After dabbling in disco for several years, organist Jimmy McGriff has returned to the fold, playing the kind of no-holds-barred blues that first won him an audience in jazz.
McGriff moved into the Cellar Door last night with an agressive trio obviously intent on resurrecting the after-hours groove long associated with the jazz organ. They didn't waste any time. Ellington's "In a Mellotone" was an appropriate place to begin. McGriff pumped it full of fat, chunky chords before yielding to several blistering turns from his sideman. Alto saxophonist Arnold Sterling then extended the mood with a passionate reading of "Old Folks." His tone, reflective but not the least bit sentimental, seemed to burn brighter with every chorus. By the time he reached the fiery coda, no one on stage could touch him.
McGriff, however, was just warming up. "April in Paris" and the funkathon that followed found him right in stride with Sterling's impressive lead. Certainly the swirling, orchestrated "Teach Me Tonight" left no doubt as to who was behind the controls. McGriff hasn't lost his touch.
Tangent, a quintet of young, local musicians, showed considerable promise during the opening set. Their own brand of fusion jazz is not particularly distinctive but Don Stapleson tastefully performed pieces by Wayne Shorter and Ralph Towner. Tangent and McGriff return tonight.