Bebop Madness–A Tribute To the Masters – Steve Monroe , BJA News, May 2015
The March 28th concert at The Eubie Blake Cultural Center was promoted as the Carl Grubbs Ensemble performing "Bebop Madness: A Tribute to The Masters," and the setting could not have been more appropriate. A large crowd of eager jazz fans gathered at the renovated building, located north of downtown Baltimore, that serves to honor Baltimore's pioneering musical maestro Eubie Blake. Photos, record albums, and other artifacts featuring likenesses of jazz masters Blake, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Sidney Bechet, Cab Calloway and others were displayed on bookcase shelves around the room. Smartly-dressed audience members bobbed their heads and tapped their feet as Grubbs and friends delivered top-shelf jazz, offering shouts and applause throughout the evening.
Grubbs, winner of a 2014 Rubys award and 2009 Baker award, was in top form. The tone of his alto saxophone was sharp and biting right from the start of the opening tune, Tadd Dameron's "On a Misty Night." Grubbs was well supported by Eric Byrd on piano; Charlie Himel, bass; and Eric Kennedy, drums.
The band ripped off a funky "Hard Times," the David "Fathead"Newman romp, with some bluesy and gospel-toned riffs powered by Byrd's piano, before settling into the ballad "Naima," Grubbs fashioned a loving treatment of that John Coltrane classic. The group then segued seamlessly into "In Our Youth," a signature tune that Grubbs and his late brother Earl played many years ago with their band The Visitors. The song featured a winding, ever-mounting melody. Grubbs then presented a special treat by bringing out two of his jazz camp graduates, saxophonists Ephraim Dorsey, 11 and his sister Ebban, 10. The duo delighted the audience with another Visitors' tune, "Neptune;" Grubbs joined them on soprano sax to enthusiastic applause (the Dorseys will be honored at the BJA fundraising event on May 31st).
During the second set, Grubbs brought the Dorsey siblings back and accompanied them on piano. After that, Grubbs was back on his alto, firing up a soaring rendition of "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," followed by a haunting version of "Soul Eyes," with Byrd providing flourishes of intense blues on his solo. "Joy" turned into a bright, appropriate springtime romp, with Himel's rolling bass and Kennedy splashing merrily on drums.
At the end Carl and Barbara Grubbs warmly thanked the crowd and invited them to remember upcoming Contemporary Arts, Inc. events, including a May 31st concert at St. Paul's School, where Grubbs will unveil his Inner Harbor Suite Revisited: A Tribute to Baltimore, a body of work resulting from the grant he received for the Rubys award. He will be back at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center on June 21st to perform with Baltimore's bass clarinet guru Todd Marcus. A longtime educator of jazz studies, Grubbs is an Artist-In- Residence at St. Paul School in Brooklandville and offers annual jazz camps for young musicians.
Inner Harbor Suite Revisited: A Tribute to Baltimore – Steve Monroe, BJA News, July 2015
Swaying trees, rolling lawns and distant green hills formed an arcadian backdrop several miles north of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as the musical offerings of the Carl Grubbs Jazz/String Ensemble magically evoked scenes of the harbor in the performance of “Inner Harbor Suite Revisited: A Tribute to Baltimore,” on Sunday, May 31st at St. Paul’s Schools in Brooklandville. The concert, co-produced by St. Paul’s Schools and Contemporary Arts Inc., presented works from a project funded by the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA)’s 2014 Rubys Artist Project Grant awarded to Carl Grubbs.
The event was held in a sunlit room of the school’s Ward Center for the Arts. After a pre-concert performance by the St. Paul’s Schools Jazz Band, Grubbs, for twenty years the St. Paul’s Jazz Band director, opened the main show by lifting his alto saxophone and ex- ploding into hot Latin riffs of his composition “Bossa.” He continued with “1927 Love” and “Like Trane,” sup- ported by Eric Byrd, piano; Charlie Himel, bass; John Lamkin III, drums; and Eric Kennedy, drums and percussion. The percussive duo of Lamkin and Kennedy registered throughout, and a string ensemble lifted the show to an- other dimension. Cleveland A. Chandler, Jr. and Samuel Thompson on violins; Daphne Benicho, viola; and Kenneth Law on cello helped to transport the audience to the waters of the harbor, with visions of boats, ships and milling tourists. They were most effective in the pieces “In The Market Place,” “Sailing,” “Harbor Place” and “Water,” with their singing, drifting melodies. Grubbs’s fierce blowing on “Saturn,” one of his signature tunes, was a high- light. And “Barbara Dear” featured tenderly blown harmonies by Grubbs on a tune honoring his wife.
More than twenty years ago, the original CD Inner Harbor Suite, a live recording at the Baltimore Museum of Art, was financed by Carl and Barbara Grubbs with money “out of our own pocket,” as Carl said. It was the result of a desire to record some of the compositions he had developed in the years after moving to Baltimore in 1980 and receiving a grant to play concerts in the Inner Harbor.
As Jeannie L. Howe, GBCA Executive Director, stated: “This past Sunday, the amazing jazz saxophonist Carl Grubbs debuted ‘Inner Harbor Suite Revisited,’ a musical love letter to Baltimore, at the [St. Paul’s Schools] Ward Center for the Arts. This re-imagined composition . . . allowed Mr. Grubbs to experiment with a jazz/classical fusion and assemble an incredible group of musicians. . . .” Byrd, a rippling melodic wonder throughout the afternoon, was a highlight of the show, along with Grubbs’s horn work and the strings. As Grubbs said afterward, the strings added a different feel and more colors to the music, notably on the tune “By and By,” which became a dramatic, bluesy, waltzing lullaby vividly bringing visions of the Inner Harbor to life.
Carl G. Grubbs: Inner Harbor Suite – Willard Jenkins, JazzTimes, Jan/Feb 1995
Hard to believe that, after being on the scene for almost three decades, this is Carl Grubbs' first solo release in twenty-three years. He and his brother Earl, who passed in 1989, recorded several LPs for Muse Records in the 70's. They were, perhaps, best known as the cousins of John Coltrane's first wife, Naima. Coltrane served as a mentor for both brothers and it is his sound that is celebrated throughout this recording.
Richard B. Kamins, Cadence, June, 1995
"Saturn" opens the program with the feel of a McCoy Tyner composition. Elmer Gibson's strong piano chords serve as a springboard for the saxes of Grubbs and Bob Gray. The vocals of Maja Rios are featured on three tracks, the first of which is "Reaching For The Sun." The track is reminiscent of the Afro-Latin pieces of Gary Bartz with lyrics that would not be out of place in a Return to Forever song. It took me several listenings to get into "Glad To Be Sad," which has the nicest feel for such sad lyrics.
Howard Mandel, Downbeat, July, 1995
Recorded live at the Baltimore Museum of Art (in '94), Inner Harbor Suite represents the Ayler-Trane-Ra continuum as it thrives in an educated cultural community setting. Alto-sax composer Grubbs enlists tenorist Bob Gray and singer Maja Rios to co-front rhythm organized around pianist Elmer Gibson. Real warmth and solid rhythmic values: be sure to check out the horns' tribute to the late Julian Hemphill.
Several of you stalwarts out there will recall alto saxophonist Carl Grubbs from an early '70s ensemble he shared with his late tenor playing brother Earl: The Visitors out of Philly. Still other will recall the Coltrane familial connection—Grubbs is cousin to Trane's first wife, Naima. And if you're a resident of Baltimore you certaijnly know of Carl's steadfast work around town in maintaining jazz truth. Still others may remember him from the Julius Hemphill Sextet, particularly the one that performed Julius' epic sax opera Long Tongues.
All that history aside, Carl has crafted a work of considerable color and depth in his Inner Harbor Suite. Recorded live at Baltimore's Museum of Art, Carl is joined by a septet of Maryland-area musicians, including vocalist Maja Rios.
Carl Grubbs Quartet: Stepping Around The Giant – Derek Taylor, Cadence Magazine, February 25, 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 brightly 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.
Aaron Steinberg, Jazz Times, June 2003
The Grubbs Brothers long featured the twinned saxophones of bandleaders Earl and Carl. Though Earl passed in 1989, Carl Grubbs revisits familiar territory on Stepping Around the Giant (CIMP), his first recording for a label outside of self-produced efforts since the late ’70s. This time around, it’s fellow Philadelphian Odean Pope who matches his tenor to Carl’s alto.
Glenn Astarita, All Music Review
Two Philadelphia-area saxophonists seemingly blow the roof off the studio with this 2003 release. As the leader of this date, Carl Grubbs (alto) aligns with Odean Pope (tenor) for a rousing program of free bop, avant-garde, jazz, and more. Grubbs hasn't recorded much, but Pope's legacy consists of his lengthy tenure with drummer Max Roach, amid other session dates. In addition, bassist Chris Sullivan and drummer Newman Baker anchor the proceedings with finesse and raw power.
The first piece, titled "Stepping Around The Giant," is built upon three tonal centers of Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Here, Grubbs and Pope execute swirling choruses marked by a memorable melody, expounded upon by their free-flight excursions. Notions of an old-fashioned cutting session come to mind, however, the band is most assuredly organized and focused.
The musicians get equal opportunities to stretch their respective wares throughout this multi-dimensional presentation. They raise the bar on several occasions to coincide with a few probing interludes. One of the many highlights on this album is the quartet's expansive and buoyant rendering of Miles Davis' bop-ish composition titled, "Four." Overall, Grubbs' energized game plan imparts the recipe for success here.