Until his death from lymphoma in 1996 at age 48, pianist Don Grolnick made his living in both the jazz and pop worlds. He worked so extensively with the likes of James Taylor and Steely Dan that he had little time to pursue his own brilliant jazz playing and writing. But thank goodness he managed to record both Weaver of Dreams and Nighttown for Blue Note in 1989 and 1991, respectively. These high-spirited studio creations were extremely polished but still wondrously spontaneous, and they boasted players no less incredible than Michael and Randy Brecker, Joe Lovano, bass clarinetists Marty Ehrlich and Bob Mintzer, trombonists Barry Rodgers and Steve Turre, bassist Dave Holland, and drummers Peter Erskine and Bill Stewart. As could be expected, the playing was hot, but Grolnick's complex wit and imagination guided this colossal gathering toward something far greater than an A-list blowing session. Both albums were reissued together on the 1997 Blue Note release, Don Grolnick: The Complete Blue Note Recordings.
Peter Erskine's Fuzzy Music label has now added this live recording to Grolnick's scanty discography as a leader. The London Concert, recorded on tour in 1995, features five Grolnick originals culled from the studio albums, with a stellar, somewhat modified band lineup. The Brecker brothers and Peter Erskine are again on board. Marty Ehrlich appears not just on bass clarinet but also alto sax. Trombonist Robin Eubanks and bassist Peter Washington are two entirely new members, and their presence adds further elements of surprise. While most of the playing is quite extroverted and virtuosic, there are moments of extraordinary subtlety. Randy Brecker's fleeting reference to "Star Eyes" during his solo on the mid-tempo "Spot That Man" is just one example. Eubanks's solos on "Or Come Fog" (based on "Come Rain or Come Shine") and "Spot That Man" (derived from "I Fall in Love Too Easily") are beyond burning. Ehrlich takes an alto solo on the slow-burning, minor-key "Heart of Darkness," and his free-time bass clarinet pas de deux with Peter Washington at the start of "Five Bars" is priceless. Grolnick sets up "What Is This Thing Called Love" with a beautiful unaccompanied piano intro, and guest percussionist Don Alias cooks underneath showstopping solos by Randy and Michael Brecker. Erskine takes the last solo and brings the band back in for a climactic finish.
If you're on the fence about a purchase, you might want to know that proceeds from the sales of this album are being donated to the New York-based Cure for Lymphoma Foundation.
Track Listing: 1. Intro applause 2. Heart of Darkness 3. Band intro. 4. Or Come Fog 5. Five Bars 6. Spot That Man 7. Don Alias intro 8. What Is This Thing Called Love
Personnel: Don Grolnick, piano, compositions; Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone; Randy Brecker, trumpet and flugelhorn; Marty Ehrlich, alto saxophone and bass clarinet; Robin Eubanks, trombone; Peter Washington, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Don Alias, percussion (track 8 only)