20 years ago Charles Gayle forged a reputation for iron chops, a relentless attack and Biblical fervor, a time when a 25-minute tune would have been considered the "short" one. In the intervening years as Gayle has aged (and mellowed) he's put aside his tenor to sit down at the piano and now when he stands back up he picks up an alto sax instead. If anything, the switch to the smaller horn has preserved his endurance, extended his facility and given him quicker access to his upper register (Gayle was always partial to the high end of the tenor).
In 1991 Gayle, bassist William Parker and drummer Rashied Ali, cut the acknowledged masterpiece, Touchin' on Trane, a more composed, more accessible and even swinging oblique tribute to Coltrane that best focused Gayle's musical vocabulary. The trio reconvened at the 2006 Vision Festival under the name By Any Means and throughout the two-disc Live at Crescendo, beautifully recorded in Sweden, Ali combines his familiarity with the free jazz idiom and an intuitive feel for inside-out rhythms, while Parker's chunky riffing enables Gayle to ricochet his own runs off the bass notes as if opening a box of ping-pong balls. Gayle's tone is fractured, jagged, cubist, off-kilter, staggered, strangulated and feverish and together the band performs with a singularity of purpose that only top musicians can attain.
Over the years Gayle's music has progressively become more spiritually oriented and the indication of this on Forgiveness (recorded in front of an enthusiastic crowd at a club in Lodz, Poland) goes beyond the titles of the songs. Gayle plays with an urgency that is amplified by his hoarse tone and longtime Gayle associate, bassist Hilliard Greene, matches the leader with resonating, percussive basslines that bounce off the wooden neck of his instrument. Drummer Klaus Kugel is a bit buried and secondary to the proceedings, but he manages to keep a balance between Gayle and Greene. The seamlessness with which the band moves from the delicately bowed bass of "Song to Thee" to Gayle's liftoff from the opening of "Giant Steps" to the concluding traditional title track hymn is masterly.
Tracks and Personnel
Live at Crescendo
Tracks: Disc 1: Zero Blues; Hearts Joy; We Three; Different Stuff; Love One Another; Straight Ahead Steps; Disc 2: Peace Inside; Machu Picchu; Cry Nu; Eternal Voice; No Sorrow
Personnel: Charles Gayle: alto saxophone; William Parker: bass; Rashied Ali: drums
Tracks: Living Waters; Glory, Glory, Glory; Holy Birth; Confess; Song to Thee; Giant Steps; Forgiveness
Personnel: Charles Gayle: alto saxophone; Hilliard Greene: bass; Klaus Kugel: drums