Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Chris Yates (R.I.P), with references to Henry Grimes...

I haven't posted a review of the Henry Grimes-Paul Dunmall-Andrew Cyrille gig last Thursday as yet, partly because I haven't felt inclined too, but mainly because of the sad news that Jazz North East secretary Chris Yates suffered a suspected heart attack on the way to the gig, and died within 48 hours.

Like many people in North East England, a lot of my exposure to top quality jazz was a result of Chris's sterling work. Long before we had The Sage, and in times when jazz was so unfashionable it spelled commercial suicide, Chris was flying the flag for the music he passionately believed in. His enthusiasm was infectious, and nobody will ever forget his slightly bumbling persona, stooping to speak into a ridiculously low microphone to announce forthcoming events.

I remember how thrilled I was when he asked me to replace Noel Proudfoot on the committee in the late 90s, and although we had many disagreements about the music, his generosity was unbounded. He was always the first to back new initiatives aimed at audiences beyond the comfortable mainstream core, and that marked the beginning of the shift that Paul Bream has emphatically consolidated.

When I put on Hession/Wilkinson/Fell at the Live Theatre and we got an audience of 15, that would have been enough for many to pull in the reins. Not Chris though, and shortly after we broke the 100 barrier in the same venue with Derek Bailey. Ultimately the strain of constantly balancing promotion with full time work (and many other interests) proved too much for me and I was the one who called time. I can only marvel at how Chris effortlessly balanced his work at the university with his family life and his role as both a reviewer and a promoter. That is a mark of both his organisational acumen and his dedication.

I'll carry many great memories of Chris, most of them private and personal ones. My involvement in jazz at the level of more than a mere fan started with the helping hand that Chris gave me, and I won't forget that. For a man who proudly boasted that he hadn't missed a Jazz North East gig for several decades, we were all shocked to note the impact of his declining health over the last year or so, and coincidentally Louise and I were sitting with Dave and Pam from the committee discussing this very topic before this very gig.

Even in his absence you always felt that Chirs had an in loco parentis presence, and I suspect it will be that way for some time to come, given how closely he was identified with the organisation. That in no way minimises the massive part that Paul and Dave both currently play, and it is some consolation that the organisation looks to be in a strong position to build on his legacy.

Ironically, I think he'd have enjoyed the Grimes gig more than I did. Apart from the sheer surprise of seeing and hearing Grimes after so many years where he was off the map, the main interest came from Andrew Cyrille, who at least tried to bend and shape an otherwise predictable flow of what now seems to be known as 'fire music'. After Dunmall had done a stint on each of his instruments I felt that there was nothing left to add and it became a mercifully short gig. It had a directness and underlying blues feeling that I know Chris valued highly, (and if only...).

Instead of a proper review of the gig I'll simply post a review of a recent Grimes CD, an oddity I wasn't totally won over by, despite my obvious reverence for the bassist. After last Thursday I'm more inclined to go back to his work with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Mulligan, like Chris, was a key figure in my early appreciation of jazz.

Enough of life's circular flow, for all of those who knew Chris it's time for some serious contemplation...

Solo Bass & Violin
ILK MUSIC 2CD set (ILK 151)

Solo Improvisation

Henry Grimes (b, vn) 3/08.

Recorded in New York in March 2008, this un-edited solo performance could turn out to be the masterpiece of Grimes’ second career flush. This is the same Henry Grimes who anchored the Gerry Mulligan Quartet in the late ‘50s, also playing countless mainstream gigs with everybody from Benny Goodman to Coleman Hawkins before moving to New York and hooking up with Sonny Rollins and, significantly, Cecil Taylor. Just as the ‘New Thing’ was gathering momentum, Grimes quietly ‘disappeared’ into a world of menial day jobs for 35 years, presumed lost, before dramatically re-emerging in 2002 amid much excitement.

Interestingly, his return was nurtured by his modern day equivalent, William Parker. Both bassists share phenomenal facility and have a huge sonorous presence. Abstract, bittersweet and tumultuous, every sinew-jarring plucked and bowed note is preserved faithfully on this richly detailed recording. To sustain a solo performance of this duration and keep it interesting is no easy task, even for a player of Grimes’ stature. Occasionally he’ll switch to violin for brief interludes, and the same logic and clarity of expression is brought to each instrument. Undoubtedly demanding on the listener and with inevitable longeurs, this some times tortured journey goes directly into the mind of a great musician without any filtering. Highly recommended.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review)