Grimes Celebrates Lifetime of Achievement at Vision Festival 21


Lee Mixashawn Rozie (left), Marc Ribot, Henry Grimes, Chad Taylor and Tomeka Reid perform during Vision Fest 21 in New York City on June 7.

(Photo: ©Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos)

As a young New York musician during the early 1960s, Henry Grimes played with seemingly everyone of note and was at the epicenter of the then burgeoning avant-garde scene.

When Charles Mingus experimented with a second bassist, Grimes was his first call. Grimes recorded his ESP-Disk debut, The Call, in 1965.

An active collaborator, Grimes recorded or performed with a diverse array of musicians, including Cecil Taylor, Amiri Baraka, Don Cherry, Steve Lacy, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and Benny Goodman.

After relocating to Los Angeles in the late ’60s, where work was slim and connections tenuous, Grimes fell off the map, eventually renting a small apartment and doing odd jobs far from the spotlight.

Decades passed, and many in the jazz world thought Grimes was dead, but then in 2002, he was found by social worker Marshall Marrotte. Word of Grimes’ “rediscovery” quickly spread. William Parker donated a bass (dubbed “Olive Oil” for its green color) and soon Grimes was back in New York City.

Since 2003 Grimes has played 600 concerts in 30 countries, published a book of poetry, conducted workshops and recorded the albums Live At The Kerava Jazz Festival (Ayler Records), Going To The Ritual (Porter Records), Profound Sound Trio: Opus De Life (Porter Records), Solo (ILK Music), Spirits Aloft (Porter Records) and The Tone Of Wonder (Uncool Edition).

Grimes’ evening-long Vision Festival tribute, held June 7 at Judson Church in New York, featured the bassist in various configurations, with the exception of an the opening invocation, an original piece entitled “Breath Breathe Free” performed by poet/vocalist Patricia Nicholson, percussionist Hamid Drake and drummer Whit Dickey.

Seemingly in a trance, Nicholson wandered the stage and the floor below, chanting, “Letting go, letting go” and “While non-song Non-sense No-truth … Is a lie a breach a betrayal.” Drake drew myriad sounds from a single frame drum as Dickey, head down as if meditating, played extremely close to his drum heads, his sticks creating a low-volume, micro-dynamic, buzzing texture.

As a large overhead screen projected photos of a young Grimes with Sonny Rollins, Don Cherry and McCoy Tyner, Nicholson danced and sang, issuing gospel calls and rambling poetry.

Nicholson introduced the next lineup: Grimes, pianist Geri Allen, cornetist Graham Haynes and drummer Andrew Cyrille. Grimes picked up Olive Oil off the floor, and as Allen and Haynes began playing, the bassist walked the instrument’s neck, searching for familiar ground.

Dense and sparse, this quartet dealt in collisions: Haynes’ mostly long notes, Allen’s adventurous journeying, Cyrille’s rolling flurry of rhythms that were ever-changing but smooth. The clamor bounced off the church’s high ceilings and reverberated, the music’s center ever in flux.

Grimes eventually went to his bow and Haynes’ long notes continued as Cyrille and Allen fired and cajoled the music’s many directions. Allen eventually took charge, her banging chords leading this quartet of pugilists. Exchanging bass for violin, Grimes made the instrument squeal.

The churning sounds almost seemed more electronic than acoustic, the overlaid instruments’ collective commotion essentially impermeable. Cyrille intimated a martial sticking pattern, and the music came to an abrupt finish.

Vocalist Lisa Sokolov led the next ensemble: a choir consisting of Karma Mayet Johnson, Dwight Trible and and Lee Mixashawn Rozie, joined by Grimes (on bass) performing “Poems Of Henry Grimes.”

The quartet bellowed deep harmonies and fluttering ideas informed by whistles, hollers, calls and vocal cacophony, Grimes sawing into their sounds with screeching violin. The vocalists’ mastery was apparent, acrobatic wailing giving way to spooky whinnies and spirited shouts.

The highlight of the night was the Henry Grimes Septet with saxophonist Rozie, viola player Melanie Dyer, flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Chad Taylor.

The septet hit warp speed like an improvisation-powered airliner, fired primarily by the twin energies of Ribot and Rozie. Reid and Taylor also stoked the furnace, but the dialogue between Ribot and Rozie was particularly intense, the guitarist playing blistering, Hendrix-like solos but also supplying sound effects and deep tones.

Rozie stepped in at precise moments, waging scale-sliding storms, the sum total of the music sonorous and somehow tranquil within its dense nut of rhythms and intertwined melodies.

Mitchell also aided the groove, her repeated melodies forming a base over which Taylor lightly rolled and rambled. Ribot’s wall of noise and fuzz merged with Reid’s sawing strings, Grimes and Taylor inserting walking rhythms in unison then coursing free. As the ensemble heaved to and fro, seemingly directionless, the collective squall eventually took shape, heading to climax.

Three songs were performed in similar manner, each one wilder than the previous one. One song recalled wild interactions, the next an elegiac setting.

Every number was infused by Grimes’ presence. Shifting from bass to violin, his concentrated stare never changed, even as he was joined by different musicians. His spirit was as strong and undeniable as his performance. DB

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