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Earl Grubbs, tenor sax; Carl Grubbs, alto sax; Kenny Barron, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Albert Heath, drums; Sonny Morgan, misc. percussion. Recorded May 7, 1974, recording Paul Goodman (RCA), mastered at Bell Sound, New York, 237 W 54th Street, NYC, pressing plant unknown.
The Visitors line-up had changed radically between 1971 (Neptune) and 1974, bringing in heavyweights like Kenny Barron, Buster Williams and Albert Heath, familiar figures on Muse sessions.
Buster became a fixture in Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi line up, and is still active now, age 76. Albert “Tootie” Heath is likewise, still punishing the drums at age 83, and both Carl Grubbs and Kenny Barron (now age 75), playing here, continue to practice. Not only is the music here long-lived, so are the performers, something unusual in the jazz world, many of whom never saw their 40th birthday. Next time someone touts the “things are getting worse” meme, remind them a lot of things have never been better. Though musically, well, perhaps not.
Modal post bop compositions, a spiritual jazz groove that treads a careful path away from jazz-rock-fusion that dominated the musical landscape of the ’70s. The Visitors ploughed their own direction. The two-horn front line offers flashes of the Grubbs brothers Coltrane tuition, and adds an additional dimension. If it belongs anywhere it is in the Strata East vein.
The selection, Happy To Be Sad, puts me in mind of Gato Barbieri’s Last Tango in Paris, driving a scooter existentially in circles around the Champs-Élysées with your muse on pillion, remarkable sense of time and place, a cinematic quality, and freshness that belies its age.
Vinyl: Muse MR 5047 US original, mastered at Bell Sound, New York. Hoffman forums have a lot to say about Bell Sound, how they insisted on editing and remixing what had been recorded elsewhere, much grumbling, but I don’t hear any issues here.
Sellotape on cover edges, possibly one of the most horrid inventions of its day, which disfigured many LP jackets. Cover art was not one of Muses strengths.
Trophy records change hands a trophy prices, and that is good for buyer and seller, but not for rest of us, and there is a rich seam of other jazz to be found on lesser labels like Muse. It is also more fun, poking around the less well known, though the success rate is variable. The Grubbs brothers turned out four great albums as The Visitors, and deserve to be better known. Unfortunately, they were not, and as a result, their records can be hard to find, but well worth looking out for.