Anyone in contemporary jazz for the long haul will already be aware of the tremendous gift bestowed on the genre by legendary guitarist Earl Klugh. It was Klugh along with Bob James, Grover Washington JR and Dave Grusin who, in the mid seventies, began to shape the music into something more pop and urban influenced than the fusion that preceded it. At the heart of this new vibe was the rhythm laced melody that went on to underpin much of what followed. Consequently it's a joy to find that the excellent Mosaic Contemporary label has reached back to gather the very best of Klugh's stellar career into one faultless compilation. This is just the latest in a veritable conveyer belt of incredible collections Mosaic Contemporary has delivered this year and is part of its mission to showcase definitive career highlights of some of the most respected artists around. It has done this by recognizing that nearly every important artist in contemporary jazz has recorded seminal material for
more than one record company. By licensing the most important tracks from various labels and then arranging them into chronological compilations Mosaic has created something very special and, in this respect, there is none more so than â€˜The Ultimate Earl Klugh'.
The album opens with the Klugh signature â€˜Angelina' and immediately it is difficult not to feel the excitement that heralded the 1976 self titled debut release from which the tune is taken. Laid back yet captivating, the record was produced by Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen who shortly afterwards went on to set up GRP Records. Later in 1976 Klugh again hooked up with Grusin and Rosen for â€˜Living Inside Your Love'. The haunting title cut is completely indicative of the period yet here sounds brand new. It was co-written by Klugh and Grusin, included Patti Austin on vocals and proved so popular that three years later it was covered by George Benson. Klugh had played in Benson's band from age 18 so this, and the fact that in 1987 they recorded the CD â€˜Collaboration' together, makes the connection so much more memorable. From that later album comes â€˜Brazilian Stomp' which is one of three numbers that finds Klugh in decidedly Latin mode. â€˜Dr Macumba' from his 1977 â€˜Finger Paintings' zings with a compelling Brazilian vibe and perhaps even better is the title track from the 1990 â€˜Midnight In San Juan'. More groove driven that much of his work it has the same melodic magic that time has made all his own.
By 1979 Klugh had evolved into an almost exclusively self produced artist and the title tracks from his albums â€˜Heart String' and â€˜Wishful Thinking' superbly demonstrate the sumptuous touch he was developing over this period. The catchy â€˜Rainbow Man' from his 1984 â€˜Soda Fountain Shuffle' is nothing short of being a joy and when, in 1989, he switched gears to record the CD â€˜Solo Guitar' his rendition of Johnny Mandel's â€˜Emily' proved to be a spellbinding standout.
The nineties found Klugh maintaining standards and further extending boundaries. â€˜Jo Ann's Song' from the 1993 â€˜Sounds & Visions' project is a case in point where, backed by none less than the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, he turns this Dave Grusin composition into a moody masterpiece. Klugh's subtle use of Lenny Price on soprano sax is but one facet of the sensitivity he injects into â€˜Maybe Tonight' from the â€˜Sudden Burst Of Energy' album. Recorded in 1996 it shows just how in tune he has remained with the developing trends of contemporary jazz but perhaps most noteworthy is the track â€˜Movin' On' from his 1992 collaboration with Bob James, â€˜Cool'. Following on from â€˜One on One' in 1979 and â€˜Two Of A Kind' three years later it proved to be the last of the three projects that Klugh and James worked on together. With the common denominator of James' sophisticated arrangements and unmistakable keys dovetailing to perfection with Klugh's melodic guitar they jointly deliver music that dances like light on water and brings truth to the expression â€˜less is more'.
Contemporary jazz has evolved tremendously over the last thirty years and Earl Klugh has been with it every step of the way. Now, courtesy of â€˜The Ultimate Earl Klugh', you too can relive that journey.
By Denis Poole, www.smoothjazztherapy.com