Thursday, July 30, 2015

Charles Gayle Trio - Christ Everlasting (ForTune Records, 2015)

Charles Gayle, tenor saxophonist and pianist, has long been one of the most fascinating figures on the New York City free jazz scene. Moving from Buffalo to New York in the early 1970's, he fell on hard times, enduring lengthy stretches of homelessness for the next twenty years. He began recording regularly in the late 1980's playing torrid free jazz influenced by his extreme evangelical Christianity. This album was recorded live at a Polish jazz club in 2014 and has Gayle supported by Ksawery Wojcinski on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums. What is particularly interesting is the mix of music, with Gayle's fire breathing, pulpit pounding, spiritual avant grade jazz on tracks "Joy in the Lord" where his raw and stringent tone opens the record by cutting through the air like a lance. Also, the epic "Eternal Life," which begins with Gayle playing tenor saxophone unaccompanied with a scouring raw sound before the bass and drums slowly glide in to offer support. Balancing these are a surprising selection of jazz standards; Albert Ayler's eerily beautiful "Ghosts" is a natural, with Gayle’s quivering tone weaving in and out of the bass and percussion and the slower, more open setting allowing for an appropriately anguished and pleading performance. Sonny Rollins's "Oleo" has a few raw squeaks getting started, but moves into a very immediate sounding performance that is actually reminiscent to the Sonny Rollins at the Village Gate boxed set released recently. Gayle’s music is full of angles and sharp turns, so perhaps Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't" isn’t so surprising after all. He plays it on piano, with some ornamentation but the strong sound of the music is highly indebted to the composer and is very impressive. These songs anchor the middle of the album, as well as John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" which begins with a deft drum solo before Gayle enters. He can’t match the speed of Coltrane (few can) but he does well to turn the melody to a solid free improvisational section, creating a fascinating melding of one of Coltrane’s most enduring early melodies and a free jazz meltdown that was influenced by music from the end of his life. Overall, the album works pretty well; Wojcinski and Kugel acquit themselves well to the music, providing a foundation for Gayle's unique style of playing, whether it is in a way out free setting or a recitation of a hard bop standard. Charles Gayle is one of the few remaining descendants of the deeply spiritual free jazz scene, carrying on the work of his contemporaries, who saw their spiritual life as the guiding force in their music. Christ Everlasting - iTunes

Send comments to Tim.