Monday, September 24, 2012

Charles Gayle Trio - Look Up (ESP, 2012)

This album is a trip back in time, back to when venues like the Knitting Factory in New York City were giving veterans and newcomers to the free jazz scene a chance to play and gather some momentum. Charles Gayle was one of those who made the most of it, after years of scuffling hard and living on the streets, Gayle finally had sympathetic musicians to play with and venues that wanted to book him. This archival album recorded in Santa Monica, CA in 1994 has Gayle featured on tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and vocals along with Michael Bisio on bass and Michael Wimberly on drums. The music comes out of the blocks hard on the opening "Alpha" with the trio thrown into stark relief by the potency of the music. Echoes of the earlier "new thing" mix with the loft scene and early revival of free jazz in the 1990's as Gayle leads the trio with this history of avant jazz at his fingertips. The next two tracks follow the established lead with "Homage to Albert Ayler" particularly poignant, recalling Ayler's own ESP masterpiece Spiritual Unity, in the spare shards and angles of the music. It is clear on this track as well as "I Remember Dolphy (Eric Dolphy)" the the musicians are really locked in well together, not needing to fill up every available space with sound, but allowing silence to play a part as well. So it's a shock to hear Gayle take to the microphone supported by strong bass and drums to deliver an eight minute spoken word harangue worthy of the wildest fire and brimstone preacher. It's always been clear that Gayle's spirituality was a driving force in his life and music, but his tirades against abortion and homosexuality and his claim that you can't understand Coltrane, Ayler and Dolphy unless you "know God" only seem worthy of a soapbox messiah handing out end-of-the-world screeds on street corners. But as soon as that is done he channels his spirit wholly into the final performance, entitled "The Book of Revelation" it funnels all of Gayle's seeking and questing power and energy and combines it with Bisio and Wimberly to make a scouring improvisation, which takes the course raw power of the leaders saxophone and delivers it as a caustic wail, a high-pitched cry of pain, grief, and anger from the depths of his soul. More than his questionable philosophizing, this is the real heart and soul of the music. Look Up -

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