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Walter Beasley

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Album Review

Walter Beasley's self-titled 1987 debut for Polydor Records offered this new talent on the smooth jazz block as a triple threat: Beasley showed himself not only to be a talented saxophonist, but a fine songwriter and vocalist as well. Though he was deeply influenced by the late Grover Washington, Jr., Beasley took that inspiration far and wide. One need go no further than the album's opening cut, "I'm So Happy." Beasley's soulful vocals and alto saxophone are right up in front of a female backing chorus, a stylist drum loop, crisp synths, and a catchy guitar hook worthy of Eric Gale or Cornell Dupree (though it's played by Freddie Fox). Add to this some Chic-like handclaps and dreamy keyboards, and nursery rhyme refrains with saxophone swirling in the bridge, and you have a bona fide crossover hit. It's a hell of an introduction for Beasley as a modern soul vocalist and songwriter, and he wrote or co-wrote all but two of the album's nine cuts. Preston Glass and Kenny G wrote the following cut, "On the Edge," but Beasley's technical gift on the soprano sax is what's on display here. Kenny G may have written it, but his own chops don't hold a candle to the killer soul, in the pocket rhythmic sensibility, and overall arrangement with the loops and spiraling funky keyboards in this version. Other standouts on the set include the romantic gospel/soul ballad that is "Call Me," the funky "Back in Love Again," and the tough swagger and strut of "Nothin' But a Thang," that was a club favorite and a subsequent single. While it's true that Lionel Job's production sounds dated in the 21st century, most everything that came out of the smooth jazz genre from that period does: the packed compression on the keyboards and drum programming are a dead giveaway to the era, as are the stacked vocals. That said, this is one of the shining lights of the entire period, and it's easy to see why this music became a juggernaut commercially. Beasley stands out as a giant of the genre because he set his own watermark so high. The emotion on this set is clear, and the grooves are timeless. This is a very impressive debut by a player who arrived on the scene fully developed. [A Circuit City Exclusive was also released.]

Biography

Born: 24 May 1961 in El Centro, CA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

An R&B-ish player whose music sometimes crosses over into jazz, Walter Beasley's sound is a perfect paradigm for defining "contemporary" or "smooth" jazz, and he a talented musician. After briefly playing trumpet, Beasley switched to saxophone when he was nine and was soon inspired by Grover Washington, Jr. He attended Berklee College and, after graduating at age 22, became one of the school's teachers. In 1987, Beasley released his first self-titled album and since then has recorded two sets...
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Walter Beasley, Walter Beasley
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