|Elaine Mitchener and Henry Grimes at Café Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved
Henry Grimes, Bobby Few, Mark Sanders, Elaine Mitchener
(Café Oto, 26 April 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
Experience and age count for a great deal – yet for Henry Grimes and Bobby Few – born within two weeks of each other in 1935 – the years just fell away in the company of Mark Sanders and Elaine Mitchener. This crafty, crafted quartet skipped between the finest straight ahead jazz – delivered right from the core by Grimes and Few – and out in the no-fly zone extemporisations that bounced off the edges of the envelope with zest and panache.
Grimes and Few have not recorded together, but they have performed together – they played in Paris the night before, there’s footage of them there in 2011 with Grimes on violin, and they crossed paths at Birmingham’s Vision Festival in 2008. At different times both played alongside Ayler, who proclaimed Grimes one of his his favourite bass players. Few, based in Paris since 1969, was originally a sideman in his hometown, Cleveland and went on to make notable recordings with Steve Lacy. He first recorded in 1968, two years after Grimes had begun what was to be a 35 year sabbatical from music before being tracked down, reinstated and reinvigorated in an extraordinary series of events, as recounted in the biography on Henry Grimes’ website.
The two have an extraordinary, natural telepathy which revealed, in the rarest of ways, the true essence and nature of jazz. Theirs was a mystical flow which had connections with the deepest roots of the music – it could have been one of the key gigs of the 60s, it was so compelling. Grimes, majestic, alert, picked out note-perfect, resonant, melodic bass lines with dextrous, nimble-fingered assurance and applied arco with consummate authority. There was an overpowering sense that he was liberating each note with a profound deliberation. Few, effervescing with energy, hardly looked down as he surfed the piano’s keyboard with disarmingly fluent accuracy, drawing parallels with Tyner and Cecil Taylor, as he joyously flipped from a rolling groove to the transcendently ethereal.
Sanders’ intuitive ability to respond to the demands of the moment and his respect for the two luminaries created the perfect textured backdrop for their explorations, so much so that he might have gone unnoticed had Few not insisted that he lead off with a couple of solo spots which brimmed with inventive flourish.
Mitchener’s presence had the touch of Abbey Lincoln’s vocalisations with Max Roach and this concert indicated a musical coming of age for her, having briefly guested with Grimes on Café Oto’s stage in 2011. Working both with texts and with improvised freedom in the spirit of Phil Minton’s exotic vocal flights, she kept Grimes and Few on their toes with tremulous, animalesque jitterings and a charged, expressive undercurrent – there was no chance of this being a heritage act!
There was an effortless drift between the disciplines of classic, loping jazz as Grimes and Few delved in to their shared repertoire – including a sublime spontaneous blues duet to cry for – and an anamorphic abstraction which smouldered, juddered and changed perspective at every turn, bowing out with a touching rendition of ‘Afro Blue’.
This inspired ensemble setting gave space for two of jazz’s gentle giants to take giant steps in a cross-current of invention that allowed them the room to express their extraordinary talents with generous intimacy and modesty.
It really was a privilege to be present at this outstanding concert in Café Oto’s exceptional programme.
Henry Grimes: double bass, violin and poetry
Bobby Few: piano
Elaine Mitchener: vocals
Mark Sanders: drums