Seeing the titles of Eddie Gale's two Blue Note albums, Ghetto Music and Black Rhythm Happening, might summon an idea of funky soulful electric music, maybe with a healthy scoop of disco production values. Viewing the cover photos of musicians mostly in Monk's habits looking like wild austere heretics, learning that the leader had worked with Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor, and realizing that one album features eleven vocalists ï" the other eight ï" may cause you to readjust your expectations! These two Blue Note sessions, leased and reissued by Water Records of San Francisco, present the listener with a kaleidoscope of late '60s musical sounds.
Presented with musical performances, dramatic readings, skits and colorful costumes, Eddie Gale's Ghetto Music revue aimed to present aspects of ghetto life on stage, utilizing music drawing from the entirety of the Black American music tradition. Based on these CDs, taking in one of their stage performances would have been a memorable experience!
Somewhat a family affair, Eddie Gale's band included Joann Gale Stevens on guitar and vocals, and the Noble Gale Singers, a well-rehearsed chorus of singers. Eddie Gale and Russell Lyle form the musical front line on Ghetto Music, complemented by Joann and the Noble Gale Singers, two bassists and two drummers. The arrangements are very intelligent, presenting the singers as both vocalists and an accompanying ensemble for the soloists. The singing is well integrated with the instrumental melodic elements and the percussion instruments, and the session is exceptionally well recorded by Rudy Van Gelder.
Eddie Gale's trumpet playing reminds me here sometimes of the sound of Kenny Dorham's trumpet though the phrasing is his own, and Russell Lyle's saxophone playing is very fluid with a deep and rich sound, tightly entwined with Gale's horn lines. The tunes have a mixture of free jazz and soul jazz and folk elements, a brew that is very distinctive and exciting to my ears. There are traces of the otherness and the Africanness of the music of Sun Ra, and a bit of the exploratory rock sound of the time. I particularly enjoy Joann Gale Stevens' guitar playing and singing; she adds an intriguing texture to the music with her crisp sound.
Black Rhythm Happening features a smaller vocal ensemble and four guest musicians: saxophonists Roland Alexander and Jimmy Lyons, drummer Elvin Jones, and African drummer John Robinson. The expanded front line of horns is well-utilized. There is an appealing use of space in the melody lines, and Jimmy Lyons and Eddie Gale especially turn in very expressive solos. Propelled by Elvin Jones, the grooves here swing hard.
The opening title tune has a very rock-like opening, sounding at first almost as if it were a tune from the Zombies' repertoire. The music progresses through other styles almost as if the listener were traveling through different areas of a city, culminating in the long celebratory final piece, "Look at Teyonda," where William Norwood plays the vocal role of an astrologer telling of the birth of Eddie Gale's daughter, Teyonda Gale. In some ways this album is looser than its predecessor, but equally satisfying.
Water Records has reissued these two albums with loving care. The remastered sound is excellent, better than many reissues from Blue Note itself. The cover artwork and liner notes are recreated very well. Water has won me over with their recent Albert Ayler, Byard Lancaster and Sonny and Linda Sharrock releases: these are reissues done right. I'll be following their schedule ahead with anticipation!