Grover Washington, Jr.

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Gold Review

by William Ruhlmann

Compilations generally do not serve jazz artists well, since they do not tend to have "hits" in the sense of "hits" in the pop field. But saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. was a crossover artist who did have hits in the pop and R&B charts, due to his willingness to play over light funk arrangements and use vocalists. He can be credited with virtually inventing the style of smooth jazz that later became so prevalent, and in that way he has been highly influential. This two-CD collection, running more than two-and-a-half hours, demonstrates that smooth jazz never got any better than it was when practiced by one of its founders. The set is practically flawless. A couple of minor R&B chart entries ("Tell Me About It Now" and "Snake Eyes") are missing, but Washington's best-known tracks are included, and the selections span his recordings from the early 1970s to his death in 1999, with material from 15 chart albums in addition to a late rap collaboration with Sylk 130, and a selection from the posthumously issued classical album Aria. The accomplishment of the compilers in creating such a thorough Washington collection is notable particularly because he recorded for several different labels from which tracks had to be licensed. As a subsidiary of Universal Music, Hip-O had access to his Kudu and Motown recordings, making up more than half the material, but there were also tracks recorded for Elektra that had to be licensed from Warner (including selections from Washington's best-selling Winelight album), and from the mid-'80s he recorded for Columbia, so that meant paying Sony BMG for the later tunes. Actually, "Look at This" from the Columbia TV soundtrack to The Cosby Show, called A House Full of Love, could have been omitted; the voice-over by Bill Cosby is obnoxious. But with that exception, Gold is an outstanding consideration of Grover Washington, Jr.'s popular career.

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