Review: Frank Griffith Quintet at the Bull's Head



Frank Griffith Quintet with Tina May
(The Bull’s Head, June 19th 2014. Review by Andrew Cartmel)


Frank Griffith, whom I’ve mostly heard in a big band context, also has a tight and joyful quintet with Frank on tenor and clarinet, Mick Hutton on bass, Bobby Worth on drums, Robin Aspland on piano and Henry Lowther on trumpet. Featuring special guest vocalist Tina May, they put up a valiant fight against the World Cup football to claim the attention of the people at the Bull's Head in Barnes on a summer night.

On Andy Razaf’s Christopher Columbus Frank’s playing is soulful and assertive with feathery phrasing and great breath control, a bebop butterfly beginning to unfurl in its swing chrysalis. Henry Lowther offers his own commentary on the theme in long lucid phrases and Mick Hutton chases the tune down a well with his nimble, reverberant bass, then re-energising the combo with some slaps and scat. Bobby Worth plays taut, rock solid drums with cascading cymbal cadences.

Fuji Mama by Blue Mitchell changes the mood in a heartbeat to clipped calypso. Bobby Worth really blossoms on the drum kit, playing in counterpoint to himself as Henry Lowther offers sharp Caribbean sketches, effortlessly exploring a new sound world. Jamaican jauntiness pervades Robin Aspland’s raucously good-humoured piano — his spiky intricacies are infectious and toe-tapping. Frank Griffith’s plump and flavourful tenor pushes big slabs of music over the choppy rhythms of the drums. The unison sax and trumpet is a delight.

Dexter Gordon’s Soy Califa, played in honour of a recent review here begins with fanning flashes of sound and tight ensemble work before Frank emerges from the pack with a dark virile tenor solo, pumping and punching out rhythmic utterances, attenuating into a melancholy ballad statement. Henry Lowther is thoughtful and pungently wistful. Robin Aspland plays raw, caressing, fluid runs — a statement in cool excitement.

Song for My Father was dedicated to its recently deceased composer, Horace Silver. Aspland paraphrases the famous opening statement, immortalised by Steely Dan in their quotation on Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, and Frank plays a trance-like intro. The whole band glides through the tune like a speedboat skimming on the water, before Henry Lowther lifts off like a seabird taking flight. Frank Griffith rises in reply with a rich, rolling solo that never seems to run out of steam. Bobby Worth is percussive and powerful, Robin Aspland rebuilds the melody and Mick Hutton provides the thumping, slapping, beating heart of the piece. Horace Silver is dead, but his music is undeniably alive.

Let’s Get Lost introduces singer Tina May at a strolling, striding tempo. Her vocals go floating into the stratosphere, creating an ethereal dreamscape, soft as cumulonimbus. Henry Lowther’s trumpet breaks through the clouds like a shaft of sunlight. Mick Hutton’s bass sustains the dreamy mood by making his strings sing. Robin Aspland creates lots of space in the music and Bobby Worth is a soft touch on the brushes. Tina May scats in duet with Henry Lowther before she lovingly explores the spacey contours of the lyrics.

Tea for Two rolls in as a rich sea mist of vocals with gleaming glimpses of piano. Then the tempo accelerates with Bobby Worth coming in on brushes and Frank Griffith insinuating himself on clarinet with sonorous, playful clarity, scooting and skating through the melody — throwing in a quotation from Baubles, Bangles and Beads without missing a beat. Tina May and Frank duet so seamlessly that it becomes clear that tea isn’t the only thing ideally suited for two.

On Lazy Afternoon Robin Aspland conjures a sound picture underpinned by Mick Hutton’s bass, Worth’s rolling, splaying brushes and completed by Tina May savouring and flavouring the lyrics with her own distinctive, tasteful emphasis. Her lazy phrasing draws out the meaning of the song’s pastoral pastels. Mick Hutton plays a dancing, tuneful solo that buzzes around the room, vibrant and precise. Along with Bobby Worth, Hutton provides a dreamy, misty edge, like a summer haze blurring to infinity, and Robin Aspland plays a chiming coda to Tina May’s lingering vocals.

English football may have been losing on the television screens next door, but here in the back room at the Bull's Head, British jazz was heading for a decisive victory.

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