Grover Washington, Jr.

Soul Box

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The early work of alto saxophonist and composer Grover Washington, Jr. is a rare and beautiful thing to behold. His entire Kudu period, marked by the albums Inner City Blues, All the King's Horses, Soul Box, Mister Magic, and Feels So Good, is brilliant, solid urban groove jazz played with grace, mean chops, and slippery funkiness. Soul Box, a double LP recorded in 1973, has Creed Taylor's production enhanced by a symphony orchestra and full-blown jazz band arranged and conducted by Bob James. Some of the session men include Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Eric Gale, Idris Muhammad, Airto, and Richard Tee. Soul Box only contains seven cuts. Among them are truly innovative reads of Billy Cobham's "Taurian Matador," Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," a side-long jam on Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" (the album's centerpiece and masterpiece), and the deep funk of Norman Whitfield's "Masterpiece." "Trouble Man," however, is the cut on which all the contradictions of the session come to bear and are resolved due in large part to Washington's deeply lyrical improvising and James' ability to layer an orchestra into a groove. There are cadenzas written in after choruses that bring the orchestra in to accent the sketchy funk in the tune and bring out its deep blue hues. When Washington gets to the front of it all, he lets go like he's crying from the heart. On other tracks, the orchestra adds the right drama or sweetness -- as it does on Wonder's cut -- but Washington makes them grittier, with soloing that sidles up to the melody before reinventing it. For its length, Soul Box is a modern classic for its instrumental and arrangement invention and for its deeply emotional bounty.

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