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  Listen Up! 4/23/04 Listen Up!

Friday, Apr. 23

Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, “Lookin’ At Monk!,” Jazzland/OJC Records. Flash back to 1961, when Monk was still an oddball who hadn’t quite made the pantheon of jazz greats yet. Oh, his tunes were recorded frequently, and that album with Coltrane was well respected, but there were as many detractors as there were those in awe of the great composer. Griffin had played in Monk’s band before, and was on a string of work with the equally muscular tenor saxophonist Davis. They decided to do a record of all Monk tunes, and the result is an unusual little record that doesn’t quite work, but doesn’t quite hurt, either. Junior Mance’s piano is entirely too straightforward rhythmically, and this keeps these incredible songs from flying the way they usually do. But, it’s a great selection of tunes, and it’s always fun to remember the days when “’Round Midnight” was fodder for playing well, as opposed to something the musicians were supposed to bow down and worship. Griffin and Davis are strong, as always.

Grateful Dead, “Europe ’72,” Rhino Records. While I’ve learned to appreciate some of the Dead’s songwriting – “Ripple” is just downright beautiful, and how can anybody resist “Friend of the Devil”? – but, good God, they remain the worst collection of musicians to ever walk the earth. Even if we accept the skills of drummer Bill Kreutzman as being slightly above average, even if we acknowledge that Phil Lesh really isn’t half bad on bass, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that Jerry Garcia had the worst guitar tone and the worst sense of rhythm and the worst improvisational development in the history of rock, jazz, soul, classical, or polka. How can a band that so obviously wants to be riding the groove to transcendence get there with such a horrendous weak link holding them down? This remastered expanded version of the original three-record set only gives us more to hate.

--Steve Pick

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