Johnny Griffin: His performance ‘devasiing’
Jazz rampage rocks the Hill
By Jim Kane
Two sax maniacs by the names of Johnny Griffin and Dexter Gordon went on a musical rampage in Hill Auditorium Friday night and devastated the place.
Their tour de force performances individually and particularly during the second night of the Aim Arbor Jazz Festival was the highlight of the festival so far.
Although both tenor sax giants performed brilliantly with their individual quartets, it was their teaming up which brought the enthusiastic crowd to its feet cheering and screaming for more.
IT WAS A VERY special evening for Griffin and the audience because his performance was part of his first American tour in 15 years. Griffin, who gained prominence, playing with drummer Art Blakey and the pianist Thelonious Monk in the late 50s and early 60s, has been living in Europe for the past 15 and makes his home in holland.
Gordon, who returned to the states in the fall of 1976 after playing abroad for many years, plays hard and fast like Griffin. Both have mainstream-bop influences and hundreds of fresh, creative ideas which keep on coming. Gordon performed at the Power Center last October and at The Earle last June.
Gordon had just finished another masterful set with his extremely talented sidemen — Rufus Reid on bass, George Cables on piano and Eddie Gladden on drums, when he brought Griffin on stage with him. As the diminutive Griffin stood alongside the towering Gordon, who must be at least a foot taller than Griffin, the crowd went wild. Despite Griffin’s small size, there’s nothing small about his sound. He’s called “The Little Giant.” And after his powerful, red hot style, it’s obvious why. The two made musical history together as their chemistry together was explosive.
ANOTHER STANDING ovation resulted in the audience being served with a delectable piece of music called “Cheesecake” accented with some special flavorings by Griffin and Gordon.
Griffin and his very able quartet - Ronnie Matthews, piano; James Leary, bass and Eddie Marshall, drums, had earlier in the evening, kicked off the program. Griffin, who use to be known for his light, swinging style, now comes out with a big, sizzling tone which was evident on their opening number “Autumn Leaves.” Lead by Griffin’s assertive, aggressive attack, the group turned out clean, crisp numbers individually and collectively while constantly firing up one another.
After the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled, following Griffin and Gordon’s duets, the Freddie Hubbard Quintet performed. It was anti-climatic and following these two master musicians seemed almost futile. Hubbard is a talented trumpeter but you couldn’t tell it last night. Accompanied by a lackluster group of musicians - Hadley Caliman on tenor sax and flute, Carl Burnett on drums, Marshal Otwell on keyboards and Larry Kline on electric bass, Hubbard and company never really got going despite his loud pyrotechnics.