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Charles Gayle Trio - Streets (2012)

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Charles Gayle

Like Giuseppi Logan

, tenor saxophonist Charles Gayle was in the thick of it during the free jazz revolution taking place in New York during the 1960s. Also like Logan, Gayle's choice of profession forced a meager existence on him that eventually led him drop out nearly completely out of sight by the end of that decade. Though Gayle isn't divulging much what he did during his time away from the scene, it's said he taught a jazz course and the State University of New York at his native Buffalo, where one of his students was future smooth jazz pioneer Jay Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra. (Another fun fact: Gayle has once appeared on an album by alt-metal luminary Henry Rollins).

After some two decades of playing at subway stations and street corners for the pocket change of passerby's and presumably living homeless, Gayle was finally pulled off the street and into the recording studio in the late 80's, got regular gigs, became a major name in the improvised music scene and was finally able to eke a living out of the music he had never forsaken. He was soon recording and performing with the likes of John Tchicai, William Parker, Rashied Ali, Cecil Taylor and Sunny Murray. Gayle can also play piano—his original instrument—, bass clarinet and recently even took up the double bass.

Still productive well into the 21st century, it's been five years since his last recording. But now he's set to release his debut for Tom Abbs' Northern Spy label. For the upcoming Streets he goes back to his bread-and-butter tenor and his bread-and-butter bass-drums-sax format. The title is derived from Gayle's sad clown persona he has been featuring in his shows since the 90s, and Streets The Clown usually complements his music with religious and political commentary in his performances, though Streets is strictly about the music.

LISTEN TO STREAM OF “COMPASSION I" HERE:

Gayle's sax tone is huge, abrasive, confrontational, but in an odd way, also ingratiating. As a lifelong devout Christian, Gayle grew up on gospel as much as he did with bop, and the spirituality shines through in a way that's rarely heard since the New Thing movement that had spiritual guys like Trane and Ayler leading the way. There's also a rare sense of purpose in his playing, one that retains shards of blues and bebop, and hints at his deep understanding of pre-avant jazz (an understanding that is confirmed on 2001's Jazz Solo Piano).

Larry Roland (double bass) and Michael TA Thompson (drums) join Gayle on seven originals which I gather are group improvisations or rough sketches. Roland forms the center of the trio, splaying splintered bass figures that Gayle plows through and Thompson thrashes around. Though it almost sounds like one single performance instead of seven, there are several notable moments. “Compassion I" (stream above) is the portrait of a band very much in tune with one another in spite all the impossible challenges they set up with rhythm, harmony and direction. “March of April" begins with a marching band tempo that Gayle and Roland systematically deconstruct and then reassemble. “Tribulations" is for the hardcore free jazz freaks, an unhinged venting of Brötzmann proportions, except that Gayle, who usually inhabits the middle register of his horn, goes way up high to a squealing wail for most of the song.

A superbly engineered set of recordings, all three players are heard clearly and distinctly. That's no small help in helping to trace the odd shapes of this hard-to-define kind of music.


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