Johnny Griffin: Live At Ronnie Scott’s 1964

The tenorist was well supported by Tracey, Cecil and Dougan and typically filled 50 minutes with extended workouts on just three tunes

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Griffin was on great form for this performance at Scott’s old place. So too was his rhythm section with Tracey and Cecil providing stimulating accompaniment and Dougan proving conclusively that the often-repeated slander that British drummers were not up for it was nonsense.

Griff chose just three extended selections that he explores comprehensively, hard driven by his swinging, flexible rhythm section. The Girl Next Door is played at medium tempo with Griffin’s rhythmic variations as supple as you like and no hint of disturbing the natural flow of the piece.

If the chord changes of Back Home In Indiana are a test for hard-core beboppers, Griffin comes through with flying colours – at 80 bars a minute, no less. His comprehensive solo here takes the tune apart, reworks it and puts it back together. Lively finish here too with an exchange of fours with Dougan followed by a full-blooded solo from the drummer. A straightahead mid-tempo blues in B flat is an ideal extended closer, Griffin and Tracey pulling out all the stops in their solos.

Griffin was known to choose three or four extended pieces for a full set, often saying “Things, leaves, blues” to his section indicating he wanted to play All The Things You Are, Autumn Leaves and a 12-bar blues. It’s similar set here. I heard Griff at Scott’s old place in 1963 although, oddly, the one thing I remember clearly is him detaching the mike from its stand and placing it low down in front of Cecil’s bass for his solo. Strange, the memories that linger – no widespread bass amps in those days.

This is a supercharged set and Les Tomkins’ recording is basic but captures the quartet in full flow. The CD sound is very good but if you want to be transported back to Scott’s Chinatown basement in 1964, go for the vinyl – firmer bass, crackling drums, Griffin’s tenor caught in full, inventive flow and all the ambience of that crowded little club.

Note the cover picture of Griff in Trafalgar Square with a pigeon on his Thelonious Monk styled hat. Richard Williams’ sleeve notes here are from the Simon Spillett school of note-writing – long, comprehensive and with potted biographies of all the musicians and what they played. I think you’ll also enjoy the one minute and 20 second closer The Theme, played at rocket speed.


Discography
The Girl Next Door; (Back Home Again In) Indiana; Blues In Twos; The Theme (53.35)
Griffin (ts); Stan Tracey (p); Malcolm Cecil (b); Jackie Dougan (d). Ronnie Scott’s Club London, 1964.
Gearbox RSGB1010 LP or CD