JJ 05/82: Dexter Gordon & Johnny Griffin Quintet in London

Forty years ago Stan Britt saw the tenor titans in mixed form, supported by the Chris Hunter band with Guy Barker. First published in Jazz Journal May 1982

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Johnny Griffin in London, February 1980. Photo © Brian O'Connor

The combination of two of the hardest-blowing tenorists in the business, backed up to the hilt by a constantly stimulating, beautifully integrated rhythm section turned out to be as comprehensively exciting as one hoped.

However, the great man started uneasily, with the opening solo to his own C-minor blues Cheese Cake. Griffin, though, was perky, alive and rarin’ to go, right from his opening bars. Gordon’s regular rhythm trio – Kirk Lightsey, piano, David Ewbanks, bass, Eddie Gladden, drums – was en rapport throughout the entire evening. Lightsey’s superb gifts as accompanist were once again much in evidence, and solo-wise, he improves with each British visit.

Easy Living showcased Dexter’s superior ballad-playing. This version found him at less than his very best – his extended coda was even longer than usual and only just resolved satisfactorily – but Kirk’s unaccompanied contribution was delightful. Griffin’s showcase, Stella By Starlight, started unaccompanied and out of tempo, then the little man turned the performance into an exercise in unrelenting drive, with a further solo portion that was an invigorating example of restrained virtuosity. But the quintet reserved its finest all-round playing of the evening for the closer. The Stitt-Ammons classic Blues Up & Down is ready-made for these tenor titans.

Pre-interval music was handled in impeccable fashion by the Chris Hunter Band. Hunter continues to improve in a wholly satisfactory manner, on both saxes, but his was not the totally dominating voice in the quintet. Guy Barker’s playing all but matched his leader’s on every number. Garrick’s piano evidences much more meat these days – and two of the numbers he produced for the band showed an almost Messengers-like extroversion.