HENRY GRIMES TRIO

Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival
Ayler ayl CD-028

Henry Grimes’ rediscovery and return to performing has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 21st Century improv scene. Formerly a shadowy, but respected figure whose sophisticated bass playing made him one of the pioneers of the New Thing, his employers included Cecil Taylor, Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler.

Returned to active playing action after a 30-year absence – and without literally touching a bass for most of those years – initially his output was diffident and hesitant. However, as the cliché says, practice makes perfect. Honing his chops after a year of steady gigging, this CD proves that Grimes is back in the groove. If nothing else, holding his own for over an hour in concert with two of jazz’s most accomplished and busiest performers – reedist David Murray and percussionist Hamid Drake – parades his undiminished prowess.

Further proof of this can be heard here in his extended strumming and swaying solo that bridges the nearly 26-minute “Eighty Degrees” and Murray’s best-known composition “Flowers for Albert”, honoring Grimes’ old employer Ayler. Stentorian in power, without ever losing the beat, Grimes plucks and double plucks different patterns, variations and chord substitutions. Here his polyrhythms bring forth snorts and swells from Murray and a timekeeping mixture from Drake.

Earlier, Grimes makes his own low-pitched statement of booming counter tones, while Murray, on bass clarinet, meshes his tongue slaps with the bassist’s lowest possible tones. When the tempo doubles one-third of the way through, Murray adds ethereal floating pitches to his honking. Accelerating once again, Drake puts aside the unobtrusive tambourine-on-hi-hat beat for a solo of flams, paradidles, quick rushes and drags on the snares, ride cymbals and hi-hat – plus some bass drum propulsion. Switching to tenor sax, Murray leads Grimes’ thundering strings on a chase that features sluicing irregular vibrations, quick, throaty note scoops and altissimo dog-whistle-like action. At points his dual output is so diametrical that he could be duetting polyphonically with himself.

Interrupted by Grimes’ strumming, these frenzied variations then give way to Murray’s instantly recognizable head, conveyed at a tougher pace by Drake’s cross-sticking rim shots. The composer’s almost impermeable texture of node variation eventually turns to a passage of extended overblowing and then a recapitulation of the theme. Climaxing by decelerating to a leisurely Aylerian march, the performance excites the audience. This building excitement is such, that after two full minutes of applause, the three are forced by the audience to encore with a hand-clapping boppish blues with a faint Monkish cast.

All and all, it’s safe to say Grimes is back at the height of his powers, while Murray and Drake aren’t missing any talent themselves.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Spin 2. Eighty Degrees 3. Flowers for Albert 4. Blues for Savannah

Personnel: David Murray (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Henry Grimes (bass); Hamid Drake (drums)