Griffin Woodard Group, Completion Review
by Stamish Malcuss
The Griffin Woodard Group, a close-knit ensemble of accomplished musicians, has embarked on a journey of shared artistic expression with their debut album, Completion. Comprised predominantly of Oberlin Conservatory Jazz Studies alumni, the group combines their individual talents and shared experiences to create a radiant tapestry of musical euphony.
The project, led by composer and bass clarinetist Griffin Woodard, explores jazz’s many forms and expressions, drawing inspiration from the rich tradition of Black American Music. The ensemble, featuring vocalist Georgia Heers, saxophonist Coleman Rose, pianist Abe Gold, bassist Miles Gilbert, and drummer Hugh Kline, is further enriched by guest vocalist Deneen Jones. Together, they breathe life into Woodard’s original compositions and arrangements, creating an engaging musical experience that resonates deeply with jazz listeners.
The album opens with “Little Angel,” a track that immediately introduces listeners to Woodard’s distinct style. The song features vocalist Georgia Heers, whose delivery of the positive lyrics adds an uplifting quality to the already flowing melody. Woodard’s warm bass clarinet underpins the rhythm section, providing a rhythmic ostinato that supports the A section of the piece. The post-bop foundation of Woodard’s composition is evident here, as the melody’s interesting intervals create a unique blend of traditional songbook flow and post-bop dynamism. In his solo, Woodard’s keen ear for melody is displayed as he slowly and deliberately builds his ideas, showing his musical maturity over flash.
Following the opening track, “Alchemy” contrasts sharply and offers a fascinating perspective on Woodard’s musical abilities. The track is a solo venture for Woodard, with only drummer Hugh Kline accompanying him. Here, Woodard’s playing briefly takes on a sonic quality reminiscent of Eric Dolphy, a legendary figure in jazz bass clarinet. The pair maintain a melodic flow throughout the song, with Woodard building energy in his solo while Kline’s drumming remains responsive and supportive. The attentive listening between the two musicians is evident in the track’s progression, creating a dynamic interplay that makes “Alchemy” a standout track, particularly for bass clarinet enthusiasts.
“Camillus House,” another original composition by Woodard, showcases the diverse colors of his bass clarinet timbre. Coleman Rose’s soprano saxophone complements Woodard’s sound marvelously, adding another layer of texture to the composition. Woodard continues to focus on clear lines and melodic shapes in his performance. His arpeggios are fluid when the activity picks up, but for the most part, his focus is on longer melodic shapes, mainly employing a flow of eighth and quarter notes. The synergy between Woodard and Rose is a highlight of the track, with their instruments playing off each other to create a captivating musical conversation.
Overall, Completion is a solid debut album showcasing Griffin Woodard’s unique compositional style and exceptional bass clarinetist skill. The musical variety and depth presented are the foundation of the album’s broader appeal. For jazz and bass clarinet lovers, Completion is an album worth exploring.