GROVER WASHINGTON JR: ‘Feels So Good’ (Label: Verve)

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Now available in Universal’s ‘Originals’ reissue series is this superb 1975 opus by jazz-fusion saxophone maestro Grover Washington Jr. Originally recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio for uber-producer Creed Taylor’s Kudu label – a subsidiary of his parent company CTI – ‘Feels So Good’ is undoubtedly one of Washington’s finest LPs. His saxophone playing (tenor and soprano) is stupendous throughout – it’s earthy and muscular one moment (as on the tough, funk-fuelled inner city groove ‘Knucklehead’) and ethereal the next – check out the hauntingly lyrical ‘Moonstreams’ with its dreamy sax effusions. But it’s the quality of keyboardist Bob James’ arrangements that help elevate the set above the jazz-funk-fusion norm. James even composed the set’s opening cut, ‘The Sea Lion,’ an eerie, atmospheric track that has a widescreen cinematic ambience and recalls Lalo Schifrin’s ‘Dirty Harry’ soundtrack. The title track is also noteworthy: an extended mid-tempo groove with a subtle funk undertow penned by ubiquitous ’70s percussionist Ralph McDonald with William Salter. The track allows Washington and his musical confreres (which include such session luminaries as guitarist Eric Gale, drummer Steve Gadd and bassist Louis Johnson) to stretch out – Eric Gale is even allowed room for a marvellous guitar solo, which is replete with his trademark bluesy note-bending. The album closes with a solid but unspectacular Washington original, ‘Hydra’ – it’s a mid-paced in-the-pocket groove where subtle pastel washes of strings and horns frame Washington’s mellifluous soprano sax. It has a lighter, less substantial, feel than the previous material on the album and presages the smoother more overtly commercial approach Washington would take when he left Kudu and headed for Elektra at the end of the ’70s.
(CW) 4/5