When Don Grolnick passed away in '96 at the age of 48, the music world lost a figure perhaps better known to his peers than a larger fan base. And yet, while you may not recognize the name, if you've listened to Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Michael Brecker, John Scofield and, in particular James Taylor, for whom Grolnick was musical arranger and pianist for over twenty years, then you've at least inadvertently been touched by his significant talent as pianist, composer, arranger and producer.
Grolnick's discography as a leader, encompassing a mere five releases including the posthumously released The London Concert , is relatively small in comparison to the 200 or so recordings in which he was involved. And while Grolnick's stylistic purview was broad, when given the opportunity to pursue his own muse, it was mainstream post bop that represented his heart of hearts.
The London Concert was recorded only sixteen months before Grolnick's passing, but if he was suffering, you'd never know it. With an all-star cast featuring saxophonist Michael Brecker, trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist/bass clarinetist Marty Ehrlich, trombonist Robin Eubanks, bassist Peter Washington, drummer Peter Erskine and percussionist Don Alias, Grolnick expands on five pieces culled from his two Blue Note recordings,'89's Weaver of Dreams and '91's Nighttown. Both albums are sadly out of print, making The London Concert that much more essential as the only available document of some of Grolnick's best work, in a context allowing even greater opportunity for stretching out on these compelling and intensely-swinging charts.
While Grolnick's four compositions"Heart of Darkness," "Or Come Fog," "Five Bars," and "Spot That Man"feature evocative horn arrangements, what gives them their distinctive identity is Grolnick's liberated approach to these arrangements. There may be defined roadmaps to follow, but how the horns get from one place to another, from one note to another, is left completely up to them. The result combines fascinating harmonic devices with a deliberately freer interpretation of said devices, as true a definition of the jazz aesthetic as one is apt to find.
And Grolnick's compositions, along with one standardCole Porter's "What is This Thing Called Love"provide ample room for solo space from everyone, although Michael Brecker's solos on "Heart of Darkness" and the Porter standard stand out in particular as amongst the most impassioned of his career.
Grolnick's own playing mirrors the myriad of artists that influenced him when he was growing up, from Wynton Kelly to Bill Evans, Horace Silver to Herbie Hancock. And yet, while the spirit of McCoy Tyner is evident in his comping on the modal exploration of "Heart of Darkness," there's a layer to his playing that somehow reflects his broader musical interests within this more straight-ahead context.
Filled with life and sparkling with imagination, The London Concert is a fitting epitaph to Grolnick, an artist who has yet to receive the accolades, outside the music community anyway, that he so richly deserved during his lifetime.
Track Listing: Intro Applause; Heart of Darkness; Band Intro; Or Come Fog; Five Bars; Spot That Man; Don Alias Intro; What is This Thing Called Love
Personnel: Don Grolnick (piano, composer, arranger, leader), Michael Brecker (tenor saxophone), Randy Brecker (trumpet, flugelhorn), Marty Ehrlich (alto saxophone, bass clarinet), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Peter Washington (bass), Peter Erskine (drums), Don Alias (percussion on What is This Thing Called Love")
Year Released: 2000
| Record Label: Fuzzy Music
| Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream