Carl Grubbs 4tet: Stepping Around the Giant (2003)
Carl Grubbs is living, breathing proof of the adage “live isn’t fair.” Like so many of his peers, he’s largely fallen through the cracks over the years- a casualty of the public ambivalence that usually signals the lot of creative improvising musicians. But it wasn’t always so; back in the early Seventies with his brother Earl he made a valiant push for the big time through a contract on the Muse label. Three records later the debilitating weight of commerical realities caught up with him, and Grubbs spent the next several decades hustling at the edges. Enter Bob Rusch, who’s made a life’s work of providing forums for the criminally unsung in this music. The resulting CIMP session pairs Grubb’s sanguine alto with the more elastic and langorous sonorities of Odean Pope’s tenor. The latter effectively plays tortoise to the former’s hare. Sullivan’s supple strings and Barker’s industrious sticks round out the package, and while the emphasis understandably centers on the horns, there’s still plenty of room for the rhythm instruments to move.
Closing ranks with the brighly rendered title track, the quartet takes the tonal centers of Trane’s “Giant Steps” as their shared springboard. Grubbs solos first, crafting a highly personalized tribute to the composer through a verbose series of high register note streams. Pope follows, incorporating more space and a smoother tone into phrasings that cover the same territory as his partner, but at a decidedly different lope. Sullivan annexes some space for plucked statement steeped with his own wordless singing, and Baker brings up the rear with a salvo of press rolls that proves the model of muscular economy. The two “Sax Talk” pieces showcase the saxophones sans rhythm and each one is a starling display of empathic listening coupled with sustained improvisation. Both men traffic in bouts of impressive circular breathing in solo and tandem, but the extended reed techniques never compromise the musicality of their endeavors. There are sections where the saxophonists seem to be telepathically in tune, finishing and acccentuating each other’s lines as often as they advance their own. Brief moments of stasis do creep in, but for the most part the performances are remarkably sustained over their strenuous durations.
Sandwiched snugly between the two tour de forces, “July” features the full quartet galloping through another of Grubb’s melodically charged creations. Sullivan stands out again with a nimble touch in both ensemble and solo settings, and Barker’s drums maintain a multidirectional momentum throughout. Miles Davis’s “Four” supplies further fodder for spirited blowing and the quartet attacks the bop standard with a voracious improvisatory élan. Listening to this music, it's difficult to fathom why Grubbs has so long been relegated to the hinterlands of scrutiny. With luck this CIMP offering will facilitate deserving ingress for him back into the fold and a renaissance for a career that never should have stalled.
CIMP on the web: http://www.cadencebuilding.com
Track Listing: Stepping Around the Giant/ Betty Jo and David/ Sax Talk II/ July/ Sax Talk/ Kai
Personnel: Carl Grubbs- alto saxophone; Odean Pope- tenor saxophone; Chris Sullivan- bass; Newman Taylor Barker- drums. Recorded: July 30 & 31, 2002, Rossie, NY.