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.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.