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Jazz Reviews : Washington Emphasizes His Funky Big Sellers

October 27, 1987|A. JAMES LISKA

While the night's chill and the threat of rain may have kept the crowds away from the Greek Theater Friday night, neither element would keep saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. from his appointed rounds of delivering his high-powered, pleasantly melodic funk.

Opening with "Mr. Magic," Washington laid the unrelenting two-beat groundwork for his 1 1/2-hour set that would vary little in dimension or tone. Working with a band that featured two keyboards, two percussionists, bass and guitar, rhythm was clearly the focus of a series of tunes that, while offering an abundance of brief but effective melodies, nonetheless wore thin due to a lack of rhythmic variation.

Washington is an accomplished saxophonist whose 16 hit albums in the R&B genre have given him little reason to test new waters. Interestingly, however, when he did stray from the R&B path Friday night for an inspired rendering of the jazz classic "Stella by Starlight," the audience response was noticeably less enthusiastic than for such lesser efforts as "East River Drive" or his biggest hit, "Just the Two of Us." Since things seem to be in good repair on the commercial side, Washington must sense no need to fix them.

New to his musical fold were singers Liz Hogue and Spencer Harrison. Neither seems likely to set the vocal world on fire, especially Hogue, whose histrionics, wavering vibrato and ear-splitting screeches were entirely inappropriate to both "The Look of Love" and "The Best Is Yet to Come" (not the familiar one).

Opening the show was Angela Bofill, remembered as a young singer with great potential just a few years ago. During her opening "This Time I'll Be Sweeter," a line about her not being "The Same Girl I Used to Be" rang sadly true. Grown sloppy in appearance and performance, Bofill's mercifully short set featured her in a series of tunes that never found its focus. Her butchering of Billie Holiday's "Good Morning Heartache" was nearly criminal.

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