Saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, educator and composer Charles Austin could justifiably iterate those infamous words......I’ve seen it and done at all! A diverse and somewhat storied career, Mr. Austin educated music students at the University of Miami for over thirty years, performed with B.B. King and Chuck Berry as a teen while also supporting and shedding with Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and Cannonball Adderly. Among other projects too numerous in scope to cite here, Mr. Austin also served as the musical conductor for the Broadway smash hit, “Purlie”. He recently partook in the “Bell Atlantic” sponsored “Rainforest Initiative” concert at New York City’s “Knitting Factory” venue featuring his longtime associate, drummer/electronics whiz and composer Joe Gallivan. And by the way, Austin and Gallivan performed alongside modern jazz heavyweights such as Evan Parker, Elton Dean, Marcio Mattos and one of Mr. Austin’s students – saxophonist John McMinn. (For additional details i.e. performances, personnel and Joe Gallivan’s discography see May 2000 All About Jazz article: www.allaboutjazz.com/articles/arti0500_03.htm).
And with that, we delve into some recently reissued recordings originally released on LP format during the late 70’s featuring Charles Austin and a then pioneering Moog drum/electronics practitioner, Joe Gallivan.
To cite another proverbial and altogether generic phrase that rings something like - they don’t make them like they used to - could also apply to these three unique projects that Austin and Gallivan produced and recorded during the mid-late 70’s - the first of which, is titled Mindscapes. Originally dubbed At Last, Austin utilizes his arsenal of saxophones and flutes while also performing on English horn and oboe which, as the artist stated to me via a phone conversation were used as extensions of his voice and as vehicles to procure various modal concepts. Here, Gallivan artfully exhibits or perhaps showcases his expertise as an early analog electronics mastermind as he integrates synth drums and acoustic percussion with Austin’s dreamlike performances on horns and reeds. In some respects, the music still seems fresh and somewhat timeless, especially when considering the then, burgeoning stage of electronic music where artists such as Brian Eno, David Borden and many Euro-rock bands were developing novel applications for a variety of existing formats. Gallivan’s unfettered yet multifaceted approach to Moogs and synth-drums yields to modern era implementations whereas, digital EFX are incorporated into most forms of music whether commercially orientated or purely experimental. The seemingly cosmic or otherworldly plight comes to fruition due to Austin’s incorporation of disparate elements and influences in accordance with Gallivan’s subtle backwashes, modulating sequences and implied sense of meter. – At times, the musicians propose notions of two wandering souls embarking on a journey through time and place as the sporadic psychedelic abstractions, characterize just a minute portion of the overall scope. Essentially, the musicians engage poignant lines and recurrent verse while also displaying influences of modern day classicists.
The duo’s second release within this electro-acoustic format is titled, Expression to the Winds as Austin and Gallivan continued to pursue ambient themes that often contained mystical or trance-like qualities. On many of these pieces, Austin rides atop Gallivan’s oscillating crosscurrents and subtle treatments, all performed in good taste I might add. Without a doubt, the duo is in synch and achieves an appeasing tonal balance as they deliver the often –-otherworldly - goods in intuitive fashion via these weaving yet thoroughly melodic pieces.
Peace On Earth represents the third of these Austin and Gallivan collaborations and along with Austin’s pupil - pianist, saxophonist John McMinn, the trio counterbalances and expounds upon the angelic and choir like vocals performed by students of the University of Miami. Of special interest here, are the appearances of a then young up and comer named Carmen Lundy and the now infamous “Metropolitan Opera” star, Marvis Martin. Recorded in 1977, the music assumes spiritual connotations, yet many of these pieces still sound refreshingly new 23 years later. Also, Mr. Austin did mention that the vocal parts were written and not improvised yet the musical overlays are semi-improvised although the artists did institute a game plan of sorts prior to the recording. Here, the musicians create a musical collage that works seamlessly and very effectively with the wordless vocalizations as auras of peace and tranquillity do indeed come to the forefront with this rather charming and quasi-ethereal outing.
Charles Austin’s renaissance spirit produced huge dividends as he superseded some of the often-systematic paths taken by those who perhaps weren’t sure how to blend electronics into their existing musical personas. Needless to state, Charles Austin and Joe Gallivan’s acute visions and distinctive ideologies continue to this day. However, these works in particular shine forth as the artist’s firmly rooted sense of commitment and modernistic amalgamations of jazz, world music and electronics adds yet another chapter to this thoroughly fertile and at times unsettled era in music history.
As of this writing, these 3 discs and others should be available from the following North American distributors:
Cadence North Country: web - www.cadencebuilding.com
Cuneiform/Wayside: web - www.cuneiformrecords.com
Or send a note to Charles Austin at: 1207 Trafford Lane, Savannah, GA 31410
Joe Gallivan’s website: www.newjazz.com