Even a song as well worn as Billie Holiday's "Lover Man" sounded new when played by the Johnny Griffin Quartet at the Wolf Trap Barns Saturday night. When Griffin pulled apart the original melody with his tenor saxophone, he wasn't content merely to run through chords. Instead he created brand-new melodies. Building the song from creamy tones in the lower register to an exciting climax, Griffin made a fluid melodic connection from each phrase to the next.
Griffin, the American be-bop expatriate now living in France, is best known for his sax sprints, and he showed off his speed on a breathless arrangement of "All the Things You Are."
The mature Griffin, though, wisely employed Monk-like pauses to break up and shape his stream of notes. Like his old partner Art Blakey, Griffin has hired a band of promising young musicians. Pianist Harry Pickens, who towered nearly two feet over his band leader, sho she turned to Brazil for inspiration, the mood turned too, becoming either engagingly romantic or lightly festive.
Pianist Marc Cohen, bassist Dave Fink and drummer Steve Williams imbued the music with a genuine jazz feeling, and they set the stage for Fredette's arrival with a bold version of "Days of Wine and Roses," full of emotion and surprising harmonies.