Don Grusin’s The Hang is a throwback to the good old days of the New Adult Contemporary format before the sound of contemporary jazz degraded into bland smooth jazz.
The pianist rounded up a band of all-stars to jam on this live event, with much of the music originally recorded when the GRP label was in its independent prime. Look at the artists on this bill: Lee Ritenour, Ernie Watts, Alex Acuna, Abraham Laboriel, Harvey Mason, Sadao Watanabe – the list goes on to include a dozen more artists. It?s an amazing blast from the past.
It’s especially good to hear Don play again with brother Dave. The Grusin touch is still obvious, though it’s been years since I heard Don on a recording. The Hang has new arrangements of music from Don’s catalog and two new songs.
Also reminiscent of the early GRP days is the use of new technology. While GRP was one of the first labels to adopt digital recording and the compact disc format, The Hang utilizes a first-of-its-kind, direct-to-disk, 96-bit, 48-track digital recording system. This was used to capture the performance in 5.1 surround sound. No doubt that this is a treat to the ears, not only from a technological standpoint but also musically.
The Hang is also available on DVD. There are brief comments from Don and other various participants, but it’s all about the music here. That’s a good thing since less than half of these guys have any charisma on camera (go, Abe!).
Seeing some of these performances certainly brought songs to my attention that the CD had not. Frank Quintero leads the band on vocals and guitar on “El Floridita.” It’s a song that really fires the band up and has especially good moments from Charlie Bisharat on electric violin and Nelson Rangell on flute. Phil Perry pours his talent into “Woman.”
Leader Don has his spots throughout the disc but really shines when he and brother Dave duet on pianos on “Road Town.” Impressive, especially considering there was little or no rehearsal time for the musicians. Don even comments that he and his brother didn’t go over the arrangement much. All 17 or 18 musicians assemble on stage for the finale “She Feels Good.”