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John Handy / Henry Grimes

A night of outstanding music began with the Henry Grimes Quartet. His beautiful green bass caught my eye from the moment I walked in. His playing caught my ear from the moment he picked it up until he stopped playing. The quartet started out the set with more experimental compositions and moved to less dissonant material, closing with the familiar Sonny Rollins set finale Oleo. More often than not, sets of music usually flow in the opposite direction, becoming more experimental as the night goes on. This presentation put the music in a different context. One selection had a gorgeous melody and featured a wonderful solo by clarinetist Perry Robinson. The quartet was rounded out by Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet and soprano saxophones and Andrew Cyrille on drums, both great soloists in their own right. Someone with such rare artistry as Henry Grimes should be seen live as often as possible.

The next set featured saxophone extraordinaire John Handy and all the original members of the famous recording Live at Monterey Jazz Festival 1965. Fellow Oakland native Michael White was on violin, Jerry Hahn on guitar, Don Thompson on bass and Terry Clark on drums. The group works extremely well together. As evidence, most of the time I was listening to them I was thinking about them in terms of one entire unit of sound rather than focusing much of my experience on specific soloists. However, this is not to say each individual soloist didn’t deserve my attention. On the contrary, they were gliding through this musical adventure with sensitivity and grace. John Handy is one of the true masters of the alto saxophone. His stage presence is magnetic, the tone from his horn brilliant.

The opening number, My One and Only Love, began with an introduction by John Handy that had the audience mesmerized. The rest of the group built on this to create a fantastic version of this beautiful ballad. The next, and final, selection of the evening was a tidal wave of musical expression. From the aforementioned Monterey recording, the quintet performed a version of The Spanish Lady spanning well over 30 minutes. Everyone was dynamite. John Handy provided the musical architecture and created unimaginable sounds from his instrument. Michael White took jazz violin playing to soaring new heights. Jerry Hahn was amazing as he wove through the musical landscape. Both Don Thompson and Terry Clark both offered great solos as well. However, it was Clark’s drumming throughout the entire piece that was really noteworthy, as it provided much of the inspiration for the soloists. The interplay between Clark and Handy was phenomenal.

Overall, the evening was more about artistic expression than anything else. Both groups provided living, breathing portraits of an art form that is unsurpassed and continues to grow. One of the most brilliant and important figures in modern day thought, Dr. Cornel West, was in the audience enjoying an evening of music. His presence made the experience all the more meaningful.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: John Handy Quintet
  • Concert Date: 7/15/2004
  • Subtitle: Prolific Artists In Our Time
  • Venue: Iridium Jazz Club
  • City State Country: New York, New York, USA
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