February 25, 2024

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CD review: Johnny Griffin – Live at Ronnie Scott’s, 1964 – 2023: Video, CD cover

This never-heard-before recording of the legendary tenor sax “Little Giant” Johnny Griffin playing at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and backed by members of Ronnie’s House Band (Stan Tracey, Malcolm Cecil and Jackie Dougan) sees a AAA vinyl release.

The album was mastered at Gearbox Records using an all-analogue signal chain and cut directly from the original tapes, which were recorded at the club by Les Tomkins in 1964.

Hearing Chicago saxist Johnny Griffin solo at hurricane speed in his heyday was like watching a snooker player intent on clearing the table in one break. He was also one of the few saxophonists (Coltrane was one of this elite group) who could negotiate Thelonious Monk’s musical mazes.

Griffin is 80 on this set, recorded in London in May – and long-time fans of the Little Giant are the most likely customers for his last recording, but trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s admirers are, too, since the latter plays some blistering solos in an impromptu Anglo-American band featuring Billy Cobham on drums and some inspired contributions from British pianist David Newton.

Fast tracks like Lester Leaps In and Blues Walk find Griffin soloing in sketchy brushstrokes – vocalised growls, slurs and mock-grumpy warbles linked by the occasional skimming run – but he locks confidently into the groove on the closing Hot Sake, and is very affecting in the ballad duet with Hargrove on When We Were One.

A guest appearance from veteran German singer/pianist Paul Kuhn is more of a distraction than an asset, but otherwise this set catches the kind of jam-session atmosphere Griffin loved for 60-odd years.

1. The Girl Next Door (14:52)
2. (Back Home Again In) Indiana (21:48)
3. Blues In Twos (15:50)
4. The Theme (1:24)

Johnny Griffin – tenor saxophone
Stan Tracey – piano
Malcolm Cecil – double bass
Jackie Dougan – drums

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