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Grover Washington, Jr.: Winelight (1980) CD Review

by June 14, 2013
Grover Washington Jr. Winelight

Grover Washington Jr. Winelight

Label: Elektra (305-2)

Track List

1)    Winelight

2)    Let It Flow

3)    In The Name Of Love

4)    Take Me There

5)    Just The Two Of Us

6)    Make Me A Memory


Grover Washington, Jr. is one of a handful of 1970's jazz artists who crossed over to the “pop” charts on their way to commercial success (along with Herb Alpert, Chuck Mangione, Maynard Ferguson and Spyro Gyra). One of the things that makes this particular release so special is the studio “A-list” rhythm section assembled by producers Washington and MacDonald; some of the more notable rock/pop hits each has played are listed in parenthesis.

  • Steve Gadd, drums (50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Chuck E's In Love)
  • Ralph MacDonald, percussion (Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, Where Is The Love)
  • Marcus Miller, bass (Never Too Much, Give Me The Reason)
  • Eric Gale, guitar (Love TKO, You Belong To Me)
  • Richard Tee, keyboards (Just The Way You Are, Give Me The Night)
  • Paul Griffin, keyboards (Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head, American Pie. Special note: Paul Griffin is the only person to ever share a writing credit with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker—aka Steely Dan.)

For you history buffs, Steve Gadd, Richard Tee and Eric Gale appeared together on screen in Paul Simon's One Trick Pony. Getting any pair of these musicians together was a musical triumph; getting all six together at one time is something special. Their solo releases weren't all that great, but they literally played on hundreds of jazz and rock/pop recordings during that era; only two are still with us and still playing (Gadd and Miller). Sometimes music is like a movie: it doesn't matter how many “stars” are in the movie if the script is bad. Similarly, it doesn't really matter how good the musicians are if the writing is bad. Luckily—on this release—the writing is very, very good!

Audio Quality

This is one of those “AAD” CD's, which means it was recorded and mixed in analog format; the final “D” represents the digital CD medium it is distributed on. As a reference, most modern CD recordings are “DDD”, which means the source material never leaves the digital domain (until it comes out of your speakers)! The writing on Winelight is a great example of the “complexity of simplicity”. The story goes that Grover Washington, Jr. was taking a writing and composition class at a nearby University during the time leading up to the recording of Winelight, and he submitted a couple of the tracks that ended up on the album for a final grade. Well, he received a “C” for his work which was sited as being “too simplistic” in melody and form. Guess who had the last laugh? Typical of his performances over the years, Ralph MacDonald's percussion grooves are both refreshing and intricate; checkout the interplay between percussion instruments as well as with the drums. The progression from single-time, to double-time, back to single-time on Take Me There is executed to perfection (and there were no drum machines or “click-tracks” back in the day). You'll often hear these musicians reference the Winelight sessions as a high point in their career when interviewed.


With multiple Grammy wins and over 1 million in sales (Platinum level)--Winelight was both a commercial and critical success; both the album and the single Just The Two Of Us charted on Billboard's Top 10. While he had many other good releases (most notably Mister Magic), Winelight was the equivalent of “catching lighting in a bottle”. With an instantly recognizable sound, Grover Washington, Jr. undoubtedly had many good years left when he collapsed and died from a heart attack at the age of 56 in 1999. In case you're wondering how I can give an overall rating of “5” without any other category getting more than a “4”, it's simple: this release has become a modern jazz classic, with every track a joy!


Audio Quality: 3/5

Features: 4/5

Overall: 5/5

Reference Equipment

  • Yamaha DSP-A1 Natural Sound A/V Amplifier (Stereo Mode)
  • Pioneer Elite CLD-99 Reference LD Player
  • Polk Monitor 10B Speakers (x2)


About the author:
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Stanton was born and raised in Kansas City, where he was exposed to the rich culture of jazz at a very young age. He's a drummer and an electrical engineer and loves to review jazz music for us.

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