Just those two words alone should be enough to make you go out and try this disc. There are very few people in the jazz world who remain so highly held in esteem as Grover Washington Jr. With music that spanned over three decades, “Mr. Magic” left us all too soon. We can thank producer Jason Miles for bringing this live recording to life. Performing in June of 1997, he captures the evening with amazing clarity. The sound is phenomenal throughout as Grover plays through so many songs that made him a fan favorite for years.
He kicks the set off with “Winelight.” Right away you know exactly who it is. You can feel him playing the crowd just a little as he stops and starts. There’s even a little thumping from his bass player at the time, Gerald Veasley. Oh this feels so good to hear. The percussion intro to “Take Another Five” sounds as if they’re in your living room. Grover’s sax reverberates this all-familiar favorite as he takes these passages to new highs. Then he speaks, and he’s back with us as he introduces the band. “Soulful Strut” just jumps out at you and you want to be singing along to it in no time at all. This one is always fun to hear and even more so live. This just happened to be the title track to the current album at the time, and it couldn’t have come at a better time in the show. Grover shows off his chops in both the lower and upper registers of his tenor. He takes his soprano out for the co-penned Donald Robinson tune “Mystical Force.” While “Uptown” starts off sort of dark, it picks up steam and incorporates the sounds of the city. Grover’s playing here is pure and full of life. That gives way to “Sassy Stew” where the sax man comes across so clear. It moves along at a good beat while lending itself to some stewing of the percussion section that gives it a calypso feel at times.
It’s really good to hear Grover talking between the songs, and you really get a feel for his personality. And with that, he launches into a melody of “Black Frost”, “Inner City Blues,” “Strawberry Moon,” “Inside Moves,” “Jamaica,” “East River Drive,” “Just the Two Of Us,” and “Sausalito.” That was a lot of fun as he visited from song to song. “Let It Flow” is a song he had written for basketball superstar Julius Erving. It is a great showcase for Veasley again as Grover gets the crowd into it from the start. He finishes the set with the always-popular “Mr. Magic.” That is the title track of one of his most popular “albums” at the time, and he definitely saved the best for last. Released in the summer of ‘75, this instant classic became Grover’s theme song for years to come. The soul of the man can be felt through the passages as they soar from his horn.
If you look, there are not very many live recordings of Grover Washington Jr. that came in 1977 (Live at the Bijou). This is a magical recording that brings Grover back to us in a special way. The sound is really good. You feel his energy, his showmanship, and feel what kind of artist was on stage that night. Every few years there is a release that you just have to get that is an instant classic. Enjoy it. Thanks Jason.