Guitarist Jeff Golub’s had a bunch of tasteful radio hits, but the New Yorker continues to ply his newfound, oxymoronic trade as a smooth-jazz player with the blues. That’s not surprising, because even while he crafted superlative pop-jazz with Avenue Blue in the ’90s, Golub never shied from an opening to articulate his blues and rock visions. Now taking advantage of musicians he jams with in clubs around the city, Golub offers Grand Central with a minimum of overdubbing. The results yield a live-performance vibe while he takes chances on guitar that put the disc head and shoulders above his last CD, Temptation, which was pretty darn good itself.
Four tunes—“Hello Betty,” “Shockwave,” “Grand Central” and especially “Mojito”—present hand-clapping choruses and party atmospheres (imagine Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd”). “Mojito” is the winner with its piano solos by Philippe Saisse, himself influenced mightily by Lewis. “Lulu’s Back” is in a class by itself on the CD, a reggae riddim holding the bottom end while Golub throws out cascading riffs and rock-hero solos. Kirk Whalum steps in for “Slinky,” a nasty jazz tune where Whalum’s sax and Golub’s guitar match each other and trade solos. The biggest surprise from the electrically plugged-in Golub comes with “The Way I Feel Tonight,” a mellow, jazz-drenched composition benefiting from an organic, stripped-down approach and the sweet sounds of Golub’s acoustic guitar.
The three covers are alright with me. Richard Elliot’s sax makes the smoothest cut here, “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got,” even smoother, while on Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay” Golub draws out his blues-drenched tones, slowing the original tune to a dirge. Finally, Golub bends notes muy bueno and sustains them extra-long to bring added melancholy to the Beatles’ beaten-into-the-ground “Something.”