with the rhythm section in lift off mode. Griffin's solos are a masterpiece in solo building but then they are all on scintillating form. The atmosphere in the club is electric. I wonder if it's the best live jazz recording ever made?

Lance said...

Best live recording ever made? I think you are trying to start up another list!

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