Johnny Giffin | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The new album by saxophonist Johnny Griffin, Chicago, New York, Paris (Verve), celebrates his 50th year playing jazz by offering stylistic representations of the three major cities he's lived and worked in. It sets out to collect blues-based material from Chicago, bebop from New York, and ballads from Paris, yet no half-baked concept can long suppress Griffin's line-blurring enthusiasm. His earliest playing was drenched in bar-walking R & B pyrotechnics, especially when he honked with raucous bandleader Joe Morris, and he's always retained that gritty sound, blending it with a blustery, rough-hewn bop modernism and consistently warm lyricism. The new album's opening track is a reprise of his gem "The JAMFS Are Coming"--that's "jive ass motherfuckers" for you squares. Curled under the technical politesse of increasingly ubiquitous guest trumpeter Roy Hargrove, the leader's bluesy tenor squeal effortlessly accents the tune's melody line. At the suggestion of producer John Snyder, the new album presents Griffin with a couple of different groups, including pianists Kenny Barron and Peter Martin, bassists Christian McBride and Rodney Whitaker, and drummers Gregory Hutchinson and Victor Lewis. Yet as interesting as these surroundings are, it's with the working group he brings to town that Griffin truly cuts loose. His relationship with pianist Michael Weiss and drummer Kenny Washington is largely responsible for the hot drive of his previous pair of recordings. Griffin returns to the Jazz Showcase each April to celebrate his birthday with the club's proprietor, Joe Segal, and the sets are marked by a combination of relaxation, humor, and fiery blowing. Friday through Sunday, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

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