For pure hipness, the Johnny Griffin-Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis Quintet stands among the jazz elite. They were elegant, earthy, brainy, virtuosic and hell-bent on a good time. This historic release, recorded live in Seattle in 1962, finds the tough tenors at their peak.
“Blues Up and Down” kicks off the proceedings with sizzling, up-tempo elan — it’s hard bop at the speed of thought. Davis growls with a big, burly sound that’s in a direct line of descent from Coleman Hawkins. Sometimes he plays with a sexy languid purr; other times he bites off the ends of his phrases with menacing abruptness or caroms off the beat with a slap-tongued staccato. Griffin is sleek and fast, his tone polished to a glossy finish. His baroque lines spill out of his horn in crazy somersaults and deep contours.
A great deal of the music — like “Blue Lou” and “Tickle Toe” — unfolds at similarly ridiculous tempos. But the two tenor masters never just run the changes; they play clear, cleanly articulated ideas and they never seem to break a sweat, no matter how fast they play. “Bahia,” played at a more reasonable medium tempo, shows off Jaws’ ability to build a solo using melodic development and space, all while escalating the tension and excitement. Griffin’s solo ballad feature, “Sophisticated Lady,” showcases the subtlety of his tone and his flair for dramatic pacing.
And the rhythm section is more than competent. Pianist Horace Parlan plays with bluesy authority, drummer Art Taylor maintains a crisp beat and bassist Buddy Catlett keeps time with unerring note choices. Yet they’re overshadowed by the ebullient co-leaders. Sophisticated, daring and audience-pleasing, this is what swagger sounds like. — Ed Hazell