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Album Review

Reed Seed was Grover Washington, Jr.'s final album for Kudu/Motown. It was also one of two recordings his issued in 1978 — the other is the stone-killer live set Live at the Bijou. While the saxophonist had been experimenting with funk since 1971's Inner City Blues, by 1975's breakthrough recordings Mister Magic and Feels So Good, he'd perfected his groove. His appeal to fans of more radio-friendly material was ready: he had stellar grooves, very polished production, and accessible arrangements — not too mention his stellar emotive attack on any saxophone he chose to play. Many straight-ahead jazz fans dug Washington's sound as well because of his technical facility on his instruments.

Reed Seed, like its immediate studio predecessor Secret Place is a transition album from jazz-funk to what would become contemporary or, if you will, smooth jazz. That said, it is no less compelling than Mister Magic or Feels So Good. It follows those recordings in formula, beginning with the solidly funky "Do Dat," written by sidemen John Blake (keyboards and violin) and Leonard "Doc" Gibbs (percussion, vocals). Kicking it with a popping, repetitive bassline, Washington's tenor enters on the melody amid handclaps and the sounds of a backing chorus (provided by Rita & Lita Boggs). Containing a killer bass solo and bridge, it's a perfect length at 4:27 to be a single, and it was. This is followed by the uptown groover "Step "n" Thru," introduced by Blake's violin and synths, as well as nice guitar work from Richard Lee Steacker (the track's author). But the real prize is a smoking soprano solo from Washington as the tempo begins to move. The title track is a feature for Blake's violin to shine along with killer bass and percussion work, with Grover's soprano being intentionally restrained to providing its own sense of lyrical groove. There's a very fine cover of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are," and "Santa Cruzin'" sets the template for the direction he would follow in the future. It's a midtempo stepper with lithe funk and lots of acoustic piano and a very simple, direct melody that focuses on atmosphere as much as lyricism. The album's final number, "Loran's Dance," is a nocturnal one with Washington overdubbing his saxophone lines (alto and tenor); it develops on a Spanish-tinged theme, and the Rhodes work by Blake is exceptional. When Washington begins to solo, the atmosphere and textures are abundant yet full of space and dimension. It's sexy as hell.

Reed Seed was a fitting way for Washington to leave the Kudu/Motown stable; it's a high-quality, wonderfully memorable set of mid- and uptempo funky jazz from a master. In addition, while the charts may not support this assertion, it is, along with his other records for these imprints and CTI before them, arguably the best and most consistent string of albums he ever recorded, as well as the platform that launched him into superstardom first with Elektra and then with Columbia.

Biography

Born: 12 December 1943 in Buffalo, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

One of the most popular saxophonists of all time, Grover Washington, Jr. was long the pacesetter in his field. His roots were in R&B and soul-jazz organ combos, but he also fared very well on the infrequent occasions when he played straight-ahead jazz. A highly influential player,...
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