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

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The sudden death of sax maestro and funk-jazz pioneer Grover Washington, Jr. in the final days of the 90s was a blow to many, but especially those who’ve had the privilege to work with him. Keyboardist, composer, arranger and synthesizer programmer Jason Miles was one of those lucky ones and no one has done more through music to keep the memory of Washington alive. He’s helmed not one but two studio tribute albums (To Grover With Love and 2 Grover With Love) and oversaw the 2010 release of the ultimate Washington live document, Grover Live.

Around that time, Miles had been touring with a band performing Washington’s songs in another way of paying homage to the giant of soul-jazz, and had booked the Blue Note club in Tokyo in support of Grover Live. The compiled tapes from these ten shows has now completed Miles’ Grover Washington tribute trilogy, with the release on March 4, 2016 of To Grover With Love, Live In Japan (Whaling City Sound).

It can never be said that Jason Miles doesn’t bring the talent to the table for any of his projects, and Live In Japan is no exception. His band features not one but two gifted tenor sax players in Andy Snitzer and the young gun Eric Darius. Former Grover bass player Gerald Veasley is also on board, as well as guitarist Nick Moroch and drummer Buddy Williams. And in one of his last concert gigs before the cancer that took his life sidelined him, key Washington collaborator Ralph McDonald provides percussion.

This is one tight groove machine, easily tackling fare that includes a full four of the six tracks from Washington’s signature Winelight, played reasonably faithful to the originals without being restrictively so. Even so, Snitzer and Darius are left plenty of room to construct solos in their own languages which nonetheless owe a lot to the innovative sax vernacular of Washington, who wrote the book on how to play that horn in the pocket. You can hear these lessons well learned in the fervent sax solos taken on “Winelight”, “Sassy Stew” and a truly rousing rendition of “Let It Flow.”

It’s not a true tribute without Washington’s best-known hit “Just The Two Of Us,” of course, and singer Ryan Shaw makes a cameo to give the lyrics a nice reading. Often times, as on “Black Frost,” McDonald’s congas supercharge the groove, just as he did on all those classic records from the 70s and 80s. Moroch’s sharp, sometimes stinging guitar offsets the smoothness and Veasley is a strong enough bass player on his own to do more than just mimic Marcus Miller’s parts (check out his standout solo on “Let It Flow”).

Washington often ended the night with his signature tune “Mr. Magic,” and fittingly, that’s what concludes Live In Japan, too. Hearing how fresh and contemporary that memorable riff sounds in the hands of these guys, it might be said that this is the original hip-hop groove. Snitzer and Darius engage in some funky give and take, taking the tune to the summit right before the bridge, and then everyone gets in licks with each go around of that five-beat riff.

Jason Miles’ ongoing love affair with the feel-good music of Grover Washington has the affect of rekindling everyone else’s love affair with Washington and get some other ones started. To Grover With Love, Live In Japan is an excellent way to do it, because there’s no better way to demonstrate that Grover Washington, Jr. truly lives on than with some spirited, well-executed and earnest live performances.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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