Recorded in Brooklyn, New York on March 22nd 2008.
Mixed at Studio Menudio on August 28th, 2008.
Mastered at Studio Menudio.
Bass player Henry Grimes has returned from a lengthy and unfortunate exile to play across the world once again the decade of the 2000s, and it is great to know his spirit is still inexhaustible. It's also evident that Grimes has a desire to catch up from all of the inactive years he spent off the scene. So it is not surprising that this double-CD solo studio date comprises an uninterrupted 154 of improvising. While it certainly has its moments, the recording goes on and on and on to the point that it makes for a challenging listening experience, even for the most devoted Grimes fan. Moving back and forth between bowed or plucked contrabass and violin, the tones and themes he constructs tackle a combination of harmonic overtone techniques, soulful bluesy inferences, and soaring stratospheric demonstrations within a relative no-time framework. As one listens, occasional melodic themes do crop up, but you have to be patient in order to get to them. There's a playful attitude as Grimes rambles though whole, half, and quarter notes, plucked or explored harmonics with his bow. On the violin he recalls the busier aspects of peers Leroy Jenkins, Ornette Coleman, or Billy Bang, and you hear a lilting jig on the first CD. The second half of the program has Grimes beginning in a choppy, animated violin discourse, moving to very deep bowed bass with overtones, then back to violin for a much longer passage with childlike musings. The end game finds Grimes in a more jazz-like, thoughtful, and tuneful proportion. How you listen to this gargantuan effort depends on your patience for purely abstract music. In the long run, you will have heard all you need to understand where Grimes comes from in about 20 minutes. As admirable as the unedited and unrestricted factor of this solo performance is, and that very few of even the most expert bassists could pull it off, most will find the tedium greater than the overall reward.
All Music Guide
Finally, here is a beautifully recorded two-disc document capturing the phenomenal improviser Henry Grimes in full flight. Ilk Music offers up two-and-a-half hours of solo Grimes, on both bass and violin, in some of the free-est music he's committed to disc.
The only other album to focus exclusively on Grimes' solo playing is More Call, a self-released CD taken from a WKCR broadcast just after his now legendary comeback in 2003. The Ilk recording captures more detail, an essential element when listening to this master improviser's arco work. It supports the theory that no one plays with more energy, but beyond that, Grimes jumps registers with rapid-fire agility. Bill Dixon defines a soloist as "the smallest orchestra possible," and nothing could encapsulate Grimes' polyphonies more accurately. The entire pitch spectrum becomes his plaything as he glides effortlessly through dense overtonal and microtonal labyrinths of his own creation, switching between arco and pizzicato, each reinforcing the other with pithy motivic fragments.
At key moments in these rich notestreams, Grimes introduces modal repose. He may discover a rhythmic or melodic pattern, then transpose, repeat, possibly augment. The tempo, relative as it is in late Coltrane, slows considerably, and there is often a drone as Grimes weaves melodies above or below it.
Much of the intrigue of his playing comes from the emergence of these movements in his mind. So unpredictable is each motivic and timbral transformation that when Grimes trades bass for violin, you'd never guess that a half-hour has already passed. His first violin excursion is quite brief, lasting only a few minutes, followed by a breathtaking display of pizzicato melodic invention on bass, reminiscent of Charlie Haden's pioneering improvisations with Ornette Coleman. Yet, the elder Grimes is singularly inventive here, ideas flowing more smoothly and with the utmost variety of tempo and harmonic implication.
On violin, he rarely employs pizzicato, preferring bowed runs, leaps and falling cascades of double stops. Amidst these, we are treated to drone-based passages where he'll let one string ring as he interjects the others with counterpoint. One memorable moment finds Grimes in uhr-blues mode as he caresses a swinging old-timey riff, conjuring his own past. He takes off only to return a minute later, coaxing new life from the dance-like rhythms.
Unfortunately, these moments are frustratingly (literally) hard to find. Ilk has chosen not to index these two 70-plus minute improvisations, an inexplicable decision given the fluid nature of these performances. If nothing else, the pauses where Grimes switches instruments would have made great index points. Also, where are the liner notes providing an analysis of this music that defies simple categorization? Such an important release surely deserves some verbal explication. Perhaps the decision was made in the spirit of late Coltrane, who preferred the music on his last album to speak for itself. This music does, with all the vigor and beauty one performer can offer, but in combination with the lacking index points, the packaging is the single disappointing component of this historically important release.
- Marc Medwin (www.dustedmagazine.com/reviews/4773)