Carl Grubbs with Lafayette Gilchrist: Exploring the Jazz Traditions

Supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, Carl Grubbs (saxophones, far left) and Lafayette Gilchrist (piano, left) explore oral tradition in jazz, live at An Die Musik.

Carl Grubbs comes from the John Coltrane school of bebop saxophone. By that I mean that he literally studied under Coltrane. They were so close, in fact, that Coltrane later married Grubbs’ cousin, Naima, who would later be immortalized on Giant Steps. You can hear Coltrane’s influence in Grubb’s composition and playing; he makes frequent use of the Coltrane matrix of descending major thirds and uses sheets of sound techniques for texture. On this date, Carl led the duo with his angry sounding sax while Lafayette was more reserved on keys.

At 8:20 pm, they opened things up with a blues to get the juices flowing. Grubbs’ alto sound is reedy and very aggressive at times, but can also be dynamic in the style of Stan Getz. After several choruses, Grubbs handed the tune over to Gilchrist for solo piano. My first impressions of Gilchrist’s playing are that he is a very precise player with a style all his own. Some of his pet licks are beginning to develop into a very signature style.

Next the trio played Body and Soul, as arranged by John Coltrane and Joy Spring with the addition of min IV, maj III progression (the theme of the night). It was at this point when sweat was beginning to form on Carl Grubb’s brow that I began to get more of a feel for Lafayette’s style. Taking the second solo and having some harmonic freedom, he made noteworthy use of building and releasing musical tension in a conversational way. Some of this voice leading on this tune reminded me of the style of Keith Jarrett without all the flash.

On the whole it was a great show that really represented what jazz oral tradition was about. I’m excited to hear Lafayette continue to grow as a musician and as a creative mind. Now that he’s back in the U.S.A., I look forward to seeing him in a trio setting in and around Baltimore. Watch for him!

White Rabbit. I need rising sound…

I remember thinking, “There are way too many instruments on this stage right now. They must be hiding something; no talent, bad musicianship… it only remains to be seen.” I have never been more wrong in my life. White Rabbits has a huge sound, carefully crafted and under control. I was reminded of Hunter S. Thompson quoting Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

White Rabbit. I need rising sound… And when it comes to that fantastic note where the rabbit bites its own head off, I want you to throw that fuckin’ radio into the tub with me!

I’d like to think that White Rabbits found some inspiration in these words.

Read Aural State’s post for a complete review of the show. I intend to focus a little more on White Rabbits and what made them stand out so much on stage. Opening things up for White Rabbits were The Subjects: the perfect band to warm the crowd up. They were well-rehearsed and enjoyable to listen too, especially when they let the drummer take a crack at singing. I want to dispel the myth that you have to be an emotional tenor with an ornamental guitar — a guitar is not a handbag, kids — to front a rock band.

I already mentioned that I initially thought there were too many instruments on stage. My preference is to find economy in all things, but I was fairly open to the idea of a big band rock group. As White Rabbits set up, I noted two trap sets, two guitars, bass, and keys. For those of you keeping count, that’s a hockey team right there. My curiosity was further piqued when the keyboard player dragged out a tack piano and a Nord Electro 2, the backup choice of Rhodes and Hammond B3 players the world over. The instrument is a mark of good taste (I have one in my living room right now). I had some high expectations for this player. While not revealing himself as a melodic player, he proved to have fantastically quick hands and excellent timing. Although I am not a fan of screaming, his vocals were generally spot on and I would say very authentic for the style of music.

Playing with two drummers on stage can prove to be rhythmically disastrous. White Rabbits pulled off the trick exceedingly well, however, proving how well-rehearsed they are as a group. Even though I was initially wary of the concept, I would now have to say that having two drummers is an essential part of this ensemble. On the other hand, I couldn’t see any justification for having two guitars in the group even though neither of them were at all shabby.

The glue that holds this many musicians together is endless hours of rehearsal and it shows that White Rabbits has put in the time. Each individual was absolutely comfortable throughout the show, moving effortlessly between instruments and movements. This careful rehearsal also shows up in the quality of the arrangements that start with a simple rhythmic or melodic idea and build to a level of excited tension and release.

It was refreshing to hear a band go after some sinister sounding music with gypsy minor keys and the unusual but tasteful calypso rhythm stylings. I would love to hear this band slow it down a little and take on something a little more sophisticated. The cover of “Maggie’s Farm” was a hit with the crowd, but I’d love to hear them try “All the Right Bullets” by Tom Waits. They could really stretch on that tune.

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