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Charles Gayle Reviews:

So utterly committed is saxophonist/pianist Charles Gayle to the uncommercial art form of free jazz
that rather than compromise, in order to earn a living, he instead lived rough on the streets of New
York for long years, unflinchingly pursuing his artistic vision.

“I lived on the street for maybe sixteen years,” he says. “I couldn’t stand [homeless] shelters because
I had a saxophone and it was very rough in the shelters. You either had to fight or go crazy there so I
didn’t sleep in the shelters. I’d go in and get a sandwich, get warm and leave.

“I stayed on the street or an ice-cold empty building or in the subway. Later I got a chance to be in
a squat but I still didn’t have heat. For all those years I never had heat. Never. Winter was cold,” he
adds bleakly.

Gayle, day after day, played his saxophone on the streets. “Playing avant-garde I hardly made
any money,” he says. “In an average day I guess I made five or ten dollars although maybe on a
Christmas holiday somebody would give you more.”

Gayle found himself absorbing the sounds of the New York streets in his playing. “I tried to copy the
sounds I heard: the traffic, the fire engines, the police cars, even babies crying. Everything. It’s just
automatic. You do it all these years so that becomes your music.”

It seems almost beyond belief that Gayle was prepared to live that life of destitution rather than play
a more commercial form of music, in order to make a living. “I didn’t have it in me to compromise,”
he declares emphatically.

His homelessness led to Gayle switching from tenor sax to the smaller alto. “It was easy to carry
around and when I had to sleep I could put it under my coat,” he explains. “I also liked alto because
it’s a precise instrument and it makes your technique better. But I went back to tenor and I won’t
play alto anymore.”

Remarkably, Gayle recalls his days on the street positively. “Hey, listen, I went to the street, that’s
it,” he says. “I didn’t know I was going to stay there that long. I just went to the street. I guess
playing avant-garde on the streets some people thought I was crazy but playing in the streets makes
you very strong. I know it helped my art. It helped my sound and it made me think of music as a
living thing. It was a different life. I couldn’t think like a musician who can practise in a nice warm
place and listen to records. I couldn’t think like that. You’re just trying to get something to eat and
playing in the street is your practice.”

Gayle was discovered and became a recording artist in the late 1980s, thus achieving financial
viability. In recent years he has adopted the persona of Streets the Clown. “Now I won’t go on stage
without Streets the Clown,” he declares. “After playing on the street and then in clubs I looked in
the mirror and looked at Charles and said, ‘I can’t keep on doing this.’ And then suddenly I said, ‘I’m
going to put a nose on.’ It was to extend myself and not think of Charles so much.

“So I put on a nose and big shoes and Streets became someone else and I felt more free on stage
and I wasn’t self-conscious. And as Streets I can act out the music I play. Say I’m sad, I can tear a
make-believe heart up and act like I’m crying and I can play that. Like when you look at a movie you

hear the music that goes along with the action. I’m not trying to be a great actor but I can walk in the
audience and cry and nobody will say anything because he’s a clown. But if Charles Gayle did it or
you did it, it would seem like you’re nuts.”

On piano, Gayle, on occasion, plays blindfolded. “Sometimes I cover my eyes and put a mask on,”
he says. “It’s to show the beauty of even accidental music. If you’re not used to playing blind you
can’t be sure of every note so it’s to understand that music is sound and even if you work at it
accidentally, you can make it make sense.”
Charles Gayle: Live At The Glenn Miller Cafe & Consider The Lilies...
By Matthew Miller - All About JAzz
Published: November 4, 2006 
When 67-year old multi-instrumentalist Charles Gayle takes the stage, audiences brace for an onslaught. Melodic fragments from his saxophone swell into dramatic runs and trills, culminating in piercing shrieks and whistles, or the pounded bass notes of a grand piano. Gayle's scorching saxophone sound, honed on the streets of NYC during two decades of homelessness, packs a jarring emotional punch with its vibrato laden cry, at times conjuring the spirit of Trane and the sonic excursions of Ayler.

Despite being on the scene in the '60s, in the heyday of the avant garde, Gayle's astonishing sound wasn't captured (officially) until the late '80s when a small coterie of jazz fans began to recognize the talent of the man standing on the street corner wailing away with limitless creativity and energy. Things began to improve for Gayle. Gig opportunities opened up, as well as the chance to record, of which Gayle took full advantage. In less than 20 years Gayle has played around the world and recorded no less than 27 albums as a leader/co-leader including his two latest efforts Live At Glenn Miller Cafe and Consider The Lilies.... Captured on a winter night in Stockholm, Live At Glenn Miller Cafe is a scorching set of Gayle originals and standards that must have been in sharp contrast to the frigid temperatures outside. After an introduction, the band, consisting of Gayle (alto), Gerald Benson (bass) and Michael Wimberly (drums), drives into "Cherokee" at breakneck speed. Gayle sticks to the melody for about 20 seconds before veering off into frantic improvisation, emerging periodically from the foray to sound a piece of the melody as if to remind his audience what they're listening to. The band takes incredible freedoms with the well-worn form, hinting at the bridge before opening up the A-section into a vast, churning void where Gayle builds the intensity with screeching, vocal exclamations over a simmering ride and booming bass pedal.

"Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" starts with a mournful alto statement that is quickly joined by bowed bass and scratched cymbals. The 14-minute excursion that gradually develops from there uses the melody as a very loose springboard from which the group constructs its improvisation, threading the rhythmic or harmonic structures through an otherwise completely free bonanza. After two Gayle originals, "Chasing" and "Praising The Lord", "Giant Steps" is similarly transformed. Although the band sticks more to the harmonic structure, giving the listener the opportunity to hear Gayle's unique approach to playing over changes, one that is showed to even greater advantage on the ballad "What's New".

Also a live performance (recorded at Gayle's 2005 set from the Vision Festival), Consider The Lilies starts with a quasi-march figure from the snare of drummer Jay Rosen before Gayle and bassist Hilliard Greene enter, bringing "Truley, Truley" to a rolling boil. Gayle pulls out all the stops during his blistering five-minute solo, finally turning it over to Greene whose finger-popping lines and guttural double stops draw gasps from the vocal audience. Rosen starts his solo from the ground floor, building from his original march figure to a percussive frenzy, before Gayle enters at peak intensity with a series of honks and multiphonics to take it out.

"Edge Of Time" finds the trio in an Ornette realm. The simple riff theme is stated by Gayle's alto before his solo begins over the medium swing tempo. Unlike Ornette, Gayle's solo quickly builds to a screeching high that the leader maintains into a churning open section where Rosen's splashy high hat and Greene's free arco statements segue into "Sanctify", a selection that features Gayle's beautiful piano work.

Depite the fact that six tracks are named on the jacket, Consider The Lillies seems to end with track four, "Jesus Amen", a piece that is certainly the high point of the album. Greene and Rosen lock in immediately and send Gayle off into an emotional explosion of improvisational energy based around a riff from Ornette's "Lonely Woman". Gradually the tune's harmonic structure reveals itself as Gayle's solo winds down and as quickly as it began, the piece vanishes into thin air.
by Scott Yanow - All Music Guide
Charles Gayle, best known as a screaming free jazzer with a powerful tone on the tenor sax and a very intense style, is purposely a little more laid-back and melodic on this set, even exploring three standards. However, one should not expect this to be a bop date. The melody of "I Remember You" only appears near its conclusion, while Gayle effectively (if eccentrically) explores the theme of "What's New" based on its melancholy mood. On some of the originals, Gayle's "preaching" on his horn and his extroverted and dramatic statements are a bit reminiscent of Albert Ayler. He also plays some unusual solo stride piano (Art Tatum meets Cecil Taylor) on "I Can't Get Started." His fans will enjoy these explorations, even if the fire is sometimes at a slightly lower flame than usual.
Charles Gayle: Time Zones
By Rex Butters - All About Jazz
Published: September 30, 2006
His first piano solo CD since 2001's Jazz Solo Piano, Time Zones shows the results of five years of intensive practice and polishing. His compositions expose his love of traditional jazz forms, while his improvisations delight in continually testing the elasticity of those forms. With left hand thunder announcing the title track, the theme emerges unassuming and simple, until Gayle shuffles the keys resulting in time and thematic variations. Opening with an understated theme, "Rush to Sunrise" organically grows fireworks. On "Delight," he tickles volumes of music out of a Monk simple phrase.

Gayle brings the delta to him on "Blues in Mississippi," equally at ease playing gritty or grand, while "Rhythm Twins" pits his hands against each other competing as unison whirlwinds. The lyrical and romantic "Inner Edges" creates a wistful open mood with occasional flourishes, and continues in that vein to close the set with "That Memory." Gayle fills Times Zones with a playful stylish urbanity that holds up on repeated listenings.
Jazz Solo Piano
 by John Eyles - www.musicweb-international.com 
Although he is best known as a tenor saxophonist, Charles Gayle’s first instrument was actually the piano. Largely self-taught, he played only piano between the ages of nine and nineteen. (Incidentally, he is also a powerhouse drummer. Witness his work in The Blue Humans.) His saxophone playing has the fire and freedom reminiscent of late Coltrane, combined with the sanctified possession of Albert Ayler, and might lead one to expect something similar when he turns to piano; maybe long improvisations similar to those of Cecil Taylor would be a fair guess.

But no, it would be largely impossible to identify Gayle the pianist from knowing Gayle the saxophonist. At the piano, Gayle is no modernist, having strong revivalist tendencies. He turns out fourteen tracks, mainly standards, none longer than seven minutes, most far shorter. Gayle claims that all are "inspired by the music of the 1930s and 1940s". In fact, the music draws comparisons with music from the 1920s to the present day. Pieces like "Afternoon in Paris", "Cherokee", ""Body & Soul" and "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" are played relatively straight, with clear statements of the melody lines, but subsequent improvisations not always true to their mood or spirit. Two versions of "I’ll Remember April" are each taken at a gallop. Gayle’s own composition "1939" is entertaining, knockabout stuff that could be the piano accompaniment to a silent comedy, complete with breathtaking chase sequences, melodic romantic interludes, unexpected pratfalls and slapstick.

Gayle’s playing style clearly has roots in 30s stride piano, but it could never be mistaken for actual pre-war piano. It is too knowingly aware of everything that has happened since, Thelonious Monk in particular. However, Gayle does not have Monk’s sense of timing or humour (who does?!) and his version of "Round Midnite" is perfunctory. While Gayle more than once recalls Monk’s quirkiness, too often he seems to dislike or distrust quiet and space, rushing pieces along and filling every available gap with embellishment. (This album is not Touchin’ on Monk, good as that title would have been.) Coltrane’s "Countdown" is frantically paced and acts as an opportunity for Gayle to demonstrate his technical proficiency, as he fires off rapid runs and block chords. It is about as close to his sax persona as Gayle gets here, but not very close.

Music from this album will doubtless be used in blindfold tests for years; such is its power to confound expectations. This is an interesting companion piece to Gayle’s sax albums, but no substitute for them.

Charles Gayle
Kingdom Come
by David Fricke - RollingStone.com
Posted: May 18, 1995 
It is not and never has been easy music to describe, nickname or categorize. The saxophonist Archie Shepp used the term "fire music" as the title of a 1965 LP. The African-American author Amiri Baraka coined the phrase "new black music" in the mid-'60s, back when his byline was still LeRoi Jones. White jazz critics with more enthusiasm than imagination simply dubbed it "the new thing." Ornette Coleman unwittingly created the most enduring brand name when he called his seminal 1961 blast of rhythmic and harmonic liberation Free Jazz.

More than 30 years after a generation of visionary black jazzmen led by Coleman, John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor shattered the relative calm of post-bop and cool-era tonality, quick-fix words still do little justice to the provocative, intensely physical music being made at the outer limits by the hurricane-force tenor saxophonist Charles Gayle, the daredevil pianist Matthew Shipp and the fireball saxman and cliffhanging improviser David S. Ware. Even the freedom implied in the words free jazz must seem like a cruel joke to men who have long been marginalized by a jazz industry besotted with sharp-dressed mainstream re-boppers.

Genre is not an issue, though, in the punk-rock community, where Gayle and company have received a much warmer welcome. Henry Rollins has signed Gayle to his 213CD label and recently put out a new Shipp album, Critical Mass. (Circular Temple, a '92 Shipp session, is a reissue under the archive imprint Rollins has started with producer Rick Rubin.) Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo have both recorded with the drummer William Hooker, and Moore has released "out" jazz recordings on his living-room label, Ecstatic Peace.

Freak rock and radical black music are actually old bedfellows. Cecil Taylor once shared a bill with the Yardbirds at the Fillmore West. The MC5 liberally adapted compositions by Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders into garage-feedback oratorios; "L.A. Blues," on the Stooges' Fun House, is basically Armageddon jazz with amps. If you have no problem diving headfirst into the white-noise lava pool of Sonic Youth's "Expressway to Yr Skull," you're ripe for the propulsive ecstasies of Kingdom Come.

Now in his mid-50s, Gayle is a veteran of the original liberation-music scene who has only recently come into well-deserved glory after two decades of playing on the New York streets and in the subways. On Kingdom Come – featuring bassist William Parker (a Cecil Taylor veteran) and the free-percussion pioneer Sunny Murray – Gayle never settles for anything less than total catharsis. In "Lord Lord," the album's 21-minute centerpiece, he bolts out of the starting gate, blowing in tongues over the catgut groan of Parker's bowed bass and Murray's hissing cymbals and snare rifle shots. Desperation, joy and rage roar through Gayle's horn, sometimes all at once; multiphonic honks and air-raid-siren shrieks explode with heat, color and primordial exuberance.

Yet there is a startling purity of concept and execution in Gayle's attack, even when he steps up to the piano in "Beset Souls" or picks up the bass clarinet for "Yokes." Just as Coltrane never set out to destroy the chord structure of "My Favorite Things" – he simply would not be imprisoned by it – Gayle broadcasts emotions, not immaculately shaped notes. And he swings not in mathematical time but with the raw elasticity of real life, particularly the African-American experience. When his sax erupts in a caged-animal cry in "His Crowning Grace," you can hear the elegiac howl of the Delta blues and the locomotive soul power of a Pentecostal choir.

Does this kind of jazz ever swing – in the way, say, Duke Ellington defined it? On Matthew Shipp's album, the opening keyboard motif in "Circular Temple #2" finds the pianist twisting a riff marriage of Bud Powell's "Dance of the Infidels" and Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't" into a mischievous bentnote stutter (the track is playfully subtitled "Monk's Nightmare"). Even at his most extreme, as in the tidal waves of block-chord fury in "Circular Temple #1," Shipp never resorts to cheap anarchy, preferring the rigorously sculpted discord that Jimi Hendrix aspired to on the guitar.

At times in "#1," Shipp's singular union of cracked-note hammering and delicate harmonic suspense suggests a duet between Erik Satie and a very pissed off Cecil Taylor. Driven by the impatient bass-drums dialogue of William Parker and Whit Dickey, Shipp is hardly shy about going into overdrive; in the volcanic ensemble passages of "Circular Temple #4" there are moments when Shipp sounds like he's beating his ivory keys into submission. Yet in a recent interview in the punk fanzine Yakuza, Shipp admitted that one of his favorite records when he was growing up was David Bowie's Low. It is not hard to hear echoes of that album's wintry melancholy in the haunting, barbed pathos of Shipp's solo piano reveries.

As a member (along with Parker and Dickey) of David S. Ware's quartet on Cryptology, Shipp races up and down the piano even more frantically than he does on his own LP. He has to just to keep up with the breathless ferocity of Ware's sax tangents. If the dense turbulence of "Direction: Pleiades" was played on electric guitars instead of acoustic jazz instruments, hardcore kids would go nuclear. Ware bellows so hard and fast against Dickey's thrash-speed cymbal clatter, it's a wonder he ever finds time to inhale.

But Ware is also a radiantly confident player; there is a big heart pumping through his tenor, a combination of muscle and rapture that elevates even his most searing detours into atonal space. The 14-minute piece "Cryptology/Theme Stream" is a powerful document of Ware's striking empathy with Shipp – they don't just fly free, they fly together – and of Ware's rare strengths, especially his surprisingly warm, enveloping tone and textural ingenuity. At one point in "Cryptology," while Shipp, Parker and Dickey rage on around him, Ware holds fast with a rippling handful of notes, anchoring the instrumental argument with a no-nonsense tone bereft of shock theatrics. It's a sharp lesson for anyone who thinks "free jazz" is just a euphemism for no discipline.

Twenty-eight years after his death, the saxophonist John Coltrane is still the font from which so much of this music flows. The titles of his pivotal mid-'60s records – A Love Supreme, Ascension, Meditations – attest to the spiritual ambitions encoded in his work, no matter where it fell within, or how far outside, jazz tradition. But even as a snapshot of one night on the bandstand, Live in Seattle, an expanded two-CD reissue of an extraordinary 1965 club gig, is a big part of the foundation on which Gayle, Shipp and Ware build their own visions.

Leading his incendiary '60s quartet (with pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison) supplemented by second bassist Donald Garrett and saxman Pharoah Sanders, Coltrane wails with an inexhaustible, sometimes truly nightmarish passion, turning the standards "Out of This World" and "Body and Soul" inside out for 20 minutes apiece and losing himself entirely in the half-hour convulsions of "Evolution." Passages of stark modal beauty detonate into ensemble blasts of dizzying tumult. Thirty-four minutes into Coltrane's dramatic expansion of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Blue," the engineer actually runs out of tape and the band, in full cry, just stops – as if vaporized by its own intensity.

Coltrane and his peers dared to lead jazz into the mystic. Gayle, Ware and Shipp are still there and not looking back. But the powerful, challenging music on their records shows that while they may be out on the fringe, they sing through their instruments with body and soul. (RS 708)

Jazz: Charles Gayle
By JON PARELES - The New York Times
Published: September 3, 1987
LEAD: THE challenge of free jazz is to create coherent, compelling music without such obvious devices as melody, recurring chord sequences or a steady beat. It's a challenge that has defeated many a virtuoso since the free-jazz heyday of the 1960's. But Charles Gayle, a tenor saxophonist, is carving out a free jazz that is muscular, impassioned, clearly structured and wonderfully volatile.

THE challenge of free jazz is to create coherent, compelling music without such obvious devices as melody, recurring chord sequences or a steady beat. It's a challenge that has defeated many a virtuoso since the free-jazz heyday of the 1960's. But Charles Gayle, a tenor saxophonist, is carving out a free jazz that is muscular, impassioned, clearly structured and wonderfully volatile.

His trio performed Monday at the Knitting Factory; the group's next New York appearance is scheduled for Sept. 15 at 10 P.M. at First on First, 13 First Avenue, at First Street.

Mr. Gayle plays contours and textures rather than melodies, using a different range and technique for each composition. He gets a huge saxophone tone, whether he's playing wide-open low notes or shrieking overtones - a different quality, steadier and steelier, than the overblown notes of Albert Ayler or Pharoah Sanders - and he holds the stage with calm dignity while generating a fusillade of music.

Monday's late set included a piece based on sustained, slowly rippling notes; one with speedy, stop-start saxophone lines interrupted by bass or drums; a bluesy piece with something like a walking bass line against pummeling drums; a skewed shuffle with high, twittering saxophone lines, and a piece that sounded like a distant, hyperactive relation of be-bop's ''Theme.'' Any melodies were abstracted beyond recognition, but the music didn't proceed by whim. The trio uses primitive noise alongside conventional technique. Hill Green on bass sometimes shouted a counterpoint; David Pleasant, playing a drum kit that included various hanging metal objects but no bass drum, sometimes stamped his feet or played the drums with his hands instead of sticks.

Mr. Gayle and the trio had obviously thought out the kinds of free playing they wanted in each selection, and the pieces unfolded with the intensity of rituals.

Like Cecil Taylor's groups, Mr. Gayle's trio made music to move mountains by.