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Jazz - Released March 26, 2002 | Rhino - Elektra

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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released March 26, 2002 | Rhino - Elektra

Grover Washington, Jr., has long been one of the leaders in what could be called rhythm & jazz, essentially R&B-influenced jazz. Winelight is one of his finest albums, and not primarily because of the Bill Withers hit "Just the Two of Us." It is the five instrumentals that find Washington (on soprano, alto, and tenor) really stretching out. If he had been only interested in sales, Washington's solos could have been half as long and he would have stuck closely to the melody. Instead he really pushes himself on some of these selections, particularly the title cut. A memorable set of high-quality and danceable soul-jazz. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 6, 1995 | Columbia

Soulful Strut is a typically smooth and swinging date from Grover Washington, Jr. Occasionally, the production by Walter Afanasieff is too slick and commercial, diluting the impact of Washington's subtle, relaxed groove. Fortunately, Washington's instrumental skills cut through the gloss, making Soulful Strut another worthy record for mainstream soul-jazz fans. © Leo Stanley /TiVo
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released January 1, 1976 | Kudu Records

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. was faced with an almost impossible task in 1976: following up his two 1975 critically acclaimed and wildly successful commercial recordings Mister Magic and Feels So Good. Both recordings crossed over to R&B on the radio and on the charts. A Secret Place was produced by Creed Taylor and issued on his Kudu imprint, while the versatile David Matthews arranged the horn section. The players include pianist Dave Grusin, drummer Harvey Mason, Ralph MacDonald on percussion, bassist Anthony Jackson, guitarist Eric Gale, trumpeter John Gatchell, and alto saxophonist Gerry Niewood. Guests include bassist George Mraz and guitarist Steve Khan, who appear only on a reading of Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance." This lineup may not be surprising, but the scope of the recording is. Washington could have gone the easy route and followed up his R&B chart success with a series of uptempo, rousing tracks that leaned heavier on funk -- in the style of the title tracks of both the previous albums. But he went in a different direction, at least partially. There are four cuts here, each between eight and nine minutes. The first two (which comprise side one of the LP), the title track, and Hancock's tune, are a bit more laid-back and mysterious. Washington takes his time letting them unfold, utilizing dynamics. "A Secret Place" does have a slippery funky backbeat, and a killer guitar line by Gale (did he ever play anything else in the '70s?) but the groove is nocturnal, spacy, and soulful. His soprano sings over the backbeat as Grusin's Rhodes piano plays down a vamp for the rhythm section, and fills in the painted backdrop beautifully. The tempo picks up with Jackson's bassline becoming more prominent in the mix, but it never overpowers the easy groove established at the beginning. "Dolphin Dance" begins every bit as sparely and exotically spacious as Hancock's own version, with beautiful soprano and alto work, gorgeous floating Rhodes piano, and lots of warmth. When it begins to swing near the middle, it does so in such a relaxed and languid manner that the shift from soul-jazz on the preceding tune to the straight up fingerpopping nightclub swing on this one is seamless. As usual, Washington's own soloing and melodic improvising are stellar. "Not Yet" opens the second half of the set. It's a funky groove, but the easy, laid-back feel and chord changes in this Washington original make it irresistibly sexy. Once more, Gale's guitar pleases as it leads the horn section vamps that fill his sophisticated, soulful, bluesed-out solo. The lilt in Grusin's Rhodes piano is the perfect tastemaker, since Washington's tenor is so throaty and on the low-end growl. Harvey Mason's straight up funky soul number "Love Makes It Better," takes the set out on a high note, with gorgeous guitar vamps by Gale, the three-horn line playing a sparse but pronounced melody line, and Grusin filling the middle with enough sweetness and light to offer the drums and percussion room to really pop. Washington's tenor solo is sophisticated and utterly tasteful; its emotion ratchets up the dynamic in the entire tune. The bottom line on A Secret Place is that while the set did well commercially, it got nowhere near the critical praise of its predecessors. That's a shame, because it is a truly fine album whose grooves and pleasures stand the test of time easily. It's ripe for reappraisal. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released May 27, 2008 | Rhino - Elektra

Anyone who had seen Grover Washington, Jr. live could attest to the fact that whether he was playing electric jazz-funk or going acoustic on Billy Strayhorn's music, the Philly resident was a masterful saxman with as much technique as soul and charisma. However, the distinctive saxman's studio recordings (which range from outstanding to watered down) didn't always demonstrate just how commanding an improviser he could be. Anthology, a 1985 CD focusing on his work for Elektra, contains more hits than misses. Well worth hearing are jazz/R&B/pop instrumentals like the congenial "East River Drive" and the seductive "Let It Flow," and the R&B numbers "The Best Is Yet to Come" (which boasts a heartfelt vocal by Patti LaBelle) and Washington's major hit with Bill Withers, "Just the Two of Us." Unfortunately, Elektra made the mistake of including Washington's pointless version of reggae king Bob Marley's "Jammin'" (which is more of a pop cover than a genuine jazz interpretation), the insipid "Jet Stream," and the pleasant but not very memorable "In the Name of Love." © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 3, 1971 | UNI - MOTOWN

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This is one of Grover Washington, Jr.'s best-loved recordings and considered a classic of r&bish jazz. All four songs (which includes Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower") are quite enjoyable but it is "Mister Magic" that really caught on as a major hit. Bob James provided the colorful if somewhat commercial arrangements, there are spots for guitarist Eric Gale, and Washington (mostly on tenor and soprano) is heard in particularly creative form. Highly recommended. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released January 1, 1975 | Kudu Records

This is one of Grover Washington, Jr.'s best-loved recordings and considered a classic of r&bish jazz. All four songs (which includes Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower") are quite enjoyable but it is "Mister Magic" that really caught on as a major hit. Bob James provided the colorful if somewhat commercial arrangements, there are spots for guitarist Eric Gale, and Washington (mostly on tenor and soprano) is heard in particularly creative form. Highly recommended. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released November 20, 1980 | Elektra Asylum

Background singers, symthesizers. This is more programmed mood music than jazz. Smooth and nice. Gold album. © Michael Erlewine /TiVo
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released January 1, 1975 | Kudu Records

The aptly titled and much-sampled Feels So Good represents the creative apex of Grover Washington, Jr.'s sublime electric funk sound. Its shimmering, soulful grooves refute the argument that smooth jazz is little more than mere ambience, combining expert playing and intricate songwriting to create music that is both compelling and comforting. Arranger Bob James is in top form here, creating the spacious, rich milieus that are his trademark, but regardless of the name above the title, bassist Louis Johnson is the real star of the show. His supple rhythms percolate like coffee, adding oomph to the bottom of highlights "Hydra" and "Knucklehead" while Washington's cream-and-sugar soprano sax solos soar over the top. © Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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Jazz - Released February 7, 1975 | UNI - MOTOWN

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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released January 1, 1972 | Kudu Records

The story behind Grover Washington, Jr.'s first session date as a leader revolves around a sheer coincidence of being in the right place at the right time. The truth is, the date for Creed Taylor's Kudu imprint was supposed to feature Hank Crawford in the soloist's chair. Crawford couldn't make the date and longtime sideman Washington got the nod. His being closely affiliated with organists Charles Earland and Johnny Hammond didn't hurt, and his alto and tenor saxophones' tone was instantly noticeable for both its song-like quality and Washington's unique ability to dig deep into R&B territory for his expression of feeling. Released in 1971, produced by Taylor, and arranged and orchestrated by Bob James, the list of players in this band is equally impressive: James played Fender Rhodes, there's Richard Tee on organ, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Idris Muhammad, then-new guitarist Eric Gale, percussionist Airto Moreira, Thad Jones and Eugene Young on trumpets, trombonist Wayne Andre, and baritone saxophonist Don Ashworth. James also added a violin section and a small vocal chorus on certain tracks. Inner City Blues kicks off with its title track, a burning version of the Marvin Gaye tune with Washington lending a heft and depth to it that reveals the sophistication of Gaye's original. From Airto's hand drums and Muhammad's hi-hat whispers to the chunky wah-wah guitar vamp and a funky bassline by Carter, it becomes clear that Washington's methods of deep soul articulation on his horn extend into the heart of this mix. James decorated his charts with subtle organ flourishes and his piano, but this is early jazz-funk at best. While Miles Davis was abstracting jazz on the margins, Washington and his cohorts were keeping the music in the street, in the barroom, on the radio, and in the nightclubs and bowling alleys. The tune was a hit at a time when fusion was becoming widespread; free jazz from both sides of the Atlantic was considering itself the new standard bearer for the music, and the many legends of the '60s Blue Note and Prestige eras were beginning to feel the music get away from them. With this entry, Washington's screaming, edgy solo stayed in the killer grooves with breaks laid down by Muhammad and Moreira, Gale and Carter. Washington was just getting started and it was evident here that this cat was deep. He walked the standards side of the fence on this date as well, bringing them into the jazz-funk era: his readings of "Georgia on My Mind" and "I Loves You Porgy" are sensitive, deeply lyrical, and sophisticated, but come from the soul side of the fence. Carter's warm, bubbly bassline and the brief guitar break introduce the strings in the former tune while at the same time Washington plays the melody on his alto. Muhammad lays down some beautiful and pronounced rhythmic statements without getting in the way, and before long the groove develops, taking the tune right into the club with Gale's solo and some hot comping by James that fades as the strings and Grover return deeper in the cut to take it out. The other cuts are modern standards and pop songs creatively voiced by this soloist and band. They include a stellar, lightly funky version of Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)," and a knock-out take on Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," rivaled only by the original and Rahsaan Roland Kirk's flute version on Blacknuss. On the former tune, it's the popping rhythm groove dressed in some smoking hand percussion and fat chunky Rhodes chords that set up Washington's solo, which just burns and wails with all the pleading and pain in Gaye's voice. The latter cut begins subtly, nocturnally in the blues, with Gale, James, Carter, and Muhammad. Washington enters playing the melody on the alto, and the strings sound draped around him just as the horn section comes in to play counterpoint a beat behind. This is some deep soul. A vocal chorus begins almost subliminally with the "I know, I know, I know, I know" intonation and introduces the popping solos by Gale with the rhythm section in the bridge underscored by the horns. The strings well up with all the drama and emotion emanating from Withers' words, and then just drop behind to allow the saxophonist back in to work it all out with some very sophisticated grooves. The other "modern" standard here is also one that's endured after all these years, the sensitive reading Washington and company put in on Buffy Sainte-Marie's beautiful "Until It's Time for You to Go." Its melancholy sweetness after the eight-and-a-half-minute Withers' jam is breathy, clear, and quiet; James and Washington set it in a light bossa groove. Its shimmering strings and the saxophonists' restraint on the tenor is so elegant and graceful that the tune carries emotion, gentleness, and the bittersweet commitment of its lyric all the way through to its end. This is an amazing debut in so many ways, and it was followed by a run of albums for the label through the end of the '70s when Washington left for Elektra. Inner City Blues remains standing today as a landmark and a turning point in jazz. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1996 | Motown

While there can be no doubt that the late great Grover Washington, Jr. released his most commercially successful recordings for Columbia and Elektra, there is also no doubt that, critically and creatively, Washington's most visionary material, the stuff that virtually created the template for the smooth jazz generations that came after, were on the Kudu imprint and produced by Creed Taylor. Washington was a monster saxophonist on tenor as well as soprano, and a true stylist. Before coming to Motown and Kudu he had apprenticed with a number of soul-jazz masters, including Charles Earland and Johnny "Hammond" Smith. The material here focuses on the seminal eight years Washington recorded for Motown and Kudu, beginning with his early renditions of standards like "I Loves You, Porgy," from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, but quickly moves into what he did best in his early years, making killer records full of contemporary soul-jazz recordings of the hits of the day: "Where Is the Love" and his deeply funky readings of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," "Mercy Mercy," and especially "Trouble Man" (presented in an edited single version here that may actually be tougher than the original!), with arrangements by Bob James and Don Sebesky. His sense of time and his phrasing were, and remain, a standard for melodic improvisation, and all of his lame imitators -- especially Kenny G -- can't hold a candle to his ability, whether considering his lyric, on-the-money improvisational genius or especially his sense of time and phrasing. This set is divided in a sense by two periods, the Motown years and then the Kudu ones, and all the major and some minor cuts (which are still major) are here. For evidence of this, check his soprano medley of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and J.J. Johnson's "Theme from Man and Boy," as well as Withers' "Lean on Me" a little later on disc one. The medley, with great charts by James, is still remarkable for its ability to meld deep soul, lithe funk, progressive big band charts, and pop. The second disc focuses more deeply on the Kudu years and kicks off with "Reed Seed," a composition by Washington when he was already pushing past his own boundaries as he had on Feels So Good and Mister Magic -- not only are both tunes here, but the best tracks from both those and the Reed Seed album are as well. The breezy hand percussion, the violin solo, the electric piano, and of course Washington's own solo make it an irresistible opener. "Black Frost," co-written with James, is a solid example of the deep-groove funk Washington was pioneering at the time; while his tenor had an edge, his delivery and the other instrumentation were smooth, and the combination is still ahead of its time. As for those who questioned Washington's pure jazz chops, there is a revolutionary version of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Bright Moments" here, radically reinterpreted in its harmonic sequence and rhythmic complexity. When the tender reading of Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" found here can be said to be the "weakest" link in the bunch -- and it's far from weak -- then the listener is getting something special indeed. This is the one to start with until early Motown albums are re-released in America on CD, and it is the one that compiles all the great stuff from Kudu. For any serious fan of soul-jazz and melodic jazz-funk, or even smooth jazz, all of these records are essential purchases, but this is a fantastic beginning. It is easily the best compilation of Grover Washington, Jr. material anywhere. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 14, 2009 | Rhino - Elektra

Grover Washington, Jr.'s mosaic jazz persona balms like an elixir on 13 mellow ones from his 1979 to 1984 Elektra Records period; Love Songs features at least one title from each of his five Elektra albums. These were melodious times for Washington who happily demonstrates his virtuosity on multiple reed instruments and the flute, accompanied by backing singers, acclaimed studio musicians, and star vocalists. Bill Withers unites with Washington on the chart-busting "Just the Two of Us"; Patti Labelle joins him on Cynthia Biggs and Dexter Wansel's "The Best Is Yet to Come"; and Grady Tate croons "Be Mine Tonight." Leonard "Doc" Gibbs, better-known now as chef Emeril Lagasse's bandleader (on his cooking show), burns on percussions. This is smooth urban jazz at its finest; even Bob Marley's "Jammin'," a rocker for sure, comes off buttery. If you don't have any of Washington's LPs from this era, this is a good catch-up. Silky joints like "Winelight," "Let It Flow (For 'Dr. J')," "East River Drive," and others make listening a pleasure: not the challenge that jazz purists prefer. Even if you're lukewarm about jazz you'll enjoy these accessible spins. © Andrew Hamilton /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 30, 2010 | Lightyear

Timed nearly to coincide with the ten-year anniversary of the untimely passing of the saxophone legend at age 56 in December 1999, Grover Live functions beautifully as a tribute to the musician and his legacy, a gleeful romp through his best-loved songs and a warm, inviting look at the man in action -- specifically a show at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill, NY, circa 1997. Washington's melodic, grooving, and improvisational passion that night became a wonderful recorded document for his fans to treasure through the efforts of Grammy-winning keyboardist/producer Jason Miles, who received producing credit for the collection. Truly, no single contemporary jazz voice has done more to keep Washington's joyful musical legacy alive than Miles; in addition to helming two all-star tribute collections called To Grover, With Love, he created several live concerts devoted to the saxman's music at Berks Jazz Festival in Reading, PA in the late 2000s. His attitude in getting through the red tape and bringing this up to sonic speed was surely a matter of asking, why just pay homage when you can deliver the real deal? That's what this magnificent 80-minute set is -- a simply wonderful, varied show featuring Washington at his peak, running through the songs his fans still can't get enough of, starting with a seven-and-a-half minute roll through "Winelight," having fun with band intros on "Take Five (Take Another Five)," dancing through "Soulful Strut," waxing dreamy and tropical on "Mystical Force," and heading "Uptown" before wrapping with a nearly-12-minute "Let It Flow" and his trademark "Mr. Magic." Making sure no one left unsatisfied that night (as if it were possible), in the middle of the set is an eight-song medley featuring snippets of every other Washington song that could be considered a hit -- from "Just the Two of Us" to "Jamaica." Miles tells the story behind the discovery of the DAT tapes of this show in his liner notes. When he called Washington's widow Christine in 2008 to tell her about the Berks concert, she invited the producer and his wife Kathy to Philly listen to recordings of numerous shows he left behind. A labor-intensive process of finding the perfect one to release, and going through all the licensing red tape has netted Washington (and contemporary jazz) fans everywhere a richly realized, souvenir snapshot that includes the saxman interacting with his fans via monologue/introductions as easily as he does with his band. It's a glimpse of the artist at his best, playing his heart out for a small crowd that will now grow exponentially thanks to Miles, for whom this is the ultimate labor of love. © Jonathan Widran /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 3, 2013 | Columbia - Legacy

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R&B - Released January 1, 1980 | UNI - MOTOWN

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The story behind Grover Washington, Jr.'s first session date as a leader revolves around a sheer coincidence of being in the right place at the right time. The truth is, the date for Creed Taylor's Kudu imprint was supposed to feature Hank Crawford in the soloist's chair. Crawford couldn't make the date and longtime sideman Washington got the nod. His being closely affiliated with organists Charles Earland and Johnny Hammond didn't hurt, and his alto and tenor saxophones' tone was instantly noticeable for both its song-like quality and Washington's unique ability to dig deep into R&B territory for his expression of feeling. Released in 1971, produced by Taylor, and arranged and orchestrated by Bob James, the list of players in this band is equally impressive: James played Fender Rhodes, there's Richard Tee on organ, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Idris Muhammad, then-new guitarist Eric Gale, percussionist Airto Moreira, Thad Jones and Eugene Young on trumpets, trombonist Wayne Andre, and baritone saxophonist Don Ashworth. James also added a violin section and a small vocal chorus on certain tracks.Inner City Blues kicks off with its title track, a burning version of the Marvin Gaye tune with Washington lending a heft and depth to it that reveals the sophistication of Gaye's original. From Airto's hand drums and Muhammad's hi-hat whispers to the chunky wah-wah guitar vamp and a funky bassline by Carter, it becomes clear that Washington's methods of deep soul articulation on his horn extend into the heart of this mix. James decorated his charts with subtle organ flourishes and his piano, but this is early jazz-funk at best. While Miles Davis was abstracting jazz on the margins, Washington and his cohorts were keeping the music in the street, in the barroom, on the radio, and in the nightclubs and bowling alleys.The tune was a hit at a time when fusion was becoming widespread; free jazz from both sides of the Atlantic was considering itself the new standard bearer for the music, and the many legends of the '60s Blue Note and Prestige eras were beginning to feel the music get away from them. With this entry, Washington's screaming, edgy solo stayed in the killer grooves with breaks laid down by Muhammad and Moreira, Gale and Carter. Washington was just getting started and it was evident here that this cat was deep. He walked the standards side of the fence on this date as well, bringing them into the jazz-funk era: his readings of "Georgia on My Mind" and "I Loves You Porgy" are sensitive, deeply lyrical, and sophisticated, but come from the soul side of the fence. Carter's warm, bubbly bassline and the brief guitar break introduce the strings in the former tune while at the same time Washington plays the melody on his alto. Muhammad lays down some beautiful and pronounced rhythmic statements without getting in the way, and before long the groove develops, taking the tune right into the club with Gale's solo and some hot comping by James that fades as the strings and Grover return deeper in the cut to take it out.The other cuts are modern standards and pop songs creatively voiced by this soloist and band. They include a stellar, lightly funky version of Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)," and a knock-out take on Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," rivaled only by the original and Rahsaan Roland Kirk's flute version on Blacknuss. On the former tune, it's the popping rhythm groove dressed in some smoking hand percussion and fat chunky Rhodes chords that set up Washington's solo, which just burns and wails with all the pleading and pain in Gaye's voice. The latter cut begins subtly, nocturnally in the blues, with Gale, James, Carter, and Muhammad. Washington enters playing the melody on the alto, and the strings sound draped around him just as the horn section comes in to play counterpoint a beat behind. This is some deep soul. A vocal chorus begins almost subliminally with the "I know, I know, I know, I know" intonation and introduces the popping solos by Gale with the rhythm section in the bridge underscored by the horns. The strings well up with all the drama and emotion emanating from Withers' words, and then just drop behind to allow the saxophonist back in to work it all out with some very sophisticated grooves. The other "modern" standard here is also one that's endured after all these years, the sensitive reading Washington and company put in on Buffy Sainte-Marie's beautiful "Until It's Time for You to Go." Its melancholy sweetness after the eight-and-a-half-minute Withers' jam is breathy, clear, and quiet; James and Washington set it in a light bossa groove. Its shimmering strings and the saxophonists' restraint on the tenor is so elegant and graceful that the tune carries emotion, gentleness, and the bittersweet commitment of its lyric all the way through to its end. This is an amazing debut in so many ways, and it was followed by a run of albums for the label through the end of the '70s when Washington left for Elektra. Inner City Blues remains standing today as a landmark and a turning point in jazz. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Kudu Records

Grover Washington, Jr.'s sophomore date for Creed Taylor's Kud imprint was released in late 1972. Like its predecessor Inner City Blues, this session was produced by the label boss himself and was arranged and conducted by Bob James. Assembled for the date were large horn and string sections. The former contained stalwart talents like Detroit's Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone, and trumpeters Marvin Stamm and Ernie Royal. Other players on the session included what would become the heart of the CTI session crew: guitarists Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale, bassists Ron Carter and Gordon Edwards (who only appears on the opening cut), drummer Idris Muhammad (though Billy Cobham is also here), and percussionists like Airto Moreira and Ralph MacDonald. The real star of course is the soloist. Washington's debut, Inner City Blues, had done surprisingly well -- especially since it was a date originally intended for Hank Crawford who couldn't make the scene. This time out, both Taylor and James played to Washington's tremendous strengths as an emotional player whose melodic improvising referenced everything from Motown to Stax and Volt, from Ray Charles to early James Brown and the Fabulous Flames, to Donny Hathaway, who had an uncanny knack with current pop hits. James too was discovering his own strengths in this field as a pianist and really shines behind Washington on tracks like "Where Is the Love," (written by MacDonald, actually), and Bill Withers' "Lean on Me." Washington was equally versed on both tenor and alto, and possesses two very different tones on the horns. This gave James the opportunity to color the tunes with a rather startling array of colors, shades, and textures, making the two a wonderful team. Along with the aforementioned winners are the title track by Aretha Franklin with the slow, deep blue saxophone lines accompanied by hand percussion, a tight snare and hi-hat kit rhythm, and James ghostly chords on the Fender Rhodes. But the large backdrop of horns lends so much weight to the tune it almost breaks wide open. Then there's the gorgeous -- and radical-re-envisioning of "Body and Soul," as a montage illustrated wonderfully by James impressionistic strings and woodwinds underneath Washington's bluesy take on the melody. The standard "Lover Man" is reintroduced here and includes a new interlude written by James. Washington's playing on the tune is actually reminiscent of Crawford's in feel (during his time with Ray Charles), but Washington also evokes Ben Webster in the chances he takes improvising on his solo. As if all this weren't adventurous enough, the set closes with "Love Song 1700," an adaptation from a song by classical composer Henry Purcell. Here is the genius of James at work. His love for Purcell and classical composition of this era shows up throughout his career, but the way he orchestrates strings and winds behind Washington -- who could inject pure soul into even the dullest music of Lawrence Welk -- is provocative, lovely, and haunting, even in its more overblown moments. When All the King's Horses was originally released, it wasn't received as well as Inner City Blues had been the previous year. In retrospect, however, this set has assumed its proper place in Washington's catalog: as one of his more ambitious and expertly performed sessions. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released January 1, 1978 | Motown

Reed Seed was Grover Washington, Jr.'s final album for Kudu/Motown. It was also one of two recordings his issued in 1978 -- the other is the stone-killer live set Live at the Bijou. While the saxophonist had been experimenting with funk since 1971's Inner City Blues, by 1975's breakthrough recordings Mister Magic and Feels So Good, he'd perfected his groove. His appeal to fans of more radio-friendly material was ready: he had stellar grooves, very polished production, and accessible arrangements -- not too mention his stellar emotive attack on any saxophone he chose to play. Many straight-ahead jazz fans dug Washington's sound as well because of his technical facility on his instruments. Reed Seed, like its immediate studio predecessor Secret Place is a transition album from jazz-funk to what would become contemporary or, if you will, smooth jazz. That said, it is no less compelling than Mister Magic or Feels So Good. It follows those recordings in formula, beginning with the solidly funky "Do Dat," written by sidemen John Blake (keyboards and violin) and Leonard "Doc" Gibbs (percussion, vocals). Kicking it with a popping, repetitive bassline, Washington's tenor enters on the melody amid handclaps and the sounds of a backing chorus (provided by Rita & Lita Boggs). Containing a killer bass solo and bridge, it's a perfect length at 4:27 to be a single, and it was. This is followed by the uptown groover "Step "n" Thru," introduced by Blake's violin and synths, as well as nice guitar work from Richard Lee Steacker (the track's author). But the real prize is a smoking soprano solo from Washington as the tempo begins to move. The title track is a feature for Blake's violin to shine along with killer bass and percussion work, with Grover's soprano being intentionally restrained to providing its own sense of lyrical groove. There's a very fine cover of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are," and "Santa Cruzin'" sets the template for the direction he would follow in the future. It's a midtempo stepper with lithe funk and lots of acoustic piano and a very simple, direct melody that focuses on atmosphere as much as lyricism. The album's final number, "Loran's Dance," is a nocturnal one with Washington overdubbing his saxophone lines (alto and tenor); it develops on a Spanish-tinged theme, and the Rhodes work by Blake is exceptional. When Washington begins to solo, the atmosphere and textures are abundant yet full of space and dimension. It's sexy as hell. Reed Seed was a fitting way for Washington to leave the Kudu/Motown stable; it's a high-quality, wonderfully memorable set of mid- and uptempo funky jazz from a master. In addition, while the charts may not support this assertion, it is, along with his other records for these imprints and CTI before them, arguably the best and most consistent string of albums he ever recorded, as well as the platform that launched him into superstardom first with Elektra and then with Columbia. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released November 19, 1982 | Elektra Records

On The Best Is Yet to Come, the title cut was a major R&B hit, with Patti Labelle doing vocals. The rest, unfortunately, is formulaic fusion. © Ron Wynn /TiVo
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Jazz - Released August 21, 1987 | Columbia

Grover Washington, Jr.'s first album in three years (and debut for Columbia) did not yield any major hits but found him playing in prime form. Switching between his distinctive soprano, alto and tenor, Washington is joined by bassist-producer Marcus Miller, a large rhythm section and guest vocalists B.B. King ("Caught A Touch Of Your Love") and Jean Carne (on two songs). Highlights include "Strawberry Moon," "The Look Of Love," "Maddie's Blues" and "Summer Nights." © Scott Yanow /TiVo