The London Concert: Don Grolnick

COMPOSERS: Don Grolnick
LABELS: Fuzzy Music
PERFORMER: Don Grolnick (p), Randy Brecker (t, flhn), Robin Eubanks (tb), Marty Ehrlich (as, bcl), Michael Brecker (ts), Peter Washington (b), Peter Erskine (d), Don Alias (perc)
CATALOGUE NO: PEPCD 008

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Having spent much of the previous two decades dividing his time between jingle-writing and producing pop albums for the likes of James Taylor and Steely Dan, composer/arranger Don Grolnick decided, in the late Eighties, to concentrate his considerable energies on his own music.

Two elegant, subtly crafted octet albums, Weaver of Dreams and Nighttown, followed, and in 1995, Grolnick toured the UK with a stellar band comprising close associates from the New York jazz milieu that was his natural habitat.

Material from both albums is featured in this, the first set of the London concert from that tour, and all Grolnick’s compositional hallmarks are apparent throughout an hour of peerless music: an ability to imbue immediately accessible yet haunting themes with deceptively easygoing, loping swing; a playful rhythmic sense that results in some pieces constantly hovering on the brink of double-time but never quite fully embracing it; and a skill in the deployment of his four-horn front-line that simultaneously recalls both traditional jazz and the music of the late Charles Mingus.

The Breckers, with their fearsomely eloquent, blustering verbosity, are the surefire crowd-pleasers here, but their ebullience is skilfully contrasted with the more circumspect, restrained approach of both Marty Ehrlich – always thoughtful and intriguing on either of his horns – and trombonist Robin Eubanks.

The rhythm section, too – briskly propelled by the ever-alert Peter Erskine and the flawless Peter Washington – is suitably discreet, yet vigorous when required, and with Grolnick himself setting the tone for each piece with pleasingly sly, unshowy piano contributions, the band as a whole is as close to perfection as is possible in a live setting.

Tragically, less than 18 months after this recording, Grolnick was dead, leaving the jazz world to mourn a unique talent cut off in his prime, just as he was beginning to fulfil his extraordinary potential. His overriding aim was to produce music that would ‘continue to reveal itself over repeated listenings’.

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The London Concert demonstrates just how spectacularly he succeeded in the short time granted him. Chris Parker