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Oluyemi Thomas/Henry Grimes - The Power of Light

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Artist: Oluyemi Thomas/Henry Grimes

Album: The Power of Light

Label: Not Two

Review date: Oct. 19, 2007

Once in a great while, a disc comes along that makes believing in the myths a bit easier. It puts the blues and the rituals of joyous communication beyond the craftily narrow constructs in which many half-hearted academics seek to trap them. Despite a slightly distant recording, this July 2006 concert is an immediate and powerful document of improvised music. More than that, it affirms again the voices of those brave souls, past and present, who dared to make this music what it is, to endow it with such multivalent and beautiful traditions, steeped in the language of victory over oppression.

This meeting of veterans blends intuition and craft in a way that makes each player sound larger than life. Linger a while over Oluyemi Thomas’ overtone-drenched clarinet work on “Grace for the Race” for a startling and moving dose of raw humanity - murmurs, moans and outcries that run the emotional gamut. Yes, the blues are invoked, in extraordinary wails as brief as they are poignant. Thomas picks up where Eric Dolphy was tragically forced to leave off, delving deeper into the unconscious, augmenting his arsenal of “exotic” wind instruments with gongs, shakers and what sounds like small bells.

If Thomas creates a world, Henry Grimes is the world beneath, rapping propulsion and rock-solid support into inspired technique. He too draws into what John Coltrane has labeled the reservoir from which all musicians drink, blues celebration pervading the opening of “Fractured Flow.” Plucked notes produce wondrously shadowy counterparts an octave or more above as the rhythmic solo builds, the point of most tension topped off by a transcendentally humorous rising bit of arco, a crowning gesture of which only the finest musicians are capable. On “Hidden Mystery,” Grimes’ arco work sounds as if it’s coming from two bassists, so wide are the intervals he’s mastered. As Thomas plays bells, Grimes covers the range of a string quartet, interweaving hushed harmonics with deft precision and exquisite taste.

“Hidden Mystery,” demonstrates how well the two musicians’ approaches mesh; as Grimes lays down a spacious and constantly morphing series of patterns, Thomas responds with contrapuntal flute exhortations, the two becoming benevolent gatekeepers of world culture transmitted through the microtone.

It’s too bad that the music they play, and the work of similarly intentioned keepers of the flame, are usually not afforded the recognition they deserve. Unfortunately, the truths they tell will go largely unheard amidst more polished and less insightful forays into improvisational rehash.

By Marc Medwin

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