Grover Washington, Jr.

Plays the Hits: Great Songs Great Performances

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The Great Performances/Great Songs series by Verve is a new attempt to get prospective buyers interested in its vast jazz catalog by introducing them to large-scale hits by artists who appeared either on its label proper, or on one of its licensees'. In the case of saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., these are sides he cut for Creed Taylor's Kudu imprint -- Motown’s jazz label at the time -- between 1971 and 1978. The six selections are all covers of very popular soul or pop numbers, and come from recordings like Inner City Blues, All the King’s Horses, and Soul Box, Vol. 2, though the gorgeous reading of Billy Joel's “All the Things You Are” comes from 1978’s Reed Seed. Other tracks included here are stylish renditions of “Where Is the Love?,” “Georgia on My Mind,” Marvin Gaye's “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song),” a reggae version of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” and Stevie Wonder’s "You are the Sunshine Of My Life.” This is very early material for the saxophonist, and music that has, in recent years, finally seen its proper due as being truly illustrative of his gifts as an improviser and his technical facility on both tenor and soprano horns. Most of the material here was produced by Taylor, and a couple of tracks were arranged by Bob James -- before his own great popular success. All of it features a stellar array of sidemen who became part of Taylor’s CTI stable during this time. This is all great vibe music with terrific musicianship. Andy McKaie compiled this collection with taste -- even though it doesn’t contain any of Washington Jr.’s own tunes because they fall outside the purview of the series -- this is a fine comp, and for the money it can’t be beat.

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