Timed nearly to coincide with the ten-year anniversary of the untimely passing of the saxophone legend at age 56 in December 1999, Grover Live functions beautifully as a tribute to the musician and his legacy, a gleeful romp through his best-loved songs and a warm, inviting look at the man in action -- specifically a show at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill, NY, circa 1997. Washington's melodic, grooving, and improvisational passion that night became a wonderful recorded document for his fans to treasure through the efforts of Grammy-winning keyboardist/producer Jason Miles, who received producing credit for the collection. Truly, no single contemporary jazz voice has done more to keep Washington's joyful musical legacy alive than Miles; in addition to helming two all-star tribute collections called To Grover, With Love, he created several live concerts devoted to the saxman's music at Berks Jazz Festival in Reading, PA in the late 2000s. His attitude in getting through the red tape and bringing this up to sonic speed was surely a matter of asking, why just pay homage when you can deliver the real deal? That's what this magnificent 80-minute set is -- a simply wonderful, varied show featuring Washington at his peak, running through the songs his fans still can't get enough of, starting with a seven-and-a-half minute roll through "Winelight," having fun with band intros on "Take Five (Take Another Five)," dancing through "Soulful Strut," waxing dreamy and tropical on "Mystical Force," and heading "Uptown" before wrapping with a nearly-12-minute "Let It Flow" and his trademark "Mr. Magic." Making sure no one left unsatisfied that night (as if it were possible), in the middle of the set is an eight-song medley featuring snippets of every other Washington song that could be considered a hit -- from "Just the Two of Us" to "Jamaica." Miles tells the story behind the discovery of the DAT tapes of this show in his liner notes. When he called Washington's widow Christine in 2008 to tell her about the Berks concert, she invited the producer and his wife Kathy to Philly listen to recordings of numerous shows he left behind. A labor-intensive process of finding the perfect one to release, and going through all the licensing red tape has netted Washington (and contemporary jazz) fans everywhere a richly realized, souvenir snapshot that includes the saxman interacting with his fans via monologue/introductions as easily as he does with his band. It's a glimpse of the artist at his best, playing his heart out for a small crowd that will now grow exponentially thanks to Miles, for whom this is the ultimate labor of love.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran