Sunday, 17 November 2013

Review: Grover Washington Jnr - Winelight

‘Winelight’ is one of Grover Washington Jnr’s best-known and highest selling records, producing his smash hit ‘Just The Two Of Us’ with Bill Withers, and nominated for four Grammys, winning two – one each for the song and the album. Washington since has gone down in the history books largely as being the creator, or godfather, of the later ‘smooth jazz’ genre, and being a romance-and-wine music specialist. It’s an unfair tag and, though to a certain degree true, it belies both his extraordinary talent and his music.

His first album of the 80’s is both a classic and the absolute pinnacle of the genre, as well as transcending it, and it still sounds fresh even today. The one vocal piece is the obvious and notable standout, and as good as it is, the instrumentals are all great and in fact even better, with his skill and his heart on tenor, alto and his trademark ‘pure-toned’ soprano all really coming through.

The leading title cut is sublime and catchy, but ‘In The Name Of Love’ is the winning highlight, with a beautiful melancholy all of its own. Yes, it’ll appeal to the romantics, but it’s much more than that, with just like everything else here, coming tooled with a winning melody but also with a bite and solid foundation usually missing from most music in this area. Other ‘soft players’ like Kenny G and Richard Elliot would later bring down this style in a mire of predictable gossamer-light floating melodies backed by dated keyboards and lifeless electronic drums, but here Washington is creating something new and beautiful, just maybe pointing to something else even bigger and better around the corner.

‘Just The Two Of Us’ with Bill Withers of course is still a great song, and if tired out then only by familiarity. And Washington’s incredible solo is inspired, as indeed they always had been. In fact there isn’t a weak track at all on this classic album. Granted, this isn’t the grittier funk of Washingtons earlier ‘70’s albums, and as the cover shows, it’s clearly aimed with one firmly arched-eyebrow and a teeth-clenched red rose at the candlelit valentines crowd. As such then it’s a very smooth listen, but also with some real meat to sink your teeth into. Longtime collaborator Eric Gale is a welcome presence throughout too, playing some sophisticated and restrained guitar to match up with Washingtons pristine sax work.

If there is anything expressly bad about this record, it’s the slightly dated 80’s percussion on a couple of the tracks here, that in hindsight would be better omitted from the mix entirely, that and Marcus Millers sometimes overly ‘springy’ bass. As good a player as he is, and he is good, his bass tone in this decade was always incredibly plastic and processed sounding, and unfortunately the same is largely true here also. Those tiny quibbles aside, this is fine silk-like music from beginning to end, that would admittedly later regrettably lead to the creation of ‘smooth’ as we now know it. Featuring many a good solo from some inspired players and truly a great saxophone player, it really is one of Washingtons best albums.


No comments:

Post a Comment