On the surface, Charles Gayle is a complex man. In truth, he is not difficult to understand once you know this simple truth: There is absolutely nothing “surface” about Charles Gayle. He is a man of deep conviction who behaves in accordance with his hard-won beliefs. His music, words, and life contain not one ounce of pretense. And yes, I know he wears clown makeup on occasion.
Arriving hot on the heels of his excellent 2012 release, “Streets,” this new disc from the revamped ESP-Disk label is actually a live trio date that was recorded in Santa Monica, CA in 1994. It's an audience recording, so fidelity is basically crap; but the performance is so incredible you will generally be able to overlook it – unless you want to hear the bass line. Bassist Michael Bisio is basically reduced to a sub-rumble unless he's soloing, which he does at the beginning of “I Remember Eric Dolphy” and near the end of “Alpha”. He is also audible during a short duet with Gayle during “The Book of Revelation”. Part of the problem is that drummer Michael Wimberley pounds so relentlessly that he completely drowns out Bisio; but there is so much to hear in the interstellar (lack of) space that Gayle and Wimberley create that it's difficult to imagine what Bisio could even play in an effort to converse. Unfortunately, we are reduced to imagining most of what that actually was.
“Homage to Albert Ayler” features Gayle playing those long, loud vibrato tones generally associated with Ayler, alternating between sing-songy melodies and free, overblown skronk. “I Remember Eric Dolphy” features Gayle on bass clarinet in appropriate homage to Mr. Dolphy. “In the Name of the Father” is the first time I've heard Gayle verbally preach on a recording. “You couldn't have loved Albert Ayler if you don't love the Father, Son & Holy Ghost” and “If you don't believe in God, you don't believe in Ayler, Trane, Eric..” are the sort of interesting statements that begin the sermon – but things get a little more controversial when he begins to speak – yell, actually - against homosexuality and abortion. I don't agree with a lot of what he's saying but if he was playing or speaking in a church this Sunday within driving distance of my house, you'd better believe I'd be there. (Some folks think all of us free jazzers are a bunch of masochists anyway. Maybe they're onto something...)
Four stars for this one, which is reduced for the lousy fidelity. For content, it's easily a 4 ½ star album – and maybe even a five. I often don't know what to think of ridiculously complex subjects like religion and God; but I do believe in the simple truth of Charles Gayle's work. I'm sure he'd prefer that I feel exactly the opposite.
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