Johnny Griffin, who grew up in Chicago, went directly from high school in the late '40s into the band of Lionel Hampton. Later he absorbed bebop by hanging out with pianists Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. In the '50s he joined Art Blakey's hard-bopping Jazz Messengers. In 1963 he split for Europe, where he remained until last year.
Griffin had already been dubbed one of the "tough tenors" when he expatriated 16 years ago. Last night at Blues Alley he proved that he has not lost claim to the title.
The anger in the playing of his younger years is still there in the rushes of notes, but the lines are not crowded.
The quartet's first number was a blowing session which Griffin introduced with an extended statement that, for all its agitation and passion, was well organized and melodic. On "I Should Care," he displayed a hard and muscular tone, and even when he ran many notes together they had separation and definition.
Ronnie Mathews, whether bomping beneath the tenor sax of Griffin or in exploratory solo, was enlightening. Bassist Ray Drummond was strong in a supportive role and wildly inventive in solo passages. Idris Muhammed at the drums provided a relentless rhythmic thrust. The Johnny Griffin Quarter remains at Blues Alley through Sunday.