Johnny Griffin and Eddie Davis were a dynamic and prolific duo. Both had distinctive sounds and techniques: Griffin (“The Little Giant”) and the fastest tenor on the block; “Lockjaw”, instantly recognizable, and a master of ballads, blues and standards.
Tough Tenors, their first (and arguably best) album, is a mix of “ancient” and “modern” compositions. “Tickle Toe”, the opener, has an ebullient solo from Jaws, a quick-draw solo from Griff, and an astute trading of fours at the end. Mance, Gales and Riley help propel the entire proceedings with almost insolent skill. The remaining titles are almost equally impressive, with “Twins”, “Funk Flute”, and “Soft Winds” demonstrating the complementary styles of the principals.
Lookin’ At Monk is less successful – despite Griffin having performed with the master. With Lockjaw’s apparent consent, the duo attack rather than interpret such classics as “Well, You Needn’t” and “Rhythm-a-ning”, but offer sensitive solo renderings of “‘Round Midnight” (Griffin) and “Ruby, My Dear” (Davis), prompting the reflection that as good as they were in tandem, as solo performers they were even better. Blues up and Down challenges that assertion as they romp through Griffin’s gospel-tinged “Camp Meeting” (with righteous wailings from both preachers), and the title track reworking of the Ammons/Stitt confection “Blues up and Down”, with an under-appreciated Lloyd Mayers replacing Mance. Nothing to complain of here – or in the album, Griff & Lock.
In an informed liner note Ira Gitler observes that although Griff and Jaws are “stylistically closer to Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons than to Zoot Sims and Al Cohn . . . they share an important characteristic with the later pair”: Gene and Sonny were duelists, whereas Griff and Jaws always “enhance each other”. Davis is quoted to effect in his Downbeat statement (1961):”What we are doing is presenting side by side, two different styles of playing tenor – a contrast not a contest”. Despite the possible monotony of this formula, in most instances it worked very well.
CD1: (1) [Tough Tenors] Tickle Toe; Save Your Love for Me; Twins; Funky Flute; Imagination; Soft Winds; [Lookin’ at Monk] In Walked Bud; Well, You Needn’t; Ruby My Dear; Rhythm-a-ning; Epistrophy; ‘Round Midnight; Stickball (I Mean You) (79.27)
CD2: (2) [Blues up and Down] Camp Meeting; Blues up and Down; Nice and Easy; Oh, Gee; Walkin’; Leapin’ on Lenox; Layin’ on Mellow; (1) [Griff & Lock] The Last Train to Overbrook; Hey Lock!; Midnight at Minton’s; Second Balcony Jump; I’ll Remember April; Good Bait (77.50)
Griffin and Davis (ts) with:
(1) Junior Mance (p); Larry Gales (b); Ben Riley (d). New York City, 4 & 10 November 1960; 7 February 1961; 4 & 10 November 1960.
(2) Lloyd Mayers replaces Mance (p).New York, June-August 1961.
Avid Jazz 1309