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Charles Tyler: Charles Tyler Ensemble

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Charles Tyler Ensemble possesses a profound quality. Unlike many records of the mid-1960s, it burns with a quiet blue flame, eschewing the intellectual posturing that characterized much new music in the avant-garde era. Tyler, a baritone saxophonist who became an acolyte of Albert Ayler—following him to New York in the early part of the movement—transposes Ayler's famous gravitas to the horn of a higher register, the alto.

This act alone gives his spare and deeply spiritual compositions more urgency. It is almost as if Tyler has come to feel the mortality of an artist in the grander scheme of things. He successfully creates a narrative soundscape where pure contrasts are highlighted: for instance, Charles Moffett orchestral vibes tinkle off the thunderous grunting of Ronald Shannon Jackson drums and the magnificent Henry Grimes plays staccato and legato passages in the swirling warmth of his bass, leaving room for Joel Friedman's cello to screech in counterpoint. Tyler himself wails and moans and lets slip burnished glissandi with surprising facility. He is vocal, expressive and chatters breathlessly, as if the idea and story of the moment exists only in that moment and must be told before it vanishes forever. And he does so time and time again.

"Strange Uhuru" is an ironic, dirge-like wake for the freedom of flight, and the inner journey that didn't dig deep enough for the spirit to lift one's wings. "Lacy's Out East" seems to put enlightened thought in perspective, highlighting Steve Lacy and Tyler's own debt to the cradle of all sound—the primal Afro-centric polytonality that was born in the swinging depths of New Orleans. "Three Spirits" speaks of every free spirit that has blazed a trail for acolytes to follow. Hints of Charlie Parker Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler—along with the chopped musical architecture of Thelonious Monk—fill the air in a cloud of notes and sounds. Grimes and Friedman solo with soaring brilliance—especially Grimes, whose pedal point is spot on. "Black Mysticism" rushes from Tyler's lips like a frenetic, dancing prayer circle. With Friedman bowing to create a swaying movement, Grimes fires rapidly, plucking intensely to feed the alto saxophonist's gathering fervor. The percussionists create polyrhythms underfoot and keep the prayer meeting going.

Charles Tyler is gut-wrenchingly direct, suppressing the urge to intellectualize contemporary music in this veritable feast of modern sound. But he and his band also argue for the intelligent use of song, showing reverence for music history stretching as far back as the cry of Holy Rollers, bebop and shackled human beings. And they do it with perfect pulse in notime.

Track Listing: Strange Uhuru; Lacy's Out East; Three Spirits; Black Mysticism.

Personnel: Charles Tyler: alto sax; Joel Friedman: cello; Henry Grimes: bass; Ronald Jackson: drums; Charles Moffett: orchestra vibes.

Title: Charles Tyler Ensemble | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: ESP Disk

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