The Little Giant
The dark and adventurous compositions by one Norman Simmons, who ought to be a well- known jazz composer on the evidence of ‘Olive Refractions’, ‘The Message’, and ‘Venus and the Moon’, combine with the stellar line-up of Blue Mitchell, Julian Priester, Wynton Kelly, Sam Jones and Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, to make this an unforgettable album of soulful but progressive mainstream modern jazz. Kelly’s piano and Jones’ bass create the rich group sound, and all the soloists are on top swinging form, especially Griffin and Kelly. Griffin’s grinding, low-down, but pretty basic composition ‘63rd Street Theme’ sounds awesome with Simmons’ sophisticated arrangement, and is probably the highlight.
The Big Soul Band
This is definitely the best Johnny Griffin record, and he made some very fine ones indeed. His distinctive tenor sounds devastating against the intense big-band charts, and never more so than on the first track ‘Wade in the Water’, which is perfectly structured, climbing to a high warbling climax before winding down to the final sermon. Other highlights include the contrapuntal opening of ‘Holla’ which soon collapses into the ultimate in low-down groove, the convincingly spiritual ‘Deep River’, and the definitive version of Junior Mance’s ‘Jubilation’ to finish.
Again ‘n’ Again
One of those great two-tenor tussles, the sparring partner being Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, this 1970 album finds Griffin at his most progressive and daring. Davis is his usual brusque, macho and essentially inscrutable self, with a definite advantage as far as tone goes, since he had one of the biggest in the business, and uses it to exquisite effect on his ballad feature ‘If I had you’. As far as ideas go, however, Griffin is the clear winner, and he experiments with lots of them on this album, in which his typically mercurial playing sometimes verges on the avant-garde.