R&B, soul, contemporary and smooth jazz saxophonists often point to Grover Washington Jr. as the master’s master saxophonist when it came to combining emotion, soul and funk styles, a solid jazz ethic, groove-tinged beats, interesting melodies and exciting improvisational abilities. So highly revered an artist not only do his albums still sell well, but a highly successful tour was recently put together by keyboardist Jeff Lorber featuring saxophonist Paul Taylor, among others, called Groovin’ for Grover. With all of the print today’s saxophonists devote to their admiration of Grover’s abilities, it’s amazing how few actually play up to Grover’s high level of artistic command. If there is an heir to Grover’s throne, it’s definitely found in Walter Beasley.
After playing saxophone in southern California bands during his teens he went on to graduate from and then teach at the Berkeley School of Music in Boston. Currently an Associate Prof. of Music there, Beasley’s new CD, For Her, is cut directly from the Grover mold without stealing or being derivative. The album is full of exciting and memorable melodies, stimulating improvised solos, an occasional love ballad and velvet-like sonic washes. It also nice that Beasley doesn’t hide his ample technique - just witness the fadeout solos on Let’s Ride and She’s All That.
From the first notes of the opening track, She’s All That - a tune that would have fit perfectly on Grover’s Reed Seed recording, to the final notes of Playtime, Beasley knows when and how to fill the spaces left vacant in the melody with hip asides and the right amount of stylized note-scooping affection. Effortlessly gliding through the programmed drum beats throughout the recording, Beasley reminds us that jazz was once and can still be dance music.
Lessons learned from his time spent playing with artists like Stephanie Mills and Vanessa Williams come to full fruition during his three vocals, For Her, Don’t Say Goodnight and Things Change. Embed with a sultry and downy voice, Beasley’s singing is in many ways just another extension of his saxophone in the same way Chet Baker’s singing continued his trumpet thoughts through another medium.
With all of Beasley’s talent it’s probably time for him to let it all, vocal and instrumental abilities, rip in an Art Porterish hot live album. Beasley could be the kick smooth jazz so desperately needs.
This is an album not to be missed.