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Crate Digger’s Gold: Grover Washington Jr. – Soul Box

January 1, 2015

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I have had various LP copies of Soul Box over the years, but I recently came across an original box version for just four bucks at Logan Hardware in Chicago.

Grover Washington Jr. is one of the great purveyors of soul jazz and this is one of his early works (before he went too soft with smooth jazz). It is a  two LP set most commonly found (usually cheap) as two separate LPs: Volume 1 and Volume 2. The set was arranged by Bob James and the sidemen are a who’s who of soul jazz (e.g.: Idris Muhammad, Eric Gale, Ralph McDonald, etc).

Washington has two modes: sappy smooth jazz (he helped invent the format) and funky soul jazz. I think you can figure out which I prefer. Volume 1 side 1 starts with the sweets: “Aubrey.” This song defines smooth jazz. Fortunately it clocks in at under 4 minutes; it is the weakest track on the album. Next up is “Masterpiece” which defines soul jazz. Slow simmering funk seasoned with a cinematic orchestra. This is the Washington I love.  Side 2 is a sweet cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” clocking in at almost 16 minutes of soul jazz bliss.  This song alone is worth the price of admission.

Volume 2 starts with some more syrup – a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.” A classic melody, but the funk has been pretty much been drained out of it. But still more soul than the average smooth jazz cut.  Next up is “Don’t Explain,” a ballad/standard associated with Billie Holliday. This is the closest to straight jazz on the album. A gorgeous ballad that does not get too sentimental and allows for several nice solos. There are some cool orchestral moments too. Pretty epic sounding cut.

Side 2 starts with a melody of “Easy Living/Ain’t Nobodies Business If I Do.” The song starts with a very melodic Washington solo over an orchestral foundation. It then segues into some groovy funk.  The final cut is a Billy Cobham (I love drummer-composers) song “Taurian Matador.” Think Weather Report with an orchestra vs Zawinul’s keyboards. The most challenging cut on the album, but worth the adventure.

This is a nice inexpensive introduction to Grover Washington Jr. (Mister Magic is the bomb, but is pricy in vinyl).  The box comes with a nice long set of liner notes that are missing from the single album versions.

 

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One Comment
  1. I ate up all this early Grover stuff. Have a few of this CTI sides around. On the same page with you on this stuff. I have that Mr Magic lp. I wore it out. I’m a sax nut so I grabbed all his stuff and Stanley Turrentine too. I’ll be getting to a few of these on the take soon.

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