By Devon Wendell
A tribute album in the wrong hands can often come off sounding syrupy, unoriginal, and boring but this is far from the case with Jason Miles’ To Grover with Love/Live In Japan project. Technically this is Miles’ third tribute project to the late, great Grover Washington Jr. To Grover With Love and 2 Grover With Love are Miles’ previous studio homages to Washington and Miles also produced the release of Washington’s Grover Live featuring a spectacular live recording of Washington at his best at the Paramount Theater in 1997, just two years prior to his death in December of 1999. That album was released in 2010. That same year, Miles assembled a cooking band to perform the same music from Grover Live at The Blue Note in Tokyo and the results are burning.
Jason Miles is one of the most original and brilliant keyboardists, composers, and arrangers in the world. He got to play with Grover Washington Jr. as did bassist Gerald Veasley who is featured on this recording as is longtime Washington percussionist and collaborator Ralph MacDonald. MacDonald tragically passed away shortly after this gig. Miles is also joined by guitarist Nick Moroch, Andy Snitzer and Eric Darius on tenor saxes and Buddy Williams on drums.
This album is so pure, funky, and filled with love. It brings me back in time when New York City was filled with the sounds of soul, blues, and jazz all fused together beautifully. Grover Washington Jr. blended all of that music so effortlessly and it’s simply impossible to feel bad when digging on that Grover groove. Jason Miles and company have captured that joy that is the essence of Grover’s sound like no one else.
You have steaming reworkings of Washington’s greatest masterpieces such as ‘Winelight”, “Sassy Stew”, “Take Me There”, and “Loren’s Dance” here. The arrangements are pretty true to the originals but the band has this relaxed and funky edge to it that keeps you hanging on every note and nuance. Andy Snitzer’s and Eric Darius’s tenor sax lines are sweet, nasty, and perfect for this music. Jason Miles never falls back on any cliche keyboard gimmicks. He’s such an imaginative and thoughtful texturalist. Check out his clavinet solo on “Inner City Blues” which is just one of many examples of his virtuosity. He’s unpredictable in all of the best ways yet he compliments the other soloists perfectly.
Nick Moroch’s burning lead guitar lines adds a late ’70s Steely Dan feel to the band and the rhythm section of Gerald Veasley, Buddy Williams, and Ralph MacDonald keep everything in that deep and magically hypnotic pocket. Although this is a tribute album, the band has such a unique sound that stays with you long after the first listen.
“Just The Two Of Us” features guest vocalist Ryan Shaw and it’s so good that it rivals the original. “Loran’s Dance”, “Let It Flow”, Take Me There”, and Mr Magic” are so tight, funky and irresistible that you will find yourself playing them over and over again in sheer delight.
Veasley’s slap bass is masterfully precise and the drums sound so real because they are real. There’s no reverb or cheesy effects added. This is a true live performance that will transport the listener back to the late ’70s. The album is gloriously underproduced. If somehow had blind folded me and played To Grover With Love/Live In Japan, I would have thought it was something released over 35 years ago which is the highest compliment I can possibly give.
Whether you’re a longtime fan of Grover Washington Jr’s sound or new to it, this recording is a must. Jason Miles understands that love in Grover’s music because he feels it throughout this magnificent performance. This is easily one of the best live albums I’ve heard in a while. This is timeless music. Do not miss out on this one.