Christmas is traditionally a time for visiting, family and friends, but today we have another kind of visitor to LJC, The Visitors, visiting us from the spiritual soul-jazz years of the early ’70s. Make them welcome, they won’t be staying long.
Selection 1: Neptune
Earl Grubbs, soprano sax; Carl Grubbs, alto sax; Sid Simmons, piano; Ron Burton, electric piano; John Hicks, bass; John Goldsmith, Bill Roy, drums; Robert Kenyatta, congas; Sherman Ferguson, Richard Lee Wiggins, percussion. Recorded Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia, PA, May 5 & 13, 1971
Namecheck: Sherman Ferguson, percussionist, previously encountered on another Muse album with Kenny Burrell in New York, Live at the Village Vanguard NYC , Muse 5241 (1978). I was really taken with his solo on Pent Up House, and that’s coming from someone who heads for the bar as soon as a drum solo kicks off.. . .
Selection 2: Naima (Coltrane)
Earl Grubbs, soprano sax; Carl Grubbs, alto sax; Sid Simmons, piano; John Hicks, bass; Bill Roy, drums; Robert Kenyatta, congas
Earl and Carl Grubbs (The Visitors) hailed from Philadelphia, and it was by chance their good fortune that their cousin, Naima, was being seen by and later married John Coltrane. Carl Grubbs is still with us, according to his website: performer, composer, music educator and recording artist, who early in his career received “extensive training from one of the music world’s greatest legends in jazz, John Coltrane”. Coltrane pictured on the back of a subsequent The Visitors album, dapper, seemingly in a dressing gown, giving the boys a few pointers on the improvisational use of the harmonic chromatic scale. I have to ask, what time of day did The Visitors drop by? Before John had got up?
Carl Grubbs is an excellent saxophonist who has played with some great jazz players , including the visionary World Saxophone Quartet-founder Julius Hemphill, yet has remained in relative obscurity.
His journey in more recent times, in the absence of record sales, has leant heavily on non-commercial sources: municipal grants, foundation sponsorship, arts projects, awards, and educational courses, a sign of the times.
LJC SOAPBOX The problem is not jazz, the problem is the audience, and how the commercial world today inverts values. The fruit of talent and intensive effort is expected for free, whilst companies that offer platforms to the mostly inarticulate and juvenile are valued in billions. And almost everything is financed by advertising.
Our secret, however, is the pleasure of listening to vinyl, without interruption, or advertising, or the irresistible distraction of button-pressing and infinite choice. A pleasure which remains relatively unknown to many, even to music-lovers whose main priority appears to be to hear the same piece of music in every room in the house simultaneously, as they visit the bathroom or go about their daily chores. Instead of just sitting down and listening, for no other purpose. (There, I feel better now I’ve got that off my chest)
Let’s keep it our secret. And keep the price of records down.
The Visitors seems a strange choice of name, but then again, they must be the only jazz outfit to have sections of office car parks everywhere named after them. Any publicity is good.
How to describe The Visitors? Post-Bop modal soul-jazz, with Coltrane influences. Superfly, man of the moment, bills it as scarce spiritual dancefloor jazz. Sounds good to me, I like all those words, especially “scarce”.
“The music is often exotic, utilizing droning backgrounds for a variety of different textures and melodies, which change depending on the combination of reeds. “Neptune” evokes Sun Ra, droning hypnotically for 12 minutes while Washington’s flute and Grubbs’ tenor work their magic. It also spotlights Grubbs’ expressive, probing use of the tenor, an approach different from his work on the other horns.”
The Grubbs difference is two saxophones in the front line, which disturbs the heirarchy of instrumentation in the quartet/quintet, offering interesting opportunities for call-and-answer, harmonies, counterpoint, and stylistic contrasts, as well as two soloists.
The trusty Dusty Groove throws in this tribute to the Grubbs:
“Beautiful spiritual post-Coltrane jazz, played by an excellent but oft-overlooked duo from the early 70s! The Grubbs brothers are fantastic reed players, with a soaring sense of soulfulness that keeps things lively throughout – a style that inflects their horns together nicely to shade in colours on the tunes, then breaks them apart for expressive and meaningful solos that are filled with a tremendous amount of soul!”
Vinyl: Cobblestone CST 9010, later reissued on Muse MR 5195 entitled “Earl And Carl Grubbs The Visitors – Neptune“.
The Cobblestone label was founded by former Prestige Records executive Joe Fields and producer Don Schlitten. Fields later formed the Muse label as a continuation of the direction he established with Cobblestone, so it is not unusual to find some records from one label reissued later on the other.
Pressing by…hard to decipher the etchings, thin scratched, but there is a three letter stamp, looks familiar, any ideas welcome, take your best shot..
The cover seem prone to discolouring!
Until stumbling on this copy, I knew nothing of the Grubbs brothers. I had never heard of them nor The Visitors, or seen any of their titles.
The usual crosscheck in Discogs found copies for sale from only US sellers, so perhaps their work rarely travelled outside the US. Other Visitors titles turn up with glowing reviews on enthusiast blogs such as the meltingpotblog, so I think add the Grubbs to your wants list for 2019, which of course is just around the corner.
If you can add any thoughts about The Visitors, or indeed anything else, it’s free parking for visitors, the floor is yours.