When bassist Henry Grimes emerged in 2003 from decadesof inactivity, he was greeted with the expected chorus of “rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated.” While hearing his singularly assertive playing in any context was welcome, it has taken until this inspired pairing with longtime Sun Ra compatriot Marshall Allen for him to really launch back into the ether of free playing.
On this, the last night of their Spaceship on the Highway tour, Grimes and Allen seemed intent on not leaving any improvisational stone unturned. Dispensing with the usual tension-release dynamic, both men leapt into the sonic fray in perpetual motion, but their shared spatial adroitness kept the set from devolving into chaos.
There were atonal moments, to be sure, when Allen raked the valves of his alto sax like a guitarist plucking 16th notes. But in the flightier runs, sculpted by and large by his masterful breath control, he created atmospheres both stormy and misty.
If Allen was responsible for controlling the air, Grimes took charge of terra firma, shaking the floorboards with booming notes that segued stealthily from jocular to foreboding — a sort of four-stringed analogue to James Earl Jones on a wild oratorical ride. Grimes draws heavily from the blues, but doesn’t bore his audience with simple retellings of the genre’s stock stories. He stains them with his own blood, sweat and tears, making his canvases among the music’s most poignant and exhilarating.