It was October 2013, and Henry Grimes was playing at Cafe OTO in London with the Marc Ribot group. Henry had played on some of my favourite jazz recordings of the late 1950's and 60’s. Albums such as Sonny Meets Hawk, Spirits Rejoice and The Call are a few of the many inspiring recordings, which have informed the conceptualisation of my own music. I am also just as blown away by Henry's playing since his re-emergence in 2003. Albums such as Spirits Aloft and the Profound Sound Trio recording Opus De Life have been a significant creative influence on my music. The music at Café OTO sounded incredible that night and you could feel the energy sparking off the ensemble and infusing the room.
At the time I'd been internalising, listening and working on some of the more dense and chaotic free jazz fire playing and allowing the overall narrative of my improvisations to be dictated by my subconscious reactions. For me, an important part of improvisation is the process of observing the cycle of perception and reaction from moment to moment, from that place where the ego drops away and the music emerges from the subconscious. This was what excited me about Henry’s playing it seemed to me that he was always in that place. After the gig, my friend Mark Lewandowski, also a bassist, and I got talking to Henry and his wife Margaret. We discussed Henry's musical process and his approach to free improvisation and Henry kindly agreed to have a play with us. The next day we jammed in the unique OTO Project space next to Café OTO. The building is constructed out of sacks of earth, sand and rubble with a bare timber trussed roof. The three of us practised and played together all afternoon and it's an experience I'll never forget. Henry gave me some insightful ideas about incorporating more melodic lines into my improvisations, which showed me a new way forward with my music. After the jam I couldn't stop thinking about the music we created. One of the great things about Henry's playing is his ability to make everything you play, no matter what it is, feel legitimate - I was totally free to do what I wanted. I felt he unlocked something exciting and new in my playing. I had wanted to record a free improvised album for some time, and I couldn’t resist asking Henry if he would agree to be part of the line-up. To my surprise and delight, he said yes.
I have always enjoyed playing in the classic trio set up of bass, drums and sax. I was checking out an amazing trio with this configuration featuring Ellery Eskelin, Drew Gress and Gerald Cleaver. I love the way Gerald plays in an open improvised context; the complex and subtle nuance of his interaction with the rest of the ensemble was mesmerising and constantly propelled the other players in new and interesting directions. I contacted Gerald and sent him some of my music and was elated when he agreed to be part of the project, although it no doubt helped having Henry on board!
I arranged for us to record at EastSide Sound Studios in New York with the fantastic recording engineer Marc Urselli. Save for my jam with Henry in Dalston, none of us had ever played together before. Nor would we have the chance to jam or rehearse before the day of the recording itself. Given this was to be my debut album, naturally I was nervous, but improvisation should always be a risk. And with musicians of the calibre and experience of Henry and Gerald involved, I felt reassured that we could create something exciting on the day.
On the 6th of June 2014, we all met at the studio. It was great to see Henry and his wife Margaret again and to meet Gerald in person for the first time. From the moment Marc pressed the record button all I would focus on doing was perceiving and reacting in the moment to Henry and Gerald's fantastic playing, allowing my subconscious to do the talking. I've put up a small sample of the first 4 minutes of Perceive- track 1 at the bottom of this page
The album consists of 2 long tracks, Perceive and React. These were my favourite recordings of the session. All of us felt that something special happened on that day and we hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it. If you're interested in purchasing the full album there's a link below. It's also available in itunes and Amazon
I would like to say a massive thanks to my parents, Michael and Kate, for buying me my first saxophone and for encouraging me all these years. To Becka, my girlfriend and my old buddy Tom, for being so supportive, helping me to scribe and edit my dyslexic spelling, so I could share this story. To Alex, Sam, Simon and my sister Lily for always being there over the years I couldn’t have done it without you. To Nisa Ojalvo for some fantastic photos that really captured the day. Marc Urselli for his incredible recording skills and Alex Bonnie for his masterful mixing and a massive thanks to Margaret Grimes for her constant and tireless support of this project from start to finish. To Mark for introducing me to Henry in the first place, without you this project wouldn’t have happened and finally to Henry and Gerald for their outstanding musicianship and giving me an experience beyond words that will stay with me forever.
Photos © Nisa Ojalvo 2014