Saturday, January 16, 2016

Grits - 1976 - Rare Birds

Rare Birds

01. Jupiter Jam (13:05)
02. Inside Straight (11:58)
03. Communa Lacrimosa (3:25)
04. Easy For You (3:16)
05. Glad All Over (3:31)
06. As The World Grits (14:11)
07. Rare Birds (25:51)

Recorded live 8/21/76 in Gaithersburg, Maryland

- Rick Barse / keyboards, vocals
- Tom Wright / guitar, viola, bass, vocals
- Amy Taylor / bass, violin, vocals
- Bob Sims / drums, vocals...

Overlooked US act, which didn't manage to record an official album during the years of its existence. Grits came from the Washington area, featuring four classically-trained musicians and started their music journey around 1970. Founder of the band keyboardist Rick Barse wrote most of the band's material,which included also female singer/bassist/violin player Amy Taylor, drummer/singer Bob Simms and guitarist/singer Tom Wright. They had a regular live activity and composed tons of original material, but it won't be until 1993, when Cuneiform Records would release some tracks from the 1970-75 period of the band through the album ''As the world Grits''. Another album by the same label, ''Rare birds'', would see the light four years later, this time featuring tracks from the second phase of the band around 1976. Grits would disband for good in 1978 and the last period of the band was covered in the album ''Rock and Roll Madness'' with material exclusively composed by Rick Barse. This last offering became available through CDBaby in 2008. Barse sadly passed away from cancer in early 2001, not being able to see the last material composed by him taped on an official album.

Grits had a quite quirky and progressive sound during the years of their existence. They combined early psychedelic influences with some Classical-drenched instrumental themes and notable jazzy inspirations, making FRANK ZAPPA, EAST OF EDEN, MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA and THE MUFFINS as reasonable reference points. Recommended to all 70's Prog fans, who love some Fusion flavor in their menu.
Grits were a jazzy prog band from the Washington DC area in the 1970s. During their existence, they never released an album, but the Cuneiform label dropped two archival releases during the 1990s. While the first one, As the World Grits, concentrates on their studio material, the second one, Rare Birds, captures them in an intimate live setting "in the Muffins' backyard", as the liner notes say. The sound quality is pretty good, not fantastic, but good enough.
The pieces are mostly lengthy instrumentals based around jazzy electric piano, with fluid guitar leads (resembling Zappa's style at times), and occasional violin and/or viola (the bassist and guitarist both double on bowed instruments). The style and execution should appeal to fans of Frank Zappa's Petit Wazoo period (1972), The Muffins, Canterbury, and even early Samla Mammas Manna (bits remind me of their Maltid album). The final magnum opus "Rare Birds" even hints at classical music, with violin taking the lead on a playful melody.

While I was expecting a jam-heavy effort with all the long running times, I was surprised to hear how much of this elaborate music is carefully written and arranged. There are solos, but this is no backyard jam session, this is a talented band giving their all, probably just for a small group of friends in the audience. This isn't the most original band in the world, but they've got chops to spare, and it's nice that someone had the foresight to record this band and at least get them some belated recognition.