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Henry Grimes

Marilyn Crispell

Tani Tabal

Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
February 25, 2006

by Jeff Waggoner

While it seems many of the jazz venues in the Albany area are swinging toward the soft or smooth (i.e, Chris Botti, Michael Buble), there are still ways to find edgy jazz – if you are willing to travel a bit.
In my case, I headed down to Bard College on a recent Saturday to see the great bassist Henry Grimes, the phoenix of the free jazz scene.
Julliard-educated Grimes played in the late ‘50s and early 60s with jazz giants such as Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano before dropped out of sight for 35 years. 
An enterprising writer and social worker discovered Grimes – who many in the jazz world had presumed to be dead – living in a single room occupancy (SRO) hotel in south central Los Angeles.  He was healthy, but destitute, according to a biography on Grimes’ website. Grimes had long since sold his bass, and had stopped playing.
In an act that should be his ticket to heaven, one of the preeminent free jazz musicians, William Parker, gave Grimes in December 2002 an extra, a green-tinged bass that Grimes calls “Olive Oil.”
Since then, the 70-year-old Grimes has been unstoppable.
He regained chops lost in his 35-year hiatus, and is again playing with the best in the business.  He has taken up where he left off --- free – having played with free jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor before Grimes went on his long vacation.
Now, his regular trio features the inestimable Marilyn Crispell (who is often compared to Taylor) on piano and the formidable Andrew Cyrille on drums.  On Saturday at Bard, Tani Tabbal took Cyrille’s place on drums. 
Roswell Rudd was scheduled to make the trio a quartet, but he had to cancel because of dental problems – a root canal had been scheduled.
Olin Auditorum was – somewhat surprisingly – packed and electric for this free jazz extravaganza, and the trio didn’t fail to deliver.   
Right out of the gate, Grimes was all over his Olive Oil’s fingerboard, plucking and bowing the big ax.  Grimes is one of those rare jazz bassists who has total mastery of the bow.
And Crispell showed why she has been rightly called a volcano on the keyboard – a non-stop fountain of hot ideas.
The newcomer Tabbal took his seat at the set, acting like this was his home trio, and his beautiful elegance with the mallets, sticks and brushes provided a perfect complement to the fiery piano and bass duo.
While free jazz isn’t to every fans’ taste, it’s something that every fan should experience. The Grimes Trio doesn’t coddle you with the familiar, but  provides many ways to lock into a groove, a mood or a sensation.   And if the groove isn’t always obvious, the creative sparks will be.
Grimes-Crispell-Tabbal played three long songs or there were two movements to the concert.  Plus, the delighted crowd demanded an encore.
The concert was the first cosponsored by Jazz at Bard—founded by two Bard alumnae, and the student-formed Bard Jazz Club.  This reviewer hopes that there will be many more Bard-based jazz concerts to come.
The Jazz at Bard series has brought a needed infusion of edgy and innovative jazz to the Hudson Valley. To date, the series has included groups such as the Danilo Pérez Trio, the Uri Caine Ensemble, Don Byron; Roswell Rudd Quartet and the William Parker Quintet.
For further information, about the series, you may call 845-758-7456, e-mail

Jeff Waggoner has written book, CD and concert reviews for publications such as Metroland, Jazz Times, Blues Access and The New York Times. He lives in Nassau, is a student of jazz saxophone and guitar and can be frequently found at jazz, blues and folk concerts.