This Grace fellow has channeled the Crusaders! Wonderful.” - Gary Lowe

— WUNH 91.3FM New Hampshire - 6/13/22

Review of "Long Beach" by Hans-Bernd Hülsmann - Smooth Jazz German Radio

SMOOTH & SOUL - In Focus - New Impressions - 6-10-22 - by Hans-Bernd Hülsmann

Saxophonist, jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist Brian Grace began his musical career as a professional musician at a young age of 19. He spent a large part of his following years in various Army Bands before moving into the field of contemporary jazz. 

Brian counts ten solo albums among his original body of work. The three latest are The Streets of San Francisco (2015), Stratosphere (2017) and his newest project Long Beach (2022). Brian considers his musical focus to be fusion jazz. He himself describes his stylistic home as progressive jazz. 

Brian performs on his new album tenor & alto saxophones, piano, organs, guitars, strings, vibes, tubular bells, triangle, sound effects. As can be seen from the credits, Brian has been able to attract some big names in contemporary jazz to his EP. On all tracks you can hear the well-known bass player Jimmy Haslip, who has already proved to be a valuable support for many fusion jazz players. 

The album opens with The Gathering Storm. You can consider this song, which Brian recorded in 2018, more or less as a continuation of his previous album Stratosphere, because it features all the musicians who were on the earlier album. The first impression of the song is very percussive, as Jimmy Branley pulses the introduction on his congas before the other musicians get into action. Mike Miller (Boz Scaggs, Gino Vanelli) sets strong accents on his guitar that almost go into the realm of synthesizer. Overall, a very dynamic piece that doesn't shy away from comparison with other contemporary fusion jazz pieces. 

Autumn In Long Beach is like the whole album a tribute to Brian's longtime residence. The reggae-styled tune was recorded in 2020, when the Corona pandemic demanded a lockdown from the musicians. Anne Hauter on trumpet and Brian on sax are able to create a brilliant harmonic unison, although it is not possible to recognize whether the reggae rhythm is beneficial or detrimental to the course of the music. 

The next song Exploración, note the Spanish spelling, begins with Anne Hauter's unearthly trumpet introduction with a hint of Ennio Morricone before the rest of the troupe kicks in almost explosively. At first, one gets the impression Brian is leaning toward Luis Miguels' Bésame mucho, but then the melody drifts into Brian's original composition. Brian seems to have incorporated into this piece all the Spanish musical  influences  and reflections that have shaped him in recent years, which he now transfers into the jazz fusion field. Mike Miller brings his guitar to ecstatic heights that Carlos Santana could be envious of. Otmaro Ruiz on organ and Chad Wackerman on drums flashes in ultra-short solos. 

The title of Learning to Live Again has its origin in 2021, a time that gave everyone in the pandemic, respite and renewed hope. Unlike the previous tracks, this song with its distinct captivating melody and harmony can easily be assigned to the smooth jazz genre. Jimmy enriches the song with a warm-sounding fretless bass solo. 

The final The Gathering Storm: Reprise reunites Brian on piano and Jimmy on bass to a feast for the ears. You can experience the promised wow-factor that sticks indelibly in the memory. 

Brian Grace's Long Beach leaves a lasting impression. Brian has managed to create something breathtakingly new with a team of great musicians that makes a worthy contribution to the jazz fusion genre.

taking it to the streets

Southern California | Saturday, May 30th, 2015 | By Chris Epting

Like New York, San Francisco has inspired many a musical artist. There’s the obvious Tony Bennett standard, but there are plenty of other Golden Gate tunes that call to mind the fog, the hills, and the mystery of the City by the Bay. From The Decemberists’ “Grace Cathedral Hill” going back to Scott McKenzie‘s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)” in the 1960s, there just seems be something about the town that brings artists to their knees. And to their instruments.

The most recent is Los Angeles-based saxophonist Brian Grace whose new collection, entitled The Streets of San Francisco is a sublime sonic walking tour along some of the cities most well-known stretches. Each track is named for a street, which creates the framework for an easily enjoyable and provocative concept.

In the mid-1990s, the then band member of the U.S. Army was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco and as an enlisted man performed as a saxophone player. During his years there, the seeds were clearly planted and the fruits of these inspirations ring loud and clear on the new CD.

The urban flavor that flows throughout the journey certainly has its roots in a lot of the tuneful and melodic smooth jazz movement that goes back to the 1980s. But Grace is a crafty and skilled player that never gets trapped within conventional commercial structures. Clearly feeling the unpredictable pulse of the city, he blends a hatful of grooves and styles that are at times lush and sophisticated combined with boppier, darker moods and movements.

Kicking off the set is “Van Ness,” a marvelously energetic and soaring piece of work. Complex and curious, it brings to mind the rich textures that David Sanborn was employing back in the 1970s. Back when David Bowie tapped Sanborn to use his sax as a lead instrument the way a guitar would normally be used on the album Young Americans, an entire generation of horn players was born as a result. I’m not sure if that seminal album ever inspired Grace, but clearly his chops come from good places.

We then move through “Lombard,” “Divisadero” and “Larkin,” all snazzy, street smart pieces that call to mind the many quirky angles and sharp, sophisticated corners that help define the city.

The band varies from track to track with some truly exceptional players, including Chad Wackerman on drums (Frank Zappa, James Taylor, Allan Holdsworth) and Mike Miller on guitars (Chick CoreaBette MidlerBoz Scaggs). They all bring their musical ‘A’ game, and Grace tackles a host of instruments including a myriad of saxes, piano, guitar, vibes, harmonica, a variety of percussion instruments and more. For all of his proficiency outside of the horn, clearly it’s the sax where Grace delivers his true soul.

Well-known Tubes drummer Prairie Prince appears on the track entitled “Geary,” and the one vocal appearance on the record, is courtesy of Naomi Star on the song “Larkin.” This, in particular, resonates beautifully. Smoky and silhouetted, it evokes all of the twinkling lights against the midnight blue sky; pinpoints that will eventually become enshrouded in the sweet, iconic fog.

But the album is not about guest players. It’s about all of the musical heavy lifting that Brian Grace does as he crafts his signature musical roadmap. “Presidio,” named for the place where Grace was stationed, is particularly lovely and delivers a classy ride back to where this idea began in the first place.

Often times on sax solo albums, as electric and engaging as things may kick off, the player becomes a rutted into one style that may begin to feel slightly overworked midway through. What sets this collection apart and gives it some serious sparkle is the fact that each piece of music is its own story. The tempos and flavors and compositions are all distinctly different which gives the set and airiness and atmospheric quality which keeps you engaged as a listener. You just don’t know where he’s going to go next, but each little individual journey has its own rewards and by the end of it all, you feel like going back to see what you may have missed the first time around.

In a download culture, concept albums seem to have become dinosaurs, sadly. But thankfully, something like this comes along once in a while and reminds you that when it’s well executed, it doesn’t matter what age we live in. A good concept album is a good concept album and if the idea is seductive enough, it’s easy to go along for the ride.

I’m anxious at some point later this year to travel the city with The Streets of San Francisco as my soundtrack. But until then, it’s a feast of long-distance musical love for a city that most people embrace with passion and wonder. Just as I imagine they will embrace this wonderfully satisfying album.

From Jazziz magazine, Fall 2015 edition, p.39

Full text from article:

The city of San Francisco left a deep impression on saxophonist and composer Brian Grace.  As a member of the 6th U.S. Army Band, he was stationed at the Presidio betwwen 1992 and 1995.  While 20 years have passed, the experiences of that time remain fresh in his mind, at least as evidenced by his new self-released recording The Streets of San Francisco.  Grace composed tunes inspired by his impressions of streets and districts of the city, which provide titles to each number.  And he enlisted a cross-genre ensemble to help him realize his vision, including the aptly named and always exciting Chad Wackerman on drums, Bob Luna on "rock organ" and Doug Lunn on bass.  Grace also doubles on vibraphone throughout, the first time he's featured the instrument so prominently on a recording.  The album leaps from the (Golden) gate with the opening "Van Ness," an exuberant declaration of affection for the city by the bay, brimming with the excitement and anticipation of a night on the town.  What starts as a vivacious, sax-driven jazz tune takes an unexpected left turn into heavier terrain, as guitarist Makoto Miyashita puts his acid bite on the proceedings.  After all, San Francisco is full of surprises.

Amazing grace - clerk doubles as a jazz musician

From USPS Monthly Newsletter: July 2000 - Pacific Area Update/San Diego Performance Cluster

Original full text from article:

Although Brian Grace's days are filled with selling stamps and helping customers, his nights are filled with music.  A window clerk at the San Diego Post Office, Grace is also a professional jazz musician whose latest CD, Explorations, is being played on local San Diego jazz radio FM 88.3.  He has also been appearing on local TV playing his original songs.  Grace, who spent seven years in the Army Band, is a one-man band who plays all of the instruments on his compositions, including saxophone, bass, lead guitar, trumpet, keyboards, and drums.  He overdubs all these instruments and records his music in a recording studio he built in his home.

His interest in music began back in fifth grade when he and his saxophone joined the elementary school band.  He then continued playing saxophone with his high school band and won his senior class talent show playing Amazing Grace.  He went straight from high school into the Army Band, and he says those years were his music finishing school.  "I studied at the Berklee College of Music, " he said, "but it was in the Army Band where I developed my skills as a musician.

You can visit Grace's web site to hear him and his one-man band at (web site now defunct).

in a related media story (for historical purposes only, of course), here's brian grace working as a USPS window clerk at horton plaza postal store in downtown san diego, CA - back in 1999!