From his return to performing at Los Angeles' World Stage to his triumphant residency in New York, Henry Grimes plays like he's making up for lost time. Captured here on his first recording in decades, Grimes performs live in Finland with two of the best and hardest working musicians around, David Murray on reeds and Hamid Drake on drums. Although a generation younger, Murray and Drake share with Grimes an approach that incorporates virtuosity and daunting technical skill to create an active onslaught of ideas.
The program opens with Grimes' "Spin," the returner prowling around his bass, and Murray and Drake quickly join him in an easy unstructured intro. Grimes snaps into a viciously authentic hard bop drive with Drake, including the bass rhythm. Murray takes his big tone for an endless ride as Drake and Grimes shapeshift the time. An a capella blast from Grimes begins with shivers, chisels, and slides, followed by prodigious pinpoint pizzicato. Next up, Murray hits his groove and the music pours out of him in torrents. Murray plays an amiable bass clarinet in an easygoing duo with Grimes on "Eighty Degrees." By the time Drake hits the sticks, the trio gallops, with Murray launching skyward. The multi-rhythmic master takes a majestic solo turn, followed by the trio, led by a protean workout by Murray, back on tenor.
An interstellar bass solo leads straight into the next composition. Murray's "Flowers for Albert" references Grimes' old boss with playful melody fragments that seem shorthand for Ayleresque melodies. The rhythm section plays straight momentum behind Murray, who rolls around with the tenor. Drake finds beats everywhere, and the band receives a heartfelt ovation that results in the encore, Grimes' "Blues for Savannah." A Monkish theme maps the cheerful jam that follows.
There's going to be a tendency to underestimate Grimes' achievement here, which is akin to a star major league hitter dropping out for thirty years to return more poised with the same power against younger pitchers. For fans unable to catch the man in action, Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival holds the proof that this jazz Orpheus has returned from the underworld a greater light.
Personnel: Henry Grimes: bass; David Murray: tenor sax, bass clarinet; Hamid Drake: drums.