Henry Grimes Trio - The Call (1966), 7/10

The Call has an odd sense of calm amidst the instrumental chaos of free jazz. Rather than leaning into the turbulent or chaotic, grandiose styles of the genre, it excels in its explorations of the ominous and sinister side of jazz through especially intimate performances. Although this is his only album until his return thirty-eight years later, Grimes performed on many influential jazz records such as Unit Structures, Symphony for Improvisers and Tauhid. In The Call, Grimes contorts the free jazz formula to promote a wide breadth of compositions, beginning with the opener “Fish Story” that hosts manic percussion from Tom Price accompanied by Grimes’ accentuating of frantic rhythm, all undercut by sometimes explosive, yet at times lucid and delicate horn playing from Perry Robinson. His clarinet mastery is a refreshing brand of playing that breathes new life into this early era of free improvisation. After the opener, “For Django” sounds like a massive comedown, but has an impressive amount of attention-grabbing nuance hidden in its cavernous, dark and sludgy passages. You can hear Grimes’ intention in tracks like these that completely rearrange the existing formula in a seemingly impossibly invigorating and stimulating fashion. Even the simple, swinging, mathematical melody in this second track foreshadows the masterful exploration of this theme years later from Anthony Braxton on New York, Fall 1974 and has an equally enticing character, even a surprisingly honest sound in its experimentation. This is all furthered in efficacy by Robinson’s finesse, he shows perfect precision in moments like these. It is easy, of course, to focus only on Robinson’s virtuosic clarinet performances, but Grimes and Price are the backbone of this recording, providing not only vital interplay with Robinson’s cutting horn but transcending rhythm to create blasts of intense playing that siphon all potential complexity through every passage, combining in an elating frenzy of sound both in the upbeat and the slow, soothing sections of each composition. Its appeal is not always in full effect, being inconsistent in sections of the title track especially, but this does not detract from the value of its fully realized motifs in any meaningful way. These tracks assemble to produce what is clearly one of the stronger releases on the ESP label for its exquisite and strong, harmoniously achieved sound. Essential listening as the quintessential and fully successful dark free jazz experiment.