August 2003

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If Grimes had stuck around New York and simply toiled for the last 30 years, would he have been able to land an Iridium gig?
David S. Ware/Henry Grimes — Much has already been said and written about the return of veteran bassist Henry Grimes, found living in poverty in California after a three-decade disappearance. Grimes returned to a New York stage for the first time at the Vision Festival in May, but it was at Iridium, during a three-night double bill with David S. Ware’s quintet, that he was able to play for an extended period and present himself to an eager public. Joining the enigmatic bassist were Rob Brown on alto, Roy Campbell on trumpet, Andrew Bemkey on piano, and Michael Thompson on drums. Grimes was in excellent form on bass — rough around the edges, to be sure, but with a full, round tone and a very clear sense of musical direction. The music was free yet extraordinarily sensitive, with clearly delineated solo rotations and perfectly intuited peaks and valleys. This was a quintet without a weak link. But one could not help wondering: if Grimes had stuck around New York and simply toiled for the last 30 years, would he have been able to land an Iridium gig?

Ware’s accomplished group, with Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass, and Guillermo E. Brown on drums, did not disappoint. Wednesday’s first set found them playing material from their recent Aum Fidelity reworking of Sonny Rollins’s Freedom Suite. Parker and Brown were at peak rhythmic intensity, pushing every groove as hard as they could. The band has arrived at a very consistent live mix; they sounded good in the big, brick-walled space of the Vision Festival, and they sounded equally good in this far smaller room. Ware sets the volume of his clip-on mic to teeter just on the edge of overpowering. His solos should be ear-splitting, but they’re not — they blend with the other instruments and stop just short of blood-on-the-walls volume. Ware, interestingly, is not one to resolve his solos neatly. He’ll reach the summit of overtone screams and then simply disengage, put his horn on its stand, and sit down off to the side (he has a bad leg). Quite a spectacle.

Greg Osby — Joined at Birdland by Megumi Yonezawa on piano, Matthew Brewer on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums, Osby continued to expand jazz’s horizons and his own, playing music from the new St. Louis Shoes (Blue Note) and a number of older tunes, as well as a vigorous reading of “Bluesette.” His new band is fresh and inventive. McPherson speaks Osby’s rhythmic language with particular fluency (the drummer waited till the end of the set to tear down the house, and tear it down he did). Yonezawa, following in the footsteps of Jason Moran (and, on the new album, Harold O’Neal), seems to have her own take on “percussive school” piano; her low- to mid-register tones on Andrew Hill’s “Ashes” were a thing of beauty indeed. Brewer held it all together and managed not to clash with Yonezawa’s sometimes heavy left hand.

One might not expect Osby, an M-Baser at heart, to turn around and offer “East St. Louis Toodle-oo,” with notated 1920s drum parts and all. But it’s Osby’s ability to confound categories that keeps every project interesting. His alto, moreover, has become one of the most identifiable sounds in jazz.

Cecil Taylor Trio — With bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jackson Krall, Taylor played nearly 90 uninterrupted, tsunami-like minutes of music, and that was only one of four sets over two nights at the Knitting Factory Main Space. Taylor’s choreography of the hands, his body language, is electrifying. He often appears to gesture wryly in Krall’s direction, but he could just as likely be connecting with some far-off muse. Between grand thunderclaps of bass notes and random clusters, one may hear rivulets of post-Impressionist harmony and other fleeting sounds that suggest a cunning method behind the madness. But given Taylor’s power at the keyboard, and the relative smallness of the room, there was no need for the piano to be so hotly miked. Even the soft passages sounded loud, making one gradually numb to the finer points of the trio’s interplay.

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