Monday, September 8, 2008

The Randolph W. Griffin Quartet

Billing themselves in the hard-bop style of jazz greats like John Coltrane and Miles David, The Randolph W. Griffin Quartet certainly attempts to dress the part. Nattily dressed in identical black and white suits, a different color handkerchief in the pockets of each member, they're impressive to see, visually at least. If clothes alone made for excellence, there would be no shortage of it to go around. Yet as is often the case, excellently dressed often does not mean excellently proficient.

To begin with, there's a simple matter of the name of the group itself. The title would not seem out of place adorning the name of a nineteenth century politician or a film director of overwrought epics, but unless meant in irony, it doesn't grab the attention of the audience. Next, there's a slight problem with the solos. Jazz musicians are expected to improvise solos on the spot, both as a means of showcasing the technical chops of each player and as a way of providing the audience an opportunity to observe what each instrument sounds like in isolation. The quartet manages to sound competent when each player provides his own part alongside the other three players, each designed to fit together seamlessly in interlocking fashion. That is not the issue. The problem, instead, is that when the audience calls for a solo, every performer grows so intensely self-conscious and nervous that the end result could not be described as music. Wavering, quivering trumpet, imprecise trombone, off-beat, off-tempo drumming, squeaky, squiggly saxophone---irregardless of the instrument, the end result is identical.

Unless they can conquer their stage fright, The Randolph W. Griffin quartet will never be much of anything. But, at least they look nice.

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