“Since 1998, Beasley has been one of the ten highest selling saxmen in the world while continuing his highly influential work as a full professor of music at his alma mater, The Berklee School of Music, where he began teaching in the mid-80s. In 2007, Beasley- also the highest selling full-time teacher ever-celebrated his 20th year as a best selling artist in the grand style to which he’s accustomed, adding to his extraordinary total of over 800,000 units sold. His second Heads Up release, Ready For Love, peaked at #2 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart and reached #1 on Smoothjazz.com. His 2005 label debut For Her reached the Top Five.”
The opening track Go With The Flow/ Brother showcases Beasley’s signature alto sax sound backed by the funky and energetic quartet. Here Beasley solos first and then trades with keyboardist Glen Douglass. The breakdown in the rhythm section affords Mr. Beasley a moment to connect with the crowd and introduce the second half of the opener – Brother, both from Go With the Flow. Guitarist Wayne Jones also has a chance to stretch a bit on Brother.
The band’s style is deeply rooted in the tradition of contemporary jazz and fans and critics consider Beasley alike as “the heir to Grover Washington Jr.’s throne.” His music is very accessible for the casual listener, however there are musical gems peppered throughout the recording. The unison ensemble figures throughout and especially the precision demonstrated are a special treat for the musicians in the crowd.
Do You Wanna Dance features Beasley on lead vocals, showing his “voice” is not limited to the saxophone.
Beasley switches to soprano for the joyful yet relaxed, The Call. The island flavor is a welcome diversion from the previous R&B tracks. Walter here and elsewhere takes some harmonic liberties on the solo sections.
Her Presence and Forgiveness are two of the most powerful recordings on In The Groove. The emotion Beasley feels while playing is palpable, even through stereo speakers, far removed from the actual concert date. He mentions the inspiration for these two songs in their respective intros. I can’t help but think his concerts must be popular destinations for “date night.”
Midway through the live performance, Beasley sings what is arguably the most commercial track of the evening – Be Thankful. His conversation with the audience and sense of comedy is clearly a big hit following a very nice guitar solo by Wayne Jones.
Denise Williams’ Free is one of the high points of the recorded evening. The tune is a great vehicle for Walter Beasley’s fiery alto saxophone. The added female vocals, whether sampled or added later are a nice touch but not to be outdone by Beasley’s out chorus. The final cadenza of the tune is followed by a rousing Afro-Cuban vamp set up by the saxophone. It is a true surprise upon the first listening but seems more fitting after hearing it a few times. Whatever the case, it’s a great groove and solo by Beasley and the ensemble.
Every great player has a great teacher and Beasley is no exception. The King Lives is dedicated to his mentor, Jimmy Cannon. The story told to the audience is charming and risqué all at the same time. The alto playing is subtle, and as smooth as it gets with one exception coming in the crescendo to the bridge around 2:00 into the song. The icing on the cake is a fine technical display on saxophone during the ending vamp.
The solitary piano vamp on Grover’s signature tune is enough to get the crowd riled up for the penultimate Mr. Magic/Mt. Airy Groove. Although Walter Beasley is not a carbon copy of Grover Washington Jr., he demonstrates a great homage to Grover and his music.
The final Reprise begins with Beasley on alto and Roberts on drums. Jones and Roach quickly join in on this funky free for all. Beasley presumably is circular breathing or has the biggest lungs in the business! Roberts’s fills are noteworthy, as is his playing on all tracks.
Walter Beasley Live – In the Groove shares what was obviously a great night of music at Scullers in Boston. It is clear why Beasley is so successful and adored by fans and students worldwide.
You can find out more about Walter Beasley and purchase this CD at walterbeasley.com