Henry Grimes: Like He's Never Been Away
The disappearance and re-emergence of Henry Grimes after almost 30 years is one of jazz music's great resurrection stories. The Juilliard-trained double bassist, who began his career in the late 1950s with the likes of clarinetist Benny Goodman and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan before becoming an avatar of the avant-garde in the bands of saxophonist Albert Ayler and pianist Cecil Taylor, vanished at the height of his acclaim to a life of obscurity on the West Coast, to return in 2003 through the assistance of fans and a coterie of musicians on both coasts.
The Call, Grimes' sole effort as a leader from his early days in New York and Solo, though recorded more than three decades apart, represent a continuum that is, in many ways, as miraculous as the bassist's re-emergence. Taking up where he left off, Grimes returned to the scene with creative reserves undiminished by his years of obscurity. Grimes has become a familiar face at festivals and concerts, re-established artistic relationships and begun new collaborations with generations who had grown up listening to his tumultuous, soulful music.
On The Call, Grimes leads a free-minded trio of clarinetist Perry Robinson and drummer Tom Price through a series of original compositions that serve mostly as bare-bone structures for the discursive improvisations in which the trio specialized. "For Django" develops from dirge to a roiling up-tempo free improvisation that pairs Robinson's blues-inflected squawks and trills with the leader's bass lines and authoritative double stops. Grimes takes a brief bowed solo exposition before the trio returns with the mournful refrain.
On "Saturday Night What Th,'" Grimes' emerges from the tangled opening fray with a solo exposition that could be edited seamlessly into Solo, the bassist's 2008 release. Produced by the Danish drummer Kresten Osgood, Solo features Grimes in an uninterrupted, double-disc length improvisation on bass and violin. The lengthy performance is sustained by the characteristic duality that has marked Grimes' playing from 1960s: an unshakable sense of swing that permeates the most free improvisation and an ability to sustain ideas without reference to bar lines or recognizable forms.
Make no mistake: Solo is a difficult album to digest. It is a work as inscrutable and unrelenting as its creator but displays an unblinking devotion to a path deferred, but never abandoned.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Fish Story; For Django; Walk On; Saturday Nite What Th'; The Call; Son of Alfalfa.
Personnel: Henry Grimes: bass; Perry Robinson: clarinet; Tom Price: drums.
Personnel: Henry Grimes: bass, violin.