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In the liner notes to the new Henry Grimes Trio Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival CD on Ayler Records, William Parker likens Grimes to a Neles, a person in the world of shamans "born with intuitive powers that allow them to know the secrets of the universe, and whose lives become a series of inspired events". Parker goes on to speak of the Neles' power and knowledge being so infinite that only through faith in the infinite process can it be accepted. Anyone who has succumbed to the spiritual nature of improvised music knows the truth in what William Parker is saying, the feeling that the musicians are speaking together on a different and higher level and that only through faith can the listener truly experience the music being played.
The shaman analogy is also interesting when one considers the circumstances of Henry Grimes' life and the scrutiny that was paid to it in recent years. Resurfacing after thirty years of virtual anonymity, Grimes was the subject of many articles on his early career and time away from music, and while these pieces were important for the exposure they lent to such a great talent, they tended toward the feeling that Henry Grimes was not in control of his life and needed to be saved. Let us not forget that another great bassist, Charles Mingus, had a similar if much shorter period of anonymous living in the sixties, during which he dealt with personal demons and waited for the world to catch up to his vision. Everything about Henry Grimes' career in the sixties points to a similar situation. After reaching artistic highs during which he could be as strong an accompanist to musicians as in or out as Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler, where was there for him to go? Henry Grimes had his reasons for leaving and the musical world needed to catch up to him, needed to match his faith. His new live trio recording indicates that Henry Grimes didn't go anywhere, as this set can stand up against his finest work and will fit into his series of inspired events.
David Murray, on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, and Hamid Drake, on drums, each contribute a composition, and the leader frames it with a blues encore and a winding, expansive opener, "Spin", that is a great vehicle for Murray's huge tone and swirling solos. Grimes then bows a wonderfully expressive solo that merges seamlessly into pizzicato. Murray reenters and displays why comparisons to other players are fruitless, and why he will be the one mentioned in 20 and 30 years when someone is trying to describe a new talent. Hamid Drake lays it down throughout, pushing and prodding but never intruding. Where were the opportunities for such performances and recordings in the late sixties? Hamid Drake's "Eighty Degrees" opens with Murray on bass clarinet, accompanied by Grimes and sounding at times like a bass duo as Murray shows his mastery of this wonderful instrument and its variety of sounds. The drummer doesn't chime in until almost four minutes have passed, and then the finest moments of the recording occur as each player hits his stride. Drake follows with a brilliantly multilayered solo that brings all three players back for a triumphant finish.
But not before Grimes plucks away with quiet help from Drake to punctuate the piece and move into Murray's "Flowers For Albert", and who better to pay tribute to on this night? Albert Ayler's spirit lives on in the playing of these three masters and is anything more important to great improvisational music than spirit and energy? Perhaps faith in the process and in the players' abilities. Well, have faith; Henry Grimes, David Murray, and Hamid Drake are here.
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