Picks and Pans Review: The Cat

UPDATED 09/23/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/23/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

Johnny Griffin

During the bebop revolution of the late '40s and '50s, Griffin was frequently referred to as "the fastest tenor saxophonist in the West." A native of Chicago, he swaggered through labyrinthine harmonies with a quickness and accuracy that whipped crowds into a frenzy and astonished fellow musicians. At 63, Griffin now lives like a country gentleman in France. While he continues to dazzle audiences in tours of the U.S. with his double-time solos, he reveals a more contemplative side with the nine original compositions on The Cat, his first major-label album in eight years.

Backed by trombonist Curtis Fuller, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, drummer Kenny Washington, bassist Dennis Irwin and pianist Michael Weiss, Griffin maintains a deliberate pace. In the playful title track, he settles into a bouncy groove as he conjures the image of a streetwise dandy stalking an elusive lady. On "What Do You Do?" and "Woe Is Me," Griffin's restraint evokes a sense of longing and tension.

With his uptempo send-up of "What Is This Thing Called Love" in his tune "Hot Sake," Griffin offers a reminder that there is still plenty of fire in his gut. Slow or fast, he can do seemingly impossible cartwheels around a melody and land, indeed like a cat, squarely on his feet. (Antilles)

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