Euge Groove, known to his friends as Eugene Grove, has worked hard for his vaulted place in smooth jazz. Early classical piano lessons led to studies on the saxophone. Graduating from the University of Miami with a degree in saxophone performance, Groove played in a variety of bands and did studio work before coming to the attention of fellow saxophonist Richard Elliot who got him a gig with Tower of Power. Later work with artists like Tina Turner, Joe Cocker and Elton John kept Groove constantly on the road before staking out a solo career.
Groove has released six bestselling albums and garnered a ton of radio airplay. His seventh release, Seven Large, finds the musician releasing nine original compositions and one cover, the R&B hit "Love Won't Let Me Wait." For long time fans of Groove, this album will fit in nicely with his previous work. There isn't anything earth-shattering, down and dirty rocking or mind-blowing on the disc. Instead we get Groove's typical mix of nice mid-tempo melodies well produced; Groove produced this recording and it's obvious he took a lot of notes during his previous CD releases with smooth jazz producing guru Paul Brown.
There is one standout musical concept in this recording that sets it apart from much of his earlier work and that is the thickness of the keyboard sound. The tracks all have Groove's famous sweet trademark hooks, but this time the holes in the melodies are filled very carefully by some extremely tasteful keyboard and synthesized flourishes. Not overbearing, they are none-the-less brought forward in the mix. On tunes like "Days Of Soul" and "Gimme 6," which by-the-way is easily the best song on the album, Tracy Carter's keyboards add just the right amount of tasteful color and counter-melodic spark. Of particular note is his superb introduction to "Love Won't Let Me Wait." It's all smoke and blue lights right out of old time late night jam sessions.
What the album lacks is standout improvisation. Even within the realm of smooth jazz, this album is light on anything but melody and chorus. On previous recordings, Groove has always found ways to work his own improvisatory compositional skills into the total package. Here, however, he takes a page from the Kenny G and Steve Cole playbooks, giving the audience a heavy dose of nice songs that, with a few listenings, can be easily hummed along with.
The first few tracks are down-tempo stripped-away affairs obviously aimed at the chill market. Starting with cut five, however, Groove slowly starts to build the intensity. The highlight is, as previously mentioned, "Gimme 6." Its hip melody and groove-based rhythm track is so locked in the pocket you'll never get it out.
There is one track, the last one, however, that is a notable exception to the above. "Ten 2 Two" has a tinge of 12/8 gospel feel and on it Groove finally opens up by laying down gritty some improvised lines. The great horn and string backgrounds will, however, keep less jazz oriented listeners in the fold. Guitarist Jeff Golub is added for a heavily blues-inflected solo that drips with soul. One can only wonder what kind of a musical document Groove could create if he let this side of his musicianship to shine a little more.
The lure of the recording, as usual, is Groove's incredible sax tone. All those years of lessons and hard work in the practice room certainly paid off. While it's obvious he's more proficient on his instrument than we'll ever hear on record, that won't stop his fans from snatching this recording up.