Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Shades of jazz

Last night I trudged out in the downpour to witness the legendary Andrew Cyrille and Henry Grimes with younger master Bill McHenry. After walking in, dripping wet and having the Standard folk ask me if I needed a napkin to dry off, I spotted Ethan Iverson towards the back of the bar. We chatted for a little while before the set started, as the muso hang expanded to include Adam Cruz and Chris Higgins.

I came in with some preconceptions based on my limited knowledge of these' musicians output. Between Grimes' work with Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler in the '60s (and his revisiting of Ayler's material with Marc Ribot a couple of years ago), and Cyrille's associations with Cecil Taylor and David Murray, I was expecting a decent amount of firebreathing. Instead, I marvelled at the juxtaposition of Grimes' hellbent-for-leather approach and Cyrille's restraint, only really uncoiling in the final tune of the night, Keith Jarrett's "Shades of Jazz." His touch and conception on the set harkened back, to my ears, through Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell to Max Roach and even Baby Dodds and early New Orleans second-liners. Somewhere in "Evidence," I believe, he covered the whole area of the snare drum, much in the New Orleans style. I only know Bill McHenry's work on the Guillermo Klein Live in Barcelona record, so to hear his large and dry tone in person was a revelation. Throughout the set, McHenry executed some astounding tonguing and alternate fingering combinations - as if his sax were being routed through an Ableton Live repeater.

All the tunes followed a macro structure of head-solo-head, but the improv was largely gestural and sonic, especially in the original compositions. Grimes largely relied on arco bowing and torrents of overtones, but when it came to walking (as on "Evidence") he did so with ferocity and dedication. It looked like one big paw just walloping the strings. Cyrille swung his ass off, too. Truly a special evening - I won't forget the final sparring in "Shades of Jazz," with McHenry standing in the middle of a musical tennis match between Grimes and Cyrille.

Setlist: The Son of Alfalfa (Grimes - an Ornette/Rollins-ish head); Fish Story (Grimes - very open, dark piece); Evidence (Monk); Aubade (Cyrille - a song to be played in the morning, apparently, though it seemed equally suited for the grey weather last evening); Shades of Jazz (Jarrett - presumably in tribute to Dewey Redman?).

Ethan has more.


A footnote to my NYC travels: the buskers and beggars in the subway are a lot more colourful and talented than the ones here in Montreal (never mind their prevalence in NYC - I think I've only had one interruption-free ride). Of note: the Mahavishnu-esque violinist in Penn that seems to be playing every Monday night; the panhandler that broke out into "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" with decent delivery; and a long-winded fellow who tried to muster a Grandmaster Flash-style rap at two in the morning with inadvertent humour.


Margaret Davis said...

Dear David,

I really liked your "Shades of Jazz" review of the Andrew Cyrille / Henry Grimes / Bill McHenry concert you heard at the Jazz Standard, except that I can't see Henry's hands looking like "one big paw"! He has tremendous power, but his hands are an artist's hands, beautiful and elegant. I don't know how to post a photo in here, but please see, for example, . Thanks! (By the way, since you're Canadian, I thought I'd mention that we're working on a Henry Grimes Trio possible one-day visit to Toronto near the end of November.)

Ryshpan said...


Thanks for the comment. I used the term "one big paw" to conjure the way he just went go for broke, walking and swinging on "Evidence." The sound wasn't the same as a multi-fingered, light touch bassist - it reminded me of earlier bassists from the bop and swing era that would use multiple fingers to pull the strings.