Johnny Griffin ‘Grab this’/’The Kerry Dancers’ (Solar) 4/5

A double header of vintage Johnny Griffin is what is in store on this pairing of original Riverside albums, both released in 1962. The first is unusual in that it features the tenorist in an organ combo formation with his first and only collaboration with guitarist Joe Pass,and is a well thought out selection of pieces taken at a mainly sedate pace. Around the same period, Griffin recorded as sideman with vibist Johnny Lytle and this re-issue merely illustrates how extremely versatile the tenorist was and che could certainly play in a soul-jazz bag just as easily as in the harsher hard bop mode. The more substantial second album is on more conventional terrain for Griffin with a stellar line up of Barry Harris on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Ben Riley on drums. Where this album departs from the norm is in its choice of folk tunes, both Irish and Scottish, which for 1962 was well ahead of its time and presages the ECM label’s flirtation with folk music by a good decade. A gentler side to the tenor titan is heard on this writer’s favourite interpretation, ‘Black is the colo[u]r of my true love’s hair’ which Nina Simone famously covered and Griffin caresses the melody beautifully. The rest of the band have the opportunity to shine throughout and Barry Harris takes a lovely solo on the mid-tempo ‘The Kerry dancers’ and part of the inspiration for the project may actually come from Charlie Parker who often quoted the theme in the midst of other compositions. A classic Scottish ballad, ‘Green goes the rushes’, which Euan McColl adapted, is taken at a slightly quicker tempo than normally and here Johnny Griffin comes into his own with some inspired soloing that is among his very best on the whole CD. Lovingly reproduced original album covers and additional photos plus updates sleeve notes simply add to the novel experience. Both albums are long overdue on CD and will be heard with great relish by a jazz loving public for probably the first time since the original vinyl is incredibly hard to find these days.

Tim Stenhouse