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NEW RELEASES : Leisurely Griffin, Appealing Raney : *** JOHNNY GRIFFIN “The Cat” <i> Antilles</i>

The 63-year-old tenor saxophonist, long known as a rousing soloist who could dig into a quicksilver opus with considerable relish, tones things down here. Of his nine originals, only one, “Hot Sake,” is fast and fomenting. The other selections investigate medium to slow tempos--leisurely realms that allow Griffin opportunity to express captivating emotions.

Even at his most blustery, Griffin has put his saxophone tone in the spotlight. It’s a luxuriant, breathy sound that’s as big as a tree trunk on the bottom notes but can turn suddenly to a still-musical high screech.

The set is nicely balanced. There are medium tunes that have a surging rhythmic snap, such as “Chicago Calling,” in which Griffin offers gritty, often bluesy lines. On “Woe Is Me,” one of two ballads, he all but weeps with his horn, conveying a convincing sense of sadness.

Pianist Michael Weiss, who wrote the orchestrations, comps firmly and solos with a keen be-bop flair. And while drummer Kenny Washington and bassist Dennis Irwin are the other essential elements in this first-class production, trombonist Curtis Fuller and vibist Steve Nelson also make welcome contributions.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one asetrisk (poor) to four (excellent). A rating of five asterisks is reserved for classic reissues or retrospectives.


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