Henry Grimes Quintet, Iridium, 7/8/03
Roy Campbell, Jr.(tp), Rob Brown(as), Andrew Bemkey(p), Michael Thompson(d)
I’ve been fascinated by the story of Henry Grimes’ return to music after having been missing in action for thirty years. Grimes had been a important jazz musician in the fifties and sixties, having played with Sonny Rollins, Lennie Tristano, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Haynes, Lee Konitz, Steve Lacy, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Roswell Rudd, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, McCoy Tyner, and many more. He was recently discovered living in a SRO hotel in LA, having bailed completely on music since the late sixties. Word got out that he had been found and people started mobilizing to help him. William Parker donated a bass to him named Olive Oil. I assume this was the bass he was playing last night.
I’ve been listening to him for years on CD, including some of my favorite recordings -- such as Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures and Grimes’ own ESP recording The Call, with the amazing clarinet player Perry Robinson.
KCR did a Grimes radio tribute a few months ago, playing four days of the bassist’s music. I turned on the radio before I knew about the tribute, heard some tuneful, vibrant, and rather wild clarinet playing that I couldn’t place and, of course, strong bass playing. It turned out to be Grimes playing with Tony Scott.
Iriduim is a slightly odd place to hear this kind of improvised music, since it’s expensive and a little touristy, though I suppose it’s good that they’re supporting it were they can. I only wish the sound mix had been handled better. For some reason, Grimes’ bass doesn’t have a pick-up, so he was amplified with a mic. He was also buried in the mix for much of the set. You could only hear him properly when the band was at it’s quietest. It would have been easy to dispense with the horn mics and bring the band volume to his level. It’s frustrating that getting the bass sound right wasn’t a priority for the club when a living legend has returned for the first gig under his leadership in over thirty years!
Still, it was possible to tell what was happening, and it was beautiful. His playing had a strongly implied swing, but one that seemed to go in multiple directions at once. It was extremely supple, with constant variations of tone and rhythm. He was also able to imply multiple melodies without droning or limiting the melodic trajectory of his playing. It sounded inquisitive, curious. He was simultaneously supporting, adding new information and invigorating the overall sound field, and not one of these multiple dynamics was dropped for very long. It’s as though he was utilizing a system of musical multitasking, the sound of simultaneous human modes -- social, mental, emotional, physical….
His presence on the stage was modest and fragile, in fact he seemed to be a bit stressed, but this didn’t show at all in the playing.
The band was strong, as you would expect from this mostly veteran combination, though maybe slightly distracted or just not quite warm yet. The drummer Michael Thompson was the only player I hadn’t heard before, and his playing was impressively responsive, strong and gentle, like Grimes' own.