AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Many straight-ahead bop musicians would never consider recording traditional folk songs from the British Isles, but that’s exactly what Johnny Griffin does on The Kerry Dancers and Other Swinging Folk — and this Orrin Keepnews-produced album just happens to be one of his best releases of the 1960s. Joined by pianist Barry Harris, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Ben Riley, the big-toned Chicago tenor man turns his attention to four traditional folk melodies: “The Londonderry Air” (also known as “Danny Boy”), “Green Grow the Rushes” (a Scottish favorite), “The Kerry Dancers” (an Irish piece), and “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” — all of which work perfectly well in an acoustic jazz setting. Not everything on this album (which was recorded in late 1961 and early 1962) is a folk song from the British Isles; the other half of the album ranges from Griffin’s moody “Oh, Now I See” to the John Coltrane-influenced “25 1/2 Daze.” On Riverside’s original LP version of this album, Griffin’s bop interpretations of folk songs were confined to side one — while the other material was placed on side two. But when Fantasy reissued this album on CD in 2001 on its Original Jazz Classics imprint, there was no interruption between the folk and non-folk material — you no longer had to get up and turn the record over. And that’s just as well, because Griffin brings a jazz mentality to everything on the album; he is as hard-swinging and improvisatory on “The Londonderry Air” as he is on “25 1/2 Daze” and “Oh, Now I See.” The Kerry Dancers and Other Swinging Folk is among the many Griffin releases that the Chicagoan can be proud of.
A musician with a penchant for variety and surprise, Johnny Griffin has provided plenty of both through his long career. This 1961 quartet album found the master tenor saxophonist exploring the possibilities in four familiar folk songs, three original compositions and a standard song, “Hush-a-Bye,” based on a classical piece.
2. Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair
3. Green Grow The Rushes
4. The Londonderry Air
2. Oh, Now I See
4. Ballad for Monsieur