After an enviably strong and successful 1970’s that saw him creating his own distinctive brand of fusion jazz, as well as becoming a firm live and club favourite alongside his very handsome sales, Grover Washington Jr then hit the 80’s at full sprint with his ‘Winelight’ album. Refining his sound into something more lush and instantly appealing, but retaining his deep heart and soul, and laced with a rich and untoppable sense of melody, it went on to win an incredible amount of awards, as well as shift units by the ton load.
Unfortunately ‘Winelight’ also helped serve as a turn down a deadend for the great man, as he embarked on a long second phase career of trying to repeat that albums success, and slowly converting his soulful and funkily infectious fusion into what would firmly become known as smooth. ‘Come Morning’, his immediate follow-up to ‘Winelight’ was an alarmingly bland mood piece, that aimed for light and romantic but instead came up floaty and bland, sounding very polished but without possessing any real meat in the music.
After more than a decade of such similar affairs, ‘Next Exit’ in 1992 gets a slightly more contemporary boost, with some more of-the-moment production work, but essentially it’s still the same predictably standard fare of nice background music. Some mostly forgettable tunes are present, with Washington himself guilty of writing some of the largely indistinct and bloodless affairs, while Paul Desmonds classic ‘Take Five’ is also upsettingly dragged into the smooth mire.
As is typical of mostly everything
recorded from ‘Winelight’
onwards, he again brings in some musical friends to share the spotlight with
him; this time including the special guests of legendary vocal quartet The Four
Tops, and singers Nancy Wilson and Lalah Hathaway. All three are solid, though
without being spectacular, whereas the numbers they perform on are essentially just
a shameful waste of their great talents. Washington
Enjoyable for the dedicated faithful of Washington’s soulful and heartfelt saxophone playing, and fans of other contemporary ‘light’ smooth music, it’s for everyone else wholly predictable and by-the-numbers. Undemanding background chill music, with absolutely no rough edges, it really won’t hold your attention, but neither will it offend the ears of any unsuspecting dinner guests for your evening soiree.