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Charles Gayle Trio - Live at Glenn Miller Café

Derek Taylor, Bagatellen

As with many of his contemporaries, Charles Gayle has periodically garnered claims that he is incapable of playing the saxophone in a conventional manner. I first recall reading about the complaints in the liner notes to one of his early Silkheart albums. Gayle’s paid the unfounded criticisms no mind, preferring instead press forward along his own idiosyncratic path with little regard for cajoling non-believers into the fold. Oddly enough though, the past few years have found him in moods increasingly receptive to traditional jazz song forms. Shout!, recorded in 2003 and released last year on the Clean Feed label, included bent renderings of three standards. Similarly, this concert set, taped at the titular Swedish venue February of this year, features four more stabs at the canon along with a less eccentric foray into Ayler’s “Ghosts” via a closing medley. Fidelity is a bit uncooked, but more than listenable throughout.

Demonstrative of another recent development, Gayle sticks solely to alto, a white plastic model mirroring the one used by Ornette on his classic Atlantic sides. Tenor stays in the case. With him on stage are two familiar colleagues: drummer Michael Wimberly who actually made his debut playing free jazz under Gayle’s employ in the early 90s and bassist Gerald Benson last heard with the saxophonist on the FMP date Precious Soul. Benson’s propensity for fleshy walking lines also lends several tracks more of a structured feel. Wimberly is still a bit of the basher he’s always been, eclipsing some of Benson’s complexity under the barrage of his heavier strokes, but his brio and energy fit with the general athletic thrust of the band.

Introductions dispense swiftly and the three launch into a galloping rendition of the bop truffle “Cherokee.” Gayle spends precious little time flexing the theme before blasting away atop a churning rhythm and largely concerning himself with loosing velocious vertical torrents. “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” unfolds in similarly desultory fashion. Gayle states the familiar melody sparingly as if to prove he can and soon busts the spigot with another spray of whinnying peals against Wimberly’s dark mallets and a bottom-dwelling arco drone. Benson’s bulbous solo on the piece proves him a distant second fiddle to the epochal Wilbur Ware extrapolation, but it’s still good for variety’s sake.

As the set progresses, the band continues to gel and it’s an instant trip to hear Gayle jockey through the familiar note-pregnant progression to “Giant Steps.” Once again, it’s more atomizing the source material than according it stolid reverence. The detours are many, sometimes to point of being overly circuitous. The slowly evolving version of “What’s New” constitutes the concert’s peak. Gayle settles into full discursive ballad mode, his wounded lacerating tone softening and dispersing against the support of brushes and plush bass counterpoint. The against-type improvisation makes it ideal Blindfold Test addition. The piece also illustrates a reservation born out of nostalgia for the Charles Gayle of old. Marathon over-the-top conflagrations like More Live and Repent don’t appear to be his bag anymore and age has likely exacted something of a toll. Even the most explosive of his utterances here fail to match the nuclear force of the detonations on those vintage discs, but the consequent maturity and diversity make for a grudgingly fair trade.