Jason Miles - To Grover With Love, Live In Japan (2016)

Jason Miles
jasonmiles-groverlive.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Jason Miles - To Grover With Love, Live In Japan

With instrumental jazz – both of the mainstream and contemporary variety – increasingly relegated to the margins of commercial and even public radio, it’s hard to overstate the star power that Grover Washington Jr. possessed from the early-1970’s to the mid-1980s. Grover became a mainstay on the pop, R&B, and the jazz charts for a 15 year period between 1972 and 1987. Grover’s imaginative yet smooth sax playing combined with vocals of A-list R&B vocal talent such as Bill Withers and Patti Labelle propelled “Just The Two Of Us” and “The Best Is Yet To Come” respectively into Top 20 R&B hits (the former reached number 3 on the pop charts). Instrumental singles such as “Mr Magic” and “Summer Song” received airplay on R&B stations – something that is unheard of today.

Jason Miles - To Grover With Love, Live In Japan

With instrumental jazz – both of the mainstream and contemporary variety – increasingly relegated to the margins of commercial and even public radio, it’s hard to overstate the star power that Grover Washington Jr. possessed from the early-1970’s to the mid-1980s. Grover became a mainstay on the pop, R&B, and the jazz charts for a 15 year period between 1972 and 1987. Grover’s imaginative yet smooth sax playing combined with vocals of A-list R&B vocal talent such as Bill Withers and Patti Labelle propelled “Just The Two Of Us” and “The Best Is Yet To Come” respectively into Top 20 R&B hits (the former reached number 3 on the pop charts). Instrumental singles such as “Mr Magic” and “Summer Song” received airplay on R&B stations – something that is unheard of today.

So along with fusion/contemporary jazz innovators such as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, David Sanborn, Stanley Clarke and Joe Zawinul, Grover Washington defined the sound, contributed to the canon, created the template for transforming R&B hits into fusion songs, and ultimately influenced a later generation of fusion artists such as keyboardist Jason Miles.

Miles was in college at Indiana State when he brought his first Grover Washington, Jr. record, Inner City Blues, an album named after the classic Marvin Gaye single from “What’s Going On,” and containing Grover’s cover version of that tune. Miles followed Washington’s career and got a chance to perform with him and produce him before the saxophonist’s untimely death in 1999. Miles eventually released two studio albums honoring Washington’s musical legacy and also remastered and released the 1997 recording of a live performance by Grover. That album was released in 2010, and Miles took a top flight list of instrumentalists to Tokyo to perform his own Grover Washington tribute that same year, in a project that has now become the very good live record, To Grover With Love, Live in Japan.

What elevates To Grover With Love, Live in Japan over other live records? Of course there is the excellent source material. A performer starts out with a full deck when working with tunes such as “Winelight,” “Let It All Flow (For Dr. J),” “Just The Two of Us,” and “Mr. Magic.” However, Jason Miles and company added much to that already solid foundation due to their obvious virtuosity but even more importantly their reverence for Washington and his musical legacy. That legacy is manifested in how the ensemble that included percussionist and frequent Washington collaborator Ralph McDonald worked together as a group and as individual soloists.

There are plenty high points on this record, but here are a few: Check out Gerald Veasley’s bass solo on “Let It All Flow,” where he gives a primer on why bass players in the R&B world are stars on the par with guitarists. He moves from giving a thumping and plucking workout ala Larry Graham, to making his bass walk like Verdine White, to making it roll like Stanley Clarke. He moves from rhythmic to melodic.

Miles was this ensemble’s front man, but he rightly realized that a Grover Washington tribute concert needed to be carried by his saxophone players, and the duo of Andy Snitzer and Eric Darius blow hard throughout, including a flaming, honking and soaring version of “Winelight.”

Tenor men Snitzer and Darius remain on point throughout, and it is worth the price of admission to hear their work on numbers such as “Mr. Magic,” where they create and trade like mad on the funky foundation laid down by a rhythm section featuring Miles on keys, Buddy Williams on drums and Nick Moroch on guitar.

That’s not to say that Miles doesn’t get his time. Check him out on “Inner City Blues,” where his work on the keys provides filler to the tenor men throughout before he gets to fly on his own later. Miles’ career has been noted by the tribute albums that he produced for influences that range from Marvin Gaye to Miles Davis and Grover and even Shirley Bassey. However this live version may be his best yet because To Grover With Love, Live From Japan reflects what made Grover Washington great: his creativity and soulfulness while also providing a platform for these instrumentalists to showcase their individuality. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
Album of the Month - Juewett Bostick - Shades of Blu
Choice Cut - Kea Michaels - "Not My Friend"
Song of the Month - Bryan Andrew Wilson - "Only You'

Leave a comment!