Steve Griggs Quintet – Live!

Steve Griggs Quintet
(Hip City Music – 2001)
  by John Barrett

In 1998 Steve Griggs made a lengthy session with Elvin Jones – the bop was hard, the tunes were sterling, and the mood was electric. Two discs were released last year, and to celebrate Steve did a show at Jazz Alley: same group as the album, with Jeff Stitely in place of Elvin. With a fast busy style, Stitely fits right in; he makes this tough bandwork harder. They start “The Ropes” with a bit of urgency: two horns, in unison slithering upward. Steve pounces forth with a solo, taking small steps in a gritty tone. The drums pick it up matched by splashes of cool guitar (Milo Petersen). Gaining speed, Griggs bursts into a Coltrane scream – he approached this tone on the Elvin dates, but never like this. Petersen’s solo starts edgy (like Martino in places) before concluding in lyrical sweetness.

Milo stirs a warm samba on “Quiet Afternoon”, and whispers a solo both faint and delicate. The horns go daydreaming: Steve sounds like an alto when he flutters, and the tiny notes pack a punch. “Yes” is softer still, a slow walk through a quiet forest. (By twittering his strings, Milo sounds like falling leaves.) Jay has a flugelhorn, and he sings with introspection, walking up a few steps and then coming down. Steve enters shyly, barely-heard notes that are humble … and gorgeous. He could almost be Lester Young; then he wiggles like Trane, all while staying soft. You can describe this mood in one word – Yes.

As good as Steve is, the real surprise is Thomas. Reflective on the Elvin sides, he hollers hard on “Same Face…”, inspiring someone to say “Yeah!” The sharp notes attack, strong and ordered; Griggs follows with his most intricate solo. (Their exchanges are prime – I wish the tune lasted longer.) Losing the trumpet, Jay tries other horns,and other styles. He’s got a soprano sax on “Roses for Ruben”, and a dry tone close to Paul Desmond. (Phil Sparks goes earthy on his break: his springy notes rumble down low.) The quietude causes Steve to tiptoe: his solo is reserved, and one of hisbest. “Poem of Repentance” starts with bowed anxiety (Sparks sounds a little like Mingus) and leads to horns leaping with joy. Now the soprano moves like Coltrane, and Griggs does some nice counterpoint – it’s a song of praise.

Back on trumpet, Jay whistles through “SwingThing” (check out Milo, and his Barney Kessel tone) and jumps through “BennyBop”, smoking from the start. After his breathless effort, it’s Steve’s turn: tart, agile, and nervy. More so is “Jones for Elvin”, a reprise from the ’98 session – Milo starts it off, speedy and thoughtful. Thomas takes it high; a wonderful icy tone, delivered with punch. Steve’s turn is essential, with every note in place, every scream with a purpose. Stitely has a short solo; it isn’t Elvin but it works. Steve then thanks the crowd, and I thank him — a show like this deserves to be shown.