Liner Note Author: Mike Ragogna.
Detroit guitarist Earl Klugh's name and reputation are synonymous with smooth or contemporary jazz, especially in the 21st century. The categorization is fair, based on his long string of hit recordings, but it also it sells him short as a composer, arranger, producer, and supremely melodic improviser who has influenced an entire generation of guitarists who followed him. This 15-track compilation The Very Best of Earl Klugh: The Blue Note Years will do little to dissuade critics, but who cares? The recordings here cover Klugh's entire run with Blue Note, and later with Capitol (both labels are owned by EMI) between 1976 and and 1985, and showcase some of his best and most successful offerings. Beginning with his unique reading of Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby" from his self-titled debut in 1976, any jazz fan can hear his gift for unique chord voicings -- especially as they are expressed on a nylon-string guitar in the long intro, when he runs through the entire body of the tune. His improvisational flair for added extra chords, single lyric lines, and double notes enhance Evans' composition, even after a piano enters the mix. The other startling thing about Klugh is his ability to compose lovely lyric tunes such as "Sandstorm" and "Wes," from the hit 1982 album, Two of a Kind, his second collaboration with Bob James, or the monstrously successful "Living Inside Your Love" with Dave Grusin from the album of the same name (the track was later sampled by Tupac Shakur for the cut "Pain"). Slightly funkier and more elaborate with excellent horn charts is "Night Drive," from 1982's Low Ride, though Klugh's signature style remains intact. There are two covers here as well, the standard "Mona Lisa," written by Raymond Evans and Jay Livingston, where Klugh double strings his take on the melody, adding a lithe Spanish touch to the obviously Italian lyric line. The other is the closing reading of Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love" from 1985's Nightsong, his final album for Capitol before jumping to Warner. Ironically, it is here, more than on "Wes," that the influence of Wes Montgomery shines through prominently, with his funkier chord phrasings and shimmering refrains. This is as nice a comp as you'll find from these years for the money, and all tracks have been nicely remastered. ~Thom Jurek