Because memories are short and because he was that good the memory of the late Grover Washington Jr. deserves to be reinstated where it truly belongs: in Valhalla, where the spirits of great musicians go to be honoured for what they contributed to music. While here on earth lesser mortals like us are left to pine for them by hanging on to their every note until, that is, a musician and fan such as the truly gifted keyboards player Jason Miles comes along with this wonderful tribute to Washington – To Grover With Love. Listening to the performance that was recorded in 2010 at the Blue Note Club in Tokyo, Japan, one is struck by the visceral energy that Grover Washington’s music still produces. Much of this also has to do with the fact that this evangelising recording is blessed not only with a wonderful band, but also with the presence of the great Ralph MacDonald Grover Washington’s percussionist who seems to conjure up the ghost of his friend and boss.
Grover Washington Jr. rose to eminence in the 1980s achieving his greatest success with Winelight (Elektra, 1980). The virtuoso saxophonist was grossly miscast as a ‘smooth jazz’ musician, a term that somehow crept into music thanks to the evil genius of Madison Avenue suits, who inspired a whole new lexicon of terms that denigrated the sacredness of music. Nevertheless Washington never let this typecasting define his music and went on to make terrific music making two monumental albums toward the end of his life – So Many Stars with the famous operatic soprano Kathleen Battle, and his last album, a classical one entitled Aria where he was at his most electrifying best as he played great arias from operas including by Puccini’s O Mio Babbino Caro and Delibes’ Lâkmé on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone. But Grover Washington Jr. was essentially a jazz musician and it is this that Jason Miles celebrates with an extraordinary group of musicians.
Miles is, of course, an extraordinary musician in his own right whose own genius brought him to the attention of Miles Davis and was rewarded by the legendary trumpeter when Davis employed him for iconic albums such as Tutu (Warner, 1986) and Amandla (Warner, 1989). Jason Miles’ winning musicianship is all over To Grover With Love a heartfelt homage to Washington. And what a joyous experience it is to recall the saxophonist’s music through the playing of Miles. The pianist often defers to his two saxophonists Eric Darius and Andy Snitzer, but there can be no doubt that the conjuring up of the spirit of Washington is largely due to the deeply felt emotions for Washington as well as an adulation that is not in the least bit ill-advised. Best of all Miles and the band are able to give new meaning to Washington’s music without turning back the musical clock so to speak.
You might have to hold your breath from the moment the sound bursts out of the speakers exploding into ‘Winelight’. The saxophonists’ converse exchanging Grover Washington licks weaving their way in and out of Gerald Veasley’s pumping bass while Jason Miles’ keyboards float over the music with notes that sound as if they were a halo woven from heart music. The other classic chart by Washington, Just the Two of Us appears halfway through the album by which time you are blue in the face from not breathing, waiting for the magical tune to be played. Here too, the magic of Washington’s classic tune is captured by the ensemble, but not in an obvious manner: Ryan Shaw’s high and mighty vocals ring in the changes that were once cast in stone by Bill Withers’ silken voice. But it isn’t simply these two charts that dazzle; on the contrary that album is packed with end-to-end beauty concluding with a final tribute which ironically is a fitting moniker for Grover Washington Jr. – ‘Mr. Magic’. Kudos is well deserved all around, while a resounding ‘Bravo’ is due to Jason Miles.
Track List: Winelight; Sassy Stew; Take Me There; Lorans Dance; Just the Two of Us; BlackFrost; Inner City Blues; Let it Flow; Mr. Magic.
Personnel: Jason Miles: Fender Rhodes, Nord Electro, Prophet 8; Andy Snitzer: tenor saxophone; Eric Darius: tenor saxophone; Gerald Veasley: bass; Nick Maroch: guitar; Buddy Williams: drums; Ralph MacDonald: percussion; Ryan Shaw: vocal – Just the Two of Us.
Label: Whaling City Sound
Release date: March 2016
Running time: 1:11:45
Buy album on: amazon