This is a surprisingly productive session by an unknown (to me) vibraphonist, Darwin Gross, and a number of exceedingly well–known sidemen. If one is weighed by the company he keeps, Gross must surely be heavy; how else can one explain the presence on his date of such luminaries as pianists Hank Jones and John Lewis, bassists Ray Brown and Victor Gaskin, guitarist Rodney Jones or drummer Mickey Roker. Gross’s sound is described in the accompanying booklet as “mellow and bluesy,” which indeed it is. He is known internationally, it goes on to say, as “the Pied Piper of happy blues.” True or not, there are some bluesy moments on Soul Speaks, and some happy ones as well. Gross is a competent albeit unassuming player who does his best to avoid being upstaged by his more celebrated companions. But if his name weren’t on the album cover one would be hard–pressed to identify him as its foreman, even though all the tunes are his (“Boxcar Blues” was co–written with Rodney Jones). Three quintets are heard on six of the selections; the others (“Golden Thread,” “Hu of Blue”) have Gross fronting a “virtual string section” thanks to Katsumi Yamagishi’s “keyboard enhancements.” The tracks with Lewis on piano and Brown on bass (“Boxcar Blues,” “Blues of the Masters”) sound somewhat like “the Modern Jazz Quartet with guitar” while those with Hank Jones and Gaskin have a more inclusive but no less pleasing ambiance. Whatever the configuration, Gross is backed by world–class sidemen, and Soul Speaks does so in an impressively convincing voice.
Track listing: Soul Speaks; Boxcar Blues; The Golden Thread; Darji’s Groove; Blues of Soul; The Flute of God; Hu of Blues; Blues of the Masters (51:21).