Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Johnny Griffith Quintet
GB Records, 2014
4.5 out of 5 Stars

Most young jazz musicians of the 21st century are releasing recordings and performances that feature spaced out arrangements, odd time signatures, even eighth figures, and influences of rock, hip-hop, funk and electronica.    The onslaught of these recordings, albeit creative, makes me wonder if the young musicians of today are forgoing the essentials of swing, melody, feeling, and respect of the tradition over being relevant and modern in today’s society.

This debut recording by saxophonist Johnny Griffith is a sure remedy to the situation of releasing original jazz music that respects the tradition, swings, and puts melody and feeling into the forefront of his expressions.    He wrote all nine compositions in this recording, which has a great balance of straight ahead swing and a few introspective numbers to ease the flow of the record.    To bring these compositions to life, he would employ a team consisting of a stellar rhythm section of pianist Adrean Farrugia, bassist Jon Maharaj, drummer Ethan Ardelli, and his special guest colleague and trumpeter, “Downbeat Rising Star” trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.

Among the 9 tunes in this set, the strongest numbers would have to be the medium-up tempo numbers “The Zissou Predicament”, the title track “Dance With the Lady” and the closing number, “That Night…Under The Bench So Long Ago”.   These tracks practically set the tone of the album of giving a feel reminiscent of the classic Blue Note Recordings of the 50’s and 60’s, with its original, constructive melodies, and expressive solos by Pelt, Griffith, and Farrugia.

Jeremy Pelt’s performance echoed the upper register range and expression of a prime Freddie Hubbard, adding to the classic feel of this recording.    Johnny Griffith’s compositions and saxophone playing illustrated his strong melodicism and real laid back restraint, not pushing too hard but letting the notes and style come out organically and fluidly.   Adrean Farrugia’s solos keep going from intensity to intensity, showing his adaptability and range from being introduced to brand new material.    And the rhythm tandem of bassist Jon Maharaj and drummer Ethan Ardelli kept the pace and affair relaxed, poised, and light.

“Dance With The Lady” is a very strong debut from a promising composer and talent that definitely has more up his sleeve for years to come in the jazz world and beyond.


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