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Charles Gayle has gotten too much ink for extramusical reasons and not enough for his playing. That’s a pity, since he is one of the few living saxophonists able to combine imagination and intensity on a level with past free-jazz greats. On this excellent, no-frills concert date, Gayle plays alto in the context that serves him best: a trio with a top-notch bassist (Gerald Benson) and drummer (Michael Wimberly).
The set starts with a hyperfast take on “Cherokee.” Gayle subverts convention by openly inviting comparison to the tune’s Bird-based paradigm. Rather than approach the tune from outside the tradition, as a more self-conscious experimentalist might, he embraces what characteristics best suit his concept (melody and tempo) and jettisons what doesn’t (harmony and form). It’s been standard free-jazz-performance practice since Cecil Taylor first did it 50 years ago. Few do it better today than Gayle. He takes the same approach on tunes associated with John Coltrane—“Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” and “Giant Steps”—to similarly inspiring ends.
Gayle’s not exactly a man for all seasons, but everybody should experience him at least once. Especially given the excellence of the rhythm section, this disc is as good a place to start as any.
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