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Larry Kart

AOW Nov. 30-Dec. 6

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Johnny Griffin - Way Out! (click here to buy)

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The AOW for Nov. 30-Dec.6 is Johnny Griffin’s "Way Out!" recorded 2/58 for Riverside with Kenny Drew, Wilbur Ware, and Philly Joe Jones and available on OJC. I bought the Riverside when it first came out and apparently memorized almost every note (and with Griffin that’s a lot of notes) because listening now I find myself anticipating most every phrase, though that doesn’t diminish their impact one bit . (I replaced the old Riverside with a great sounding Japanese LP reissue of it in the early or mid-‘70s, so I can’t speak to the quailty of the OJC transfer--hope it’s good because "Way Out!" was a pretty decent sounding date by Riverside standards, a but dry and tight on PJJ’s cymbal s, but clear and in balance.)

Some quotes that may help to set things set up:

"[Chicago has at its core] an open and raw beauty that seems either to kill or endow one with the spirit of life." -- novelist Richard Wright

"Beauty will be convulsive, or it will not be at all." -- The first line of Andre Breton’s surrealist novel "Nadja"

Griffin on himself: "We were always striving to get a big tone. We’d practice in the park, figuring if you could be heard there, you could be heard anywhere. The competitiveness, that was because of all the jam sessions. The club owners would come, and the guys they thought were the best were the ones who would get the gigs. Now I’ve learned how to relax, how to pace myself and use space a little better. But for a long time trying to prove that I could play as well as my contemporaries was always uppermost in my mind. Sonny Stitt really made me study my horn. He used to come to sessions and drive everybody crazy. When I was in the service and had plenty of time to practice, I would stand in the corner and play, thinking about Stitt. I’d imagine I was back in the States, working in a club, and he would would walk in, and I’d invite him up on the stand and hold my own. It worked out like that, too….

"I don’t think my playing has changed much over the years, but I do feel a little more relaxed. But then I never was that relaxed in the first place. Music always excited me so much that it was all I could do to keep from exploding."

This is a perfectly programmed album, I think, unlike some other Riversides (e.g. Clark Terry’s "In Orbit" with Monk, as I believe Chuck Nessa once pointed out ). The flow of tunes and tempos is great, with that blindingly fast "Cherokee" as the nodal point (and now even that track doesn’t seem frantic to me), and the tunes themselves (particularly the two somewhat Dameronish lines by John Hines [a pianist I believe] , the gospel -tinged "Sunny Monday" and "Little John," and singer Teri Thornton’s hip blues, "Teri’s Tune) are almost hook-like and set the tone for everyone’s solos.

There are four Ware solos here, some of the best ("Teri’s Tune" is a strong candidate for THE best) he ever recorded. If you don’t know this master of oblique primal simplicities, "Way Out!" is essential. That the earth gave birth to both Ware and Monk!

I love this rhythm section (some put down the funkier side of K. Drew, but I think they’re wrong; it’s not added on but a logical outgrowth of his boogie-woogie roots). On every track the rhythm section makes all sorts of spontaneous "orchestral" adjustments (like S. Clark, P. Chambers and PJJ do on the title track of "Cool Struttin,’" where every chorus has slightly different "strut" to it, but here the shifts are more mercurial, because Griffin himself is). I don’t know if anyone ever asked PJJ, but the recorded evidence suggests that his musical kinship with Griffin was the tightest he had with any horn player. During their fours on "Sunny Monday" and "Little John" the way they imitate and feed on each other is something else. And on "Cherokee" there’s a passage toward the middle of Griffin’s final chorus where he and PJJ reach such an eerie peak of drum/horn fusion/ecstasy that hey have to take it down a notch-- as though the whole damn performance, which already is teetering on the edge, were about to come loose, like a seaside boardwalk in a hurricane.

I admire the mostly tasty Griffin of his Galaxy-era albums, but it’s the lurid Griffin-- full of tonal distortions and outrageous, and outrageously jammed-in, quotes --that I love most (though his quote here on "Cherokee" from "Fascinatin’ Rhythm" is very tasty). Once in a fanciful mood I wrote this about JG:

"A Griffin solo is like a construction made of fused-together pieces of cultural-physical debris--a cracked juke box, a smoking truck tire, some buzzing neon tubong and maybe a 1953 Buick Skylark grille and bumper. The title? ‘Ugly Beauty.’"

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Excellent choice, great session. PJJ indeed makes a huge difference; AB these performances with those on the Blue Note INTRODUCING JOHNNY GRIFFIN (aka CHICAGO CALLING), with the more disciplinary Max Roach in the drum chair.

Larry, from your final description, it may be fair to dub Griff the Robert Rauschenberg of the tenor saxophone.

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"Larry, from your final description, it may be fair to dub Griff the Robert Rauschenberg of the tenor saxophone."

Joe, I can see it now, the famous Rauschenberg construction with the stuffed goat's head attached to the canvas, except in Griffin's case it would the head of a donkey singing "The Donkey Serenade." I once heard JG play a very convincing solo on "Happy Birthday" and some 15 years before had heard Roscoe Mitchell and Kalaparush Maurice McIntyre do the same thing. Maybe it's a South Side Chicago sensibility at work.

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I pulled the "Way Out" Lp from my shelves this morning. Really looking forward to giving it a spin. Great choice.

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It's been a while since I've played a record by Griffin as leader though the Monk Five Spots have had a spin. That's the great thing about AOTW, it makes me dig into the collection and replay some overlooked gems.

This is a really nice date, although I'm listening on lp, so maybe i'm not hearing it in the best sound(Penguin Guide says so). Griffin romps through "Cherokee" in fine style but the rest of the album is made up of somewhat slower tempos. I particularly liked the bluesy "Terry's Tune" but all the tracks are equally interesting. Griffin works in some neat quotes here and there which I find nice touches. The rhythm section is very tasty maybe one or two of the bass solos are a bit pedestrian but Kenny Drew is fine,Philly Joe too, but sounds a bit recessed on the vinyl.

Excellent record then, well worth pulling out.

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Listened to it over the weekend and agree with John S's comments. A very nice record. Griffin's solos are the essence of bebop. They have what I love about that style and what is so evident in the playing of Parker and Gillespie and others , a great flexibility in their phrasing and their use of time. Pushing the beat at times, laying back at other times, and all this within a 4 bar phrase! It's not just running the changes or a "sheet of sound". Someone once described it as pulling and releasing an elastic band with both hands. You stretch it out to just before the breaking point and then you release it but not to the point where it falls from your hands or goes limp. Stretching and releasing. To me that's exactly what Griffin's playing is like here, and I love it.

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Picked this one up in Chicago last week & just did a websearch on "John Hines" & it led me here. No surprise that Larry, who was with me at the Jazz Record Mart when I got it, should pick this one for his AOTW! A lovely, lovely disc--I find it hard to believe someone up above was lukewarm on Wilbur Ware's bass solos, since, as with all albums with Ware on them, I find myself often simply listening for him (his work on "Cherokee" is brilliant). Probably my favourite bass player in jazz, period.

I got this one in part because I have the slightly later sextet album with Donald Byrd & Pepper Adams added to the band--both of them are superb & should be grabbed while they're still around, given the likelihood that many OJCs are going to be axed.

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Wow! You all make this sound so great that I'll have to get it. I love Griffin and Ware (and PJJ, of course).

This baby is moving right to the top of the list.

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Encouraged by reading this thread for the first time yesterday, I listened to the recording once last night on Rhapsody. Very nice. In some respects Griffin is not nearly as appreciated as he should be. I have heard a good amount of Griffin recordings, but not many of his earlier recordings under his own name. Listening to this last night made me want to really dig into Griffin more than I have. Thanks for the recommendation.

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Just bought this from CDUniverse and will receive it next week. I can hardly wait.

I'm a Griffin fan (but not fanatic). Somehow I missed out on this album until now.

I have many fond memories of Griffin's Boston area gigs in the 1980s.

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Would Ware and Malachi Favors have known each other from Chicago? For me they share a sensibility, and I can't get enough of it.

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Would Ware and Malachi Favors have known each other from Chicago? For me they share a sensibility, and I can't get enough of it.

Yes.

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Thanks. They both have that cavernous sound. I always think Harry Carney would have sounded this way on a bass!

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I love Griffin & this CD.

Anybody else think that William Parker is influenced by Ware??

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Would Ware and Malachi Favors have known each other from Chicago? For me they share a sensibility, and I can't get enough of it.

Yes.

Good call "Red." You put your finger right on it.

And I love Larry's description of Ware's style: "master of oblique primal simplicities." Now that's writing! And could Wilbur Ware have had a better name? I think not. Somehow his name captures his style, for me at least, in the same way that Monk's somehow encapsulates his.

I just got this album the other day and have listened to it a few times with increasing enjoyment. So far I'd agree that it's essential for Ware's work alone. I look forward to a long soak in this music.

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Can't see any connection at all between Ware & William Parker--what are you hearing there exactly?

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Some excerpts from bassist Bill Crow’s piece about Ware from The Jazz Review, circa 1959-60, reprinted in the OOP book "Jazz Panorama," an anthology of Jazz Review material. The phrase of mine that Kalo likes is pretty much a summation of what Crow says here. Crow's description of what Ware does on "Decidedly" is particularly important, I think. There are parallels here to Lester Young in Ware's ability to be at once in and ahead of a whole series of changes -- with the effect of that "at once-ness" being tremendously potent, not only harmonically but rhythmically as well, given the simulataneous deep-rootedness and horizontal drive these ambiguities create.

"…an unusually original artist…. One of our truly great jazz musicians.… He has chosen an approach that does not follow the general evolution of bass style from Blanton through Pettiford, Brown, Heath, Chambers, Mingus, etc. Wilbur uses the same tools that other bassists use, but his concentration is more on percussion, syncopation, and bare harmonic roots than on the achievment of a wind instrument quaaity in phrasing and melodic invention. His solos are extremely melodic in their own way, logically developed and well balanced, but they are permutations of the primary triad or reshuffling of the root line rather than melodies built from the higher notes of the chord…. On ‘Decidedly’ from "Mulligan Meets Monk" there are a number of good examples of Wilbur’s approach to the bass line…. After Gerry’s breaks [Wilbur] has the harmonic control, since Monk lays out, but rather than immediately walking chords he plays a counterrhythm on a G harmonic through the first three changes, where G is the fifth of the first chord, the ninth of the second chord and an anticpation of the root that the third chord resolves toward (D7 to G7)…. He was an ideal bassist for Monk, since he seems to share Monk’s conception of the value of open space, repeated figures, cycles of intervals, rhythmic tension and relaxation…. Besides the variety and color that Wilbur creates in his lines, there is the most obvious feature of his playing, a tremendous 4/4 swing that has the same loose, imprecise but very alive feeling of carefree forward motion that you hear in Kenny Clarke’s drumming…. The best image I can think of to suggest it is Cannonball Adderley doing the Lindy. There is flowing movement all through the measure and not just where the notes are….Wilbir is for me a reaffirmation of the idea that deep expression can be reached through simplification of form -- each new discovery need not always be a more complex one. The difference between the extremely sophisticated simplicity of Wilbur Ware and the primitive simplicity of a beginner is as wide as that between simple drawings of Klee or Miro and those of a child…. Wilbur’s terms are simple and his artistic expression most profound."

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The difference between the extremely sophisticated simplicity of Wilbur Ware and the primitive simplicity of a beginner is as wide as that between simple drawings of Klee or Miro and those of a child…. Wilbur’s terms are simple and his artistic expression most profound."

That's a very perceptive way of putting it.

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Can't see any connection at all between Ware & William Parker--what are you hearing there exactly?

Parker plays in much more "avant" settings, of course, but I just get a tone or timbre or "sound" that makes me think of Ware when I hear Parker (esp. in quartet CDs like Sound Unity).

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What's not to like on this one?

Ware and PJJ. . . well they nail it down solid.

Griff was just all glowing in this period of his career. Smoldering embers that very volatilely burst forth.

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Wow, that excerpt from Bill Crow is great stuff -- something of a surprise for me as I only knew his "jazz anecdotes" writing.

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Can't see any connection at all between Ware & William Parker--what are you hearing there exactly?

Parker plays in much more "avant" settings, of course, but I just get a tone or timbre or "sound" that makes me think of Ware when I hear Parker (esp. in quartet CDs like Sound Unity).

I hear a similar spirit in that they're both very "bass-centric" in their approach to the music. They're all about laying down the bottom in all the myriad forms available at any given moment - timbral, harmonic, rhythmic, you name it, they go there and make sure that there's a foundation there for evrybody else to work off of.

Of course, I prefer Ware (Parker has me only 99% convinced, which is up considerably from a few years ago. That final 1% may or may not come, we'll see), but these are the type of bassists I prefer playing with, those who lay it down so the music can be built from the bottom up.

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Great thread!

I have that Jazz Panorama book. Definitely time to pick it up again.

Charlie Haden is another bassist who "lays it down" in Sangrey's phrase. Anchormen. The glue that holds it all together.

Bass is one of my favorite instruments in jazz, which ironically means that I find most bass players hard to take, especially as soloists. I dig the bass in rock, too, at its best: Jamerson, McCartney, Entwistle, etc...

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I think Ware was absolutely perfect for those Sonny Rollins 'Live at the Village Vanguard' sides...That rock steady presence was certainly needed (IMHO), what with the wildly imaginative Rollins on the one hand and the wildly - I don't know, Octopus-like? Wild? - Elvin on the other.

Edited by Red

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