CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

Johnny Griffith Quintet: The Lion, Camel & Child (GB)

A review of the Canadian saxophonist's third album with his quintet.

"The Lion, Camel & Child" by the Johnny Griffith Quintet
“The Lion, Camel & Child” by the Johnny Griffith Quintet

Long ago, Friedrich Nietzsche laid out the evolution of the human spirit with a useful metaphor: the concept of three metamorphoses, in which the camel, lion, and child come to represent the phases of development or arrival. Now saxophonist Johnny Griffith has adapted that concept for his own musical purposes.

Each movement of this album’s title suite captures the inherent qualities of Nietzsche’s stages. Shuffling the order, Griffith starts with the swinging might and right of “The Lion.” A descending three-note motif closes out that number and bridges it to “The Camel,” coming to serve as the foundation for an entrancing journey. Then Griffith stands alone, presenting a plainly titled “Cadenza” that segues to “The Child” in all its frisky glories. The entire growth process is covered in less than 19 minutes, but the explanation feels utterly complete.

Moving away from the figurative after that multi-movement opener, Griffith looks far and wide in sound and subject matter while reaffirming the strength and flexibility of this quintet. “Narcomedusae” takes its name from a type of jellyfish, but is hardly spineless. It opens with bassist Jon Maharaj’s calm observations, propelled by drummer Ethan Ardelli, who also does a good job complementing trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and pianist Adrean Farrugia. The balladic “Amarone,” denoting the full-flavored yet controlled character of its nominative wine variant, places this unit in the coolest of environments. “For a Derailed Painter” moves with a frenetic energy befitting its name. In keeping with the album’s theme, Griffith and company advance and adjust to fit each and every scenario.

Preview or download The Lion, Camel & Child on Amazon!