CD review

Johnny Griffin and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis – Ow! Live At The Penthouse

Johnny Griffin and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis – Ow! Live At The Penthouse
(Reel To Real RTRCD003 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

The two tenor saxophones of Johnny Griffin and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis burst forth once again with this dose of classic high-speed hard bop recorded live for radio broadcast in 1962 and unheard since. No prizes for innovation, but gold medals all round for energy, musicality and sheer skill from the quintet.

This CD is the latest to emerge from the vaults of Seattle’s Penthouse club, “just off Pioneer Square in old Seattle”. Back in the 1960s the club worked with local radio station KING-FM under producer Jim Wilke, and broadcast and recorded many jazz sessions. Several well-recorded CDs from this source have appeared in the past few years, notably from Wes Montgomery (backed by the Wynton Kelly trio), Cannonball Adderley, and Gene Harris and the Three Sounds. These releases are always delightfully packaged with extensive notes, booklet, photos and so on, so are really worth getting hold of (most previous releases are on the Resonance label).

This one sees the classic two-tenor line-up of Johnny Griffin and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis arriving in town for a series of engagements in May-June 1962 with a rock solid trio comprising Horace Parlan on piano, Buddy Catlett on double bass and Art Taylor behind the drum kit. The Griffin-Davis combo was well established by this point, and the pair had already recorded several albums together. What unfolds comes as no surprise in terms of overall content, but still sparkles in terms of the vivacity and joyous noise of hard-swinging classic modern jazz.

Johnny Griffin’s nickname was the ‘Little Giant’, and his rapid-fire style complements Davis’ slightly more considered and breathy tone. The opening track, Blues Up And Down, is taken at slightly north of 360 beats per minute, something approaching maximum speed even for these technical masters.  David solos first, showing that even at this pace he has something to say. Griffin, of course, launches into fluid quaver runs which startle the listener in their articulation, every note given space and varying emphasis. This quality is something shared with Charlie Parker – the feeling of space around each note, even at top speed.

The band moves into Dizzy Gillespie’s tune Ow!, taken slightly down tempo with much quoting in the solos from Griffin in particular. As on most of the tracks it’s Davis first up, which seems to work well in terms of the overall architecture of the performance. Parlan gets a short piano turn in the middle, which is about as much of the rhythm section as we hear – the trio are here to accompany the soloists and occasionally give them a short breather. Any Barroso’s Bahia is taken more reflectively, with more high-quality soloing and bits of Manteca interspersed. One suspects that the band weren’t really thinking about being recorded on the night, this was a club performance which reflects them doing their thing in a natural and unencumbered fashion.

This CD (also available on LP) offers us an hour of undiscovered hard bop of the highest quality. If that’s your thing, then your Christmas-present-to-self problems are over. Or perhaps an Uncle or Grandad might appreciate it? The quality of the packaging and accompanying 28-page booklet make this release a very good present for the beat person in your life. All together now… “One, two, onetothrefu..”

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