Strawberry Moon/Then and Now/Time Out of Mind
Great Britain's BGO label looks into saxophone giant Grover Washington Jr.'s Columbia period. The three albums (on two CDs) here find him at the height of his popularity. While he had cut House Full of Love for the label in 1986, it was a soundtrack set for Bill Cosby's TV sitcom. Strawberry Moon, issued in 1988, represents his proper debut offering for the label. Here the king of R&B-driven jazz saxophonists shines on all three horns, as music director, and as producer. Some of the guests on the album include James Lloyd, Gerald Veasely (who was soon to join Washington's band), Joey DeFrancesco, and Marcus Miller -- who wrote and co-produced the single "Summer Nights" for the session. Other highlights include Jean Carne's enigmatic performance on the Bacharach-David nugget "The Look of Love," B.B. King's guitar and vocal guest spot on "Caught a Touch of Your Love," and the stellar midtempo groover "I Will Be There for You," written by Michael J. Powell, who also plays guitar and co-produced it. Washington's critics greeted 1989's Then and Now with shock because it is a straight-ahead jazz date. Grover recruited some heavyweights including Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tommy Flanagan, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, and others for the date. He recorded some of their tunes, too: Carter's "Blues for D.P.," Hancock's "Just Enough," and Flanagan's "Something Borrowed, Something Blue" are in the track list. There is a fine reading of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," with breathtaking piano work by Flanagan. Washington's own gorgeous "Lullaby for Shana Bly" is also a set high point. Ever the restless innovator, there was a twist in the mix. On numerous cuts, Washington juxtaposed straight-ahead jazzmen with members of his own band -- check bassist Veasely playing a five-string bass on "Stella by Starlight," and electric guitarist Richard Lee Steacker on this arrangement of Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments." The set hit the number two spot on the jazz charts. Time Out of Mind was a return to contemporary jazz. It was chock-full of programmed keyboards, basses, and drums (though conventional instruments are often used with the programmed ones). Highlights include Ronnie Foster's "Jamaica," on which he plays everything but saxophones; the title track, which is indeed a reading of the Donald Fagen-Walter Becker number; and the shimmering groove of Donald Robinson's "Nice-n-Easy." While this was the second recording in a row that didn't cross over to the R&B charts the way his previous records had, Time Out of Mind hit the top spot on the contemporary jazz charts and sold very well. This package also contains the Washington-penned bonus cut "Unspoken Love," from the album's sessions. As is typical of BGO packages, the remastering job is warm, full, and resonant, and Charles Waring's liner essay is as authoritative as it is intuitive.