FRANK GRIFFITH NONET
"Live" Ealing Jazz Festival 2000
(Hep CD 2081)
Although he originally hails from Eugene, Oregon, Frank Griffith is now a well-established part of the London jazz scene. By day, he is Director of Performance at Brunel University in West London. However, it is through activities with his Nonet that he has increasingly endeared himself to Londoners, not least through regular appearances at the Bull's Head in Barnes.
Griffith originally formed a nonet in 1984 in New York City. At that time, it was co-led by trumpeter and arranger Ken Stone. Stone's adaptation of Gil Evans' arrangement of "Gone" is still in the band's repertoire, and is featured here. A later (1990) version of the Nonet, featuring Tom Harrell on trumpet, was featured on the fine Hep CD The Suspect, released in 2000. Partly in frustration at not being able to regularly convene the Nonet in NYC, Griffith relocated to London in 1996, forming this incarnation of the Nonet in 1997. NYC's loss was London's gain.
In addition to Griffith on tenor sax and clarinet, the group features another American, Bob Martin, on alto sax, Duncan Lamont on baritone sax, Henry Lowther and Steve Fishwick on trumpets, Malcolm Smith on trombone, Tom Cawley on piano, Dominick Howles on bass and Matt Fishwick on drums, a line-up that has remained stable since 1997. This CD captures them in their natural habitat, blowing in front of an appreciative audience. As with other nine-piece bands, the group has the firepower to sound like a big band (incidentally, Griffith does occasionally perform with the nonet expanded to a real big band) combined with the flexibility of a quintet (but with a greater range of soloists).
Right from the start here, with a storming rendition of "Lester Leaps In", the band demonstrates its strengths. Griffith's crisp arrangement, and excellent ensemble playing typify the track - and the set. This is a regular highlight of the band's shows and, as so often, Griffith steals the track with fine tenor sax soloing. The band is an interesting blend of youth and experience. Cawley was Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 1998, and repeatedly shows why; he is an imaginative soloist who is full of surprises, as well as an inspiring support player. And the Fishwick brothers are both excellent, with Steve repeatedly grabbing one's attention. Such youth is in contrast with the experience of Griffith and, in particular, Henry Lowther, who is the elder statesman of the group and plays superbly throughout, notably on Buddy Johnson's "Save Your Love For Me".
The set comes to a climax with "Gone", propelled along by Matt Fishwick's drumming. The Ealing audience bring the band back for an encore, a Griffith original "The Barnes Bull", which allows the leader to demonstrate his facility on clarinet. Thus closes a satisfying and enjoyable set that amply demonstrates the many strengths of this fine band.