Johnny Griffin - Change Of Pace

Johnny Griffin Change Of Pace (Riverside 1961)

The Little Giant broadened his horizon on Riverside Records.

 

Johnny Griffin - Change Of Pace

Personnel

Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Julius Watkins (French horn), Larry Gales & Bill Lee (bass), Ben Riley (drums)

Recorded

on February 7 & 16, 1961 in New York City

Released

as RLP 368 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Soft And Furry
In The Still Of The Night
The Last Of The Fat Pants
Same To You
Connie’s Bounce
Side B:
Situation
Nocturne
Why Not?
As We All Know


As far as unity of vision, style, sound and sleeve design is concerned, Blue Note of course is the max. But Riverside had tastes of her own as well. Regardless of occasional complaints of vinyl pressings by monophiles and stereophiles, Riverside’s value as a front-line jazz label, largely due to founder Orrin Keepnews, is widely acknowledged. Take the case of Johnny Griffin. The bop and hard bop tenor saxophonist traveled from Argo and Blue Note to Riverside, for which he recorded a series of diverse albums between 1958 and ’63. Part of those were as co-leader on subsidiary Jazzland with his hard-blowing tenor colleague Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.

So, on the one hand, Griffin swung straightforward and hard, occasionally with “Jaws”, and on the other hand explored his fascinations in agreement with Keepnews, who was already a concept-minded boss. Keepnews had started Riverside as a company of traditional jazz compilations, provided history of jazz narratives on wax and let Thelonious Monk debut on his label with repertory of Duke Ellington – controversial and surprising move dividing Monk geeks to this day. Griffin’s records were top-notch. The folk song hodgepodge of The Kerry Dancers and gospel-drenched The Big Soul Band are considered Griffin classics. Studio Jazz Party is a hot little date – here Keepnews repeated the idea of recording artists in the studio in the presence of a small live audience, which had proved extremely successful in the case of The Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s In San Francisco in 1959.

Change Of Pace is another odd man out. Tasteful dish. Safe to say, like a refined bouillabaisse from Marseille. The recipe consists of Griffin’s tenor saxophone, Julius Watkins’s French horn, Larry Gales and Bill Lee’s upright basses and Ben Riley’s drums. (Gales and Riley played on Griffin/Lockjaw Davis records and would eventually become the rhythm section of Thelonious Monk from 1964-67) Pretty unusual ingredients that flavor Change Of Pace’s refreshing and sophisticated repertoire. Excepting Cole Porter’s In The Still Of The Night, which flows gracefully in spite of its breakneck speed, the excellent songwriting is on account of Griffin, while Watkins, Bill Lee (film director Spike Lee’s father) and Consuela Lee (no relation!) each provided one tune.

The absence of piano makes the music breathe with peppermint breath. The combination of arco and bowed bass fills in harmonic gaps equally effective as Watkins’s soft-hued alternate lines behind Griffin’s supple and strong tenor. As a rule, Griffin is fiery, playing as if he devoured a couple of red hot chili peppers. But here he has found a particularly strong balance between bop and lyricism, exemplified very well by Soft And Furry, a remarkably tender song and irresistible Griffin classic. The restrained and fluent approach of prime French horn player Julius Watkins, who was rivalled only by David Amram in the 50s, reveals a true master at work. At once bossy and vulnerable, Watkins plays as if he’s constantly serenading his lover.

The sound palette of Change Of Pace is curiously enchanting and mesmerizing. A warm bath. Fulfilling, akin to the feeling you have when letting yourself fall down on a hotel bed after a long walk in a strange and beautiful city. It sounds as hip and modern today as it did in 1961.

Curtis Fuller and Hampton Hawes

Curtis Fuller And Hampton Hawes With French Horns (Status 1964)

Credited to trombonist Curtis Fuller and pianist Hampton Hawes, With French Horns really hasn’t a definite leader. It shouldn’t bother anyone. In fact, the French horn pioneers Julius Watkins and David Amram play an important and equally fulfilling role as Fuller, Hawes and altoist Sahib Shihab, not only delivering first-rate solo’s but also adding a unique texture to the group’s harmony.

Curtis Fuller and Hampton Hawes

Personnel

Curtis Fuller (trombone), Sahib Shihab (alto saxophone), Julius Watkins (French horn), David Amram (French horn), Hampton Hawes (piano A1-3, B2, B3), Teddy Charles (piano B1), Addison Farmer (bass), Jerry Segal (drums)

Recorded

on May 18, 1957 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as ST 8305 in 1964

Track listing

Side A:
Ronnie’s Tune
Roc And Troll
A-Drift
Side B:
Lyriste
Five Spot
No Crooks


If something like it exists, the session is a ‘prepared’ blowing session, the result of a studio afternoon of relaxed but carefully crafted, intelligent and bluesy playing. (Teddy Charles’s Lyriste is the elegiac, moody exception on the rule) It was recorded as part of the 1957 16inch record Baritones And French Horns, which credited Watkins and Amram as leaders, but was re-released in 1964 by Status, a subsidiary label of Prestige. By then, Fuller and Hawes were better known than Watkins and Amram, which, marketing-wise, explains their co-leadership on this album. (The A-side consisted of a Pepper Adams date including John Coltrane. It was reissued, for obvious but not necessarily honorable reasons, under Coltrane’s name as Dakar in 1963)

All members contribute equally concise statements. Bookended by tasteful, sometimes witty themes, they craft fine-tuned vignettes, remarkably devoid of clichés. Amram’s Five Spot is the most frivolous theme, sure to engender a smile from any kid in the crib, yet very intricate under the surface; a total of a suave, langurous blues line, interpersed with clever, descending and quirky, multi-note alto lines and short-note, claxon-type figures divided between all horns. Even drummer Jerry Segal joins the harmonic party with a snappy snare roll contribution. A question and answer extravaganza which Amram wrote as the outro-theme for a gig he’d had at the legendary Five Spot Café at 5 Cooper Square in the Bowery, NYC.

There are wonderful Sahib Shihab moments, like the elegantly constructed story in Ronnie’s Tune. Shihab, a Parker-influenced player with a distinctive, slight vibrato and alluring, sing-songy lines, also proves to be a master of the entrance; the wail that slowly rises in volume in Ronnie’s Tune and the forward and backward flips of Five Spot are delightful. Hampton Hawes contributes a flawless blend of sparse, well-placed blue notes and interval-filled, fluent bop runs.

From the trombonists that emerged in the slipstream of modern jazz trombone pioneer J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller was one of the major talents in 1957 and already a very sought-after player. He would appear on Coltrane’s instant classic Blue Train a few months later, on September 15. Fuller’s swift double-timing on both Roc & Troll and Five Spot is one aspect of his indisputable craftsmanship.

Watkins is the relatively more outgoing player who delights in edgy little bursts of pleasure; Amram a more cerebral hornist who favors the middle register. Considering the difficulty in adapting French horn to jazz surroundings, both men play exceptionally fluid French horn. Watkins was much in demand, appearing regularly on a variety of labels, notably on Thelonious Monk’s 1954 Prestige recording Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins. Watkins’ debut as a leader on Blue Note in 1955, The Julius Watkins Sextet, is an immaculate cooperation with Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Frank Foster and Hank Mobley. Honestly, I’m less enamoured of The Jazz Modes, the Watkins/Charlie Rouse outfit which recorded for Dawn and Atlantic from 1956 to ’59, which has always sounded too formal to me. David Amram recorded with Kenny Dorham as early as 1953, among others, and developed into a more classical-oriented composer in the early sixties. Composing and conducting has been his much admired trade ever since.

The soft-hued, silky yet husky sound, occasionally sweet-sour as if flavoured with drops of citrus and a tad of cane sugar, is a great asset of Curtis Fuller And Hampton Hawes With French Horns. An intriguing date which deserves wider attention.