Completion is boldly and baldly autobiographical, recounting reminiscences and events that served to forge the personality, artistry, and will of Woodard. Of the 11 tracks on the album, ten are original compositions by Woodard with the eleventh being his arrangement of a venerated piece of worship.
Along with Griffin Woodard on bass clarinet are Coleman Rose on soprano and tenor saxophones, Abe Gold on piano, Miles Gilbert on bass, and Hugh Kline on drums. In whatever format these musicians play, there artistry makes an indelible stamp. They are joined on three tracks by Georgia Heers on vocals and, on one of those three tracks, by Deneen Jones.
Griffin Woodard describes the album in this way, “the Completion album has nothing to do with endings. The word completion means, to me, spiritual wholeness.” It's precisely the feeling one gets from listening to this album. I must confess that the album reminded me, in a spiritual sense, of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. It is a rare encounter to feel so moved, even touched, by an album. Especially, a debut album.
The album opens with Little Angel and the first tones you hear are from Woodard’s bass clarinet. Then comes the warm and charming vocals of Georgia Heers. Gold’s piano solo is a cool passage that sets the hook brilliantly with a four-note motif that stays in your head. But the pairing of Woodard and Gold—bass clarinet and piano—and the support of Gilbert’s bass and Kline’s drums that is so fine.
Then, surprisingly, comes Doxology which almost every churchgoer knows so well. It is the only piece on the album not from the pen of Woodard, albeit with his arrangement. With Woodard is the core trio along with Coleman Rose on soprano saxophone. To hear a beloved passage rendered so meaningfully in such an autobiographical sense is indeed touching. This is a work and performance astonishing beauty and elegance. Listen for the bass work of Miles Gilbert on Bass Interlude that is then followed by Camillus House and the return of Rose on soprano sax. The trading between Woodard and Rose is exquisite and the rhythm section is on fire.
That all changes with Bridget’s Song, a lovely ballad with sweeping passages from Gold’s solo piano. The reprise of Bridget’s Song is performed by the Quintet with Coleman on soprano sax. Then things take an enlightening turn with Alchemy, a duet between Woodard and drummer Kline. Amazing.
Marmalade witnesses the return of Georgia Heers on vocals after the warm bass clarinet introduction from Woodard. Heers and Gold play in duet with a slow inclusion of bass and drums. Gilbert and Kline are supremely understated but very effective. The outro is a thing of marvelous tone and texture. It is worth the wait.
Then comes the bright and bouncy Route 1 with Coleman Rose on tenor saxophone and smoking piano from Gold. The whole affair sounds like a tribute to Coltrane and McCoy Tyner. At 6:25, the song just wasn’t long enough.
The final two tracks are simply marvelous. Kyrie is sung by Heers and Deneen Jones with the refrain of Lord, have mercy. The chord changes are moving and the delicacy of the piano is in counterpoint to the pleas of the vocals. The soprano sax and bass clarinet with piano and bass carry the song out and beautifully set up the final track, Completion. Woodard, Rose and Gold open the song with the warm grace and reverence that comes with spiritual wholeness, as Woodard suggests. Bass and drums all provide their own elegance and wonder. All of the artists contribute brilliantly on this remarkable and memorable piece of serene and enlightened thanksgiving.
Completion by the Griffin Woodard Group is something spectacular. Moving from solo to duet to trio and all the way to septet, the format is always suitable for the composition and the artists make their own distinct imprint on every piece. The album is in the spiritual heritage of Coltrane’s Meditations or even A Love Supreme. For a debut album, Woodard has planted his flag.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl