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Various Artists: GRP 30

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Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen officially launched GRP in 1982, applying high standards for audio production to recordings featuring jazz masters (Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan) as well as fast-rising newcomers. The label made an enormous impact on the smooth-jazz format, for a time dominating Billboard‘s Contemporary Jazz chart and developing a reputation for music often criticized as being overproduced, cluttered with synths and drum programming, and seemingly contrived strictly for commercial success.

That rep was partially justifiable, as demonstrated by several tracks on GRP 30, which arrives a decade after another celebratory two-disc GRP set, The Best Smooth Jazz Ever. In retrospect, though, the range of high-caliber artists and impressive sessions facilitated by the label is impressive. Naysayers might be pointed to such tracks as flutist Dave Valentin’s effusive version of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” done with a 4/4 Latin twist and driven hard by bassist Lincoln Goines, drummer Robert Ameen and percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo. Then there’s Kevin Eubanks’ hard-swinging “Opening Night,” the guitarist and tenor saxophonist Branford Marsalis sharing the speedy, swirling head, and vibraphonist Gary Burton’s “Reunion,” a tonal gem, with guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist and keyboardist Mitchel Forman, Will Lee on bass and Peter Erskine on drums.

Those are just three of the 15 tracks on disc one, which also includes Grusin’s NY-LA Dream Band, Diane Schuur, the Brecker Brothers, Ramsey Lewis and Arturo Sandoval. Disc two brings several other goodies, notably baritone saxophonist Mulligan’s bop-burner “Move,” featuring a group including trumpeter Wallace Roney and alto saxophonist Phil Woods; B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” with an all-star big band; Michael Brecker’s twisting “Escher Sketch (A Tale of Two Rhythms)”; Yellowjackets’ “Sandstone”; and pianist Kenny Kirkland’s “Steepian Faith,” with Branford Marsalis on soprano, bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. All in all, a pleasant, surprisingly eclectic collection.

Originally Published