Henry Grimes Trio - Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival

Nick Lea, Jazz Views

This live trio album from bassist Henry Grimes will serve as a reminder to many listener what a great musician Grimes is, and also may give pause for thought on just where he has been for the last thirty odd years. Many musician's have other strings to their bow (if you'll pardon the pun), and some leave careers in music to pursue other activities and either return to the fold, whilst others never regard their musical activities as anything more than a hobby.

Grimes came to prominence in the 1960's working with such luminaries as Thelonious Monk, Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane to name but a few. Just as importantly, as with Coltrane, he was also a great supporter of, and participator in the budgeoning avante garde scene of the time. So, as well as playing more 'conventionally' with the above named musicians, Henry would also show another side to his musical personality playing with such revolutionaries and forward thinkers as Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, Roswell Rudd and Albert Ayler. After spending several years consolidating his position as one of the leading bass players, in 1967 Grimes seemed to simply disappear. For reasons known only to himself, he decided to quit music, and it was not until he was 'found' in 2002 that he returned to the double bass and making music.

It is remarkable to think that after 35 years away from the jazz scene, that anyone could make such a comeback. To do so with such a (apparently undiminished) technique, Henry Grimes has made it all sound so easy. Just two years after returning from his 'sabbatical' here he is making music of the highest quality in that most demanding of formats, the trio. Without the use of a harmony instrument the demands on all three musicians are incredible, with much falling on the basist to provide a rhythmic link with the drummer, and harmonic signposts with the saxophonist. Whether playing arco or pizzicato, soloing or in accompaniment, Grimes makes the bass speak volumes.

Having said this, his frontline partner, David Murray, needs little guidance in that department, and works with the bassist to give a performance at the very top of his game. His saxophone lines sweep from the lyrical to the harsh, from the depths of his tenor sound to the highest notes.His bass clarinet gets a work out on 'Eighty Degrees' composed by drummer, Hamid Drake, and his wonderfully constructed lines for the slap tongued percussive opening phrases lead seemlesly into a solo that develops into a multifaceted story.

If at times the music seems inextricably bound up in the dialogue between saxophone and bass, it is much to the credit of Hamid Drake that he holds this together in the most subtle and unobtrusive manner. It is only with a second (and careful) listen to this superb set that one can really aprreciate his immense contribution. He solos at length, and with much interest on his own 'Eighty Degrees', but elswhere is cleverly building the foundation to support the playing of his two colleagues.

After two long tracks turning in at 22 and 25 minutes each, the tension is released with a couple of shorter pieces. David Murray's 'Flowers For Albert' is now practically a standard, and given a typically reverential treatment here, with the performance concluding with Grimes' 'Blues For Savannah', which joyfully reaffirms his link with tradition.
Trio playing of the highest order, combining throughout the 63 minute playing time, passion, lyricism and that overriding sense of commitment to each other that is the spirit of jazz.