JOHNNY GRIFFIN — The Little Giant (review)

JOHNNY GRIFFIN — The Little Giant album cover Album · 1959 · Hard Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
js
Johnny Griffin is a power house tenor player that deserves more recognition, but really, almost any great sax player who is not Coltrane or Charlie Parker could use a little more props. Johnny’s album, “The Little Giant”, came out in 1959, right in the middle of that mid 50s to mid 60s period in jazz when all the recordings sounded great and so many musicians were at a creative peak. Joining Griffin on here is an all-star cast, including a very young trombonist, Julian Priester. Julian will go on to perform avant-garde jazz with Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock’s electronic sextet and also some very out there combos of his own, so its interesting to hear him playing swinging solos in a hard bop context. The three man horn line is completed with Blue Mitchell on trumpet, giving the group an almost big band sound at times.

The three songs written by Norman Simmons make the most of this horn ensemble with complicated arrangements that often imitate big bands in their call and response between horn sections, and between soloist and ensemble. His, “Olive Refractions”, opens the album with high speed bop and the best arrangement on the album. Other tracks include Babs Gonzazlez’s, “Lonely One”, an exotic number that has Griffin playing a melody over tympani like tom toms before moving into a high speed free modal jam. “Playmates”, by Saxie Dowell is an odd choice with its bright major key contrasting with all the minor blues on this album. The song sounds like a cross between early New Orleans jazz and a TV beer commercial, but its sunny flavor does make for an interesting contrast. Griffin penned “63rd Street Theme”, a noire blues that would work great as a ‘crime jazz’ soundtrack.
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