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Charles Gayle Trio - Live at Glenn Miller Café

Ken Weiss, Jazz Improv

Charles Gayle, one of the leading figures on the New York free jazz scene, has eschewed his tenor sax over the past few years in order to concentrate on his alto horn as a means to build his chops. He's well known as a fiery improviser capable of reaching quick ecstatic combustion, a true throwback to the old days when making music was for the sole purpose of self-expression. Financial gain has never been his goal and the fact that he had to live on city streets for a number of years was never viewed as a hardship by him. Gayle lets his music speak for itself, releasing spools of spiritually cleansing sounds that can be quite sustaining.

This live recording finds him in Stockholm, working over four standards along with Ayler's "Ghosts" and three original compositions. He's jamming with a rhythm section that he is quite comfortable with and it shows. Gayle still eviscerates tunes but reveals the presence of a romantic side that has not always been there in the past. "Cherokee" flies by at less than six minutes, a tour de force of trio interplay, raw and spiky but never out of control. "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" involves quite a bit of rhythmic activity as the leader goes down at a low tempo, spitting out bits and pieces of the tune's head when the need arises. Benson and Wimberly take surprisingly straight ahead solos at the end. The 4th cut combines Gayle's "Chasing," done at a blistered, free-form pace, along with his "Praising The Lord" which seems derived from an old spiritual. The band vocalizes on this take and everything comes to an end on a quiet note. This powerful piece is the equivalent of having an angel and the devil on either shoulder, pushing and pulling in both directions. Coltrane's "Giant Steps" contains some military drum beats and Gayle's unusual treatment of this classic piece. "What's New" is handled with tender loving care but something is missing on "Ghosts" as the trio fails to reach the high-water mark set by Ayler's numerous recordings of the song.

Gayle's music in the past has never failed to evoke an immediate response of love or hate but as he moves into his later years he seems to be mellowing a bit. That is not to say that he is giving up immediacy or creativity because his music remains very visceral. This recording exudes depth and substance and will reward those willing to give it a try.