Carl Grubbs Quartet CD review [CMP]

Music Reviews
Carl Grubbs Quartet CD review [CMP]
Jan 21, 2003, 20:13

CARL GRUBBS QUARTET Stepping Around The Giant CD

The beauty of jazz indie labels is that no matter how tiny the pressing or scattershot its distribution, someone's big musical dreams are bearing fruit. Considering that Philadelphian Carl Grubbs is averaging about less than one recording for each decade he's been alive, this disc carries a greater resonance and impact than many. Bad record deals in the early 70s discouraged Grubbs and his brother Earl (who passed away in 1989), from continuing a potentially high-profile career. Instead, he concentrated his energies on becoming a respected music educator. Fortunately, he's been getting some quality recording dates, so that we can hear what talented students and discerning Eastern Pennsylvania audiences have been hearing for years. It was a stroke of genius to get tenor saxophonist (and fellow Philly resident) Odean Pope on board for this session. Like Grubbs, he's had less visibility among the jazz public than his talents warrant, although it would be wrong to label him “unsuccessful.” Much-lauded in Philly for his pedagogical and community efforts, he's had a solid solo recording career and performed as part of Max Roach's band for the better part of two decades. Still, let's face it, visibility for jazz players outside NYC and Chicago just ain't what it used to be. That's those cities' loss because this is as pleasant a tete a tete as I've heard in a while. The CD title is no careless allusion to Coltrane—Grubbs studied with the master as a young player and his tribute is truly in Coltrane's spirit. Instead of aping his former teacher's tone and modalisms, he takes on the challenging task of upturning and sidestepping the chord changes of the be-bop classic. For the rest of the disc, Grubbs strikes a balance between hard bop and some gravelly (but grounded) abstractions. “Betty Jo and David” is a tune written for some loyal fans (it's just as bright and lovely a gift as you would expect) and a punchy version of Miles Davis' “Four” nods to Grubb's be-bopping youth. And Grubb's and Pope's unaccompanied dialogues on “Sax Talk I” and Sax Talk II” are pugnacious, eloquent and stimulating—it would be a pleasure to hear these players continue their conversation on another disc. [CMP]

-Cecile Cloutier

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