Soul jazz tenorist Washington's earliest recordings as a sideman collected together in...
Greg Boraman 2002
Grover Washington Jr suffers guilt by association. His work of the late 70's and early 80's has often been cited as just one of the factors that led to the questionable delights of 'smooth' jazz, and his outstanding work on alto saxophone is often seen as the first link in a chain of increasingly bland musical movements that eventually led to the rise of Kenny G and the like.
But what this compilations concentrates on is a very different, earlier scene altogether. Discovery shows that Grover, like many, came to the fore at the time of 'soul jazz' - the movement that gained momentum throughout the 1960's centred around a bluesy, gospel-ish approach to jazz that was a reaction against the 'new thing' or free jazz.
Soul jazz quite often featured the sound of the Hammond Organ, and these tracks hark back to those days of the 1960's and 70's when urban black America had the time of its life grooving to the soulful sounds of the organ quartets that were the feature of nearly every black club from New Jersey to Chicago.
In fact, a track from Grovers' first ever Prestige Records recording session features on this set - 'Killer Joe', a soul jazz standard if there ever was one. Taken from Hammond player Charles Earlands' Living Black album, caught live at The Key Club in Newark in 1970, this track typifies the 'down home' approach of good time soul jazz. The other organists featured on this collection are the wonderful Johnny 'Hammond' Smith, Leon Spencer Jr and Sonny Phillips.
Grovers' playing throughout demonstrates his command of be-bop, funk, soul and his ability to seamlessly blend these elements together. Combined with his mastery of the horn it comes as no surprise to find that he was one of the most commercially successful saxophonists of his generation.
This compilation certainly could not be described as a 'greatest hits' type package - in fact most of the titles are culled from other artists recordings on which Washington was a sideman. The benefit of this is that we get to appreciate his excellent sax work alongside the efforts of equally legendary names such as drummers Bernard Purdie and Idris Muhhamad, guitarists Ivan 'Boogaloo' Jones and Melvin Sparks.
To get the most from this CD, pretend that it's a Saturday night in 1971, you are somewhere just south of New York and that the synthesiser is still to be invented!