'The pervasive vocals, both
chorus, are vapid'
Easy listening, but demanding too
The virtuosity of Grover Washington Jr, who died recently, shows through in this reissued Anthology
Anthology of Grover Washington Jr
Grover Washington Jr didn't live to see his 60th birthday this year, having died a couple of years ago at a surprisingly young age for a jazz musician. Equally facile on the soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, he was a prodigious jazz talent who, like many of his generation, moved into jazz-pop fusion for the money it brought him after he won respect for his jazz abilities. From time to time he returned to straight-ahead jazz and this writer knows him best through two such albums in the '80s and '90s.
The title of this album and his recent death would thus tempt one to expect it to contain a wide selection of his work, including his mainstream jazz albums. Expectations are belied. In fact this is a reissue of a 1981 album that was evidently meant to cash in on his great success in jazz-pop, since all the tracks belong to that genre and at least three are taken from his most famous hit, Winelight.
What shines through all this is his evident virtuosity, especially his solo improvisation ability, on three instruments. He is especially remarkable for his facility in the upper register, so that his tenor sometimes sounds like an alto and his alto like a soprano. The sound is unfailingly smooth and mellow while avoiding the danger of sounding effete like much jazz-pop, and the solos are intricate and even demanding, not so "easy listening" despite that being the characteristic of the totality of the music.
Chief among the irritants that contribute to the easy listening effect are the pervasive vocals, both solo and chorus. Even they, despite sometimes intruding as accompaniment into Washington's improvisations and more often alternating with the improvisations, are unable to spoil them, vapid though they are.
The drumming, despite its use of heavy rock beats, is surprisingly soft, fittingly for Washington's soft playing. East River Drive, with its long, sustained and high-register alto saxophone solo, is a good, but not unique, example of what often sounds like a true-blue jazz musician accompanied by a pop/rock group.
Published on 7 May 2003
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