Charles Gayle is without question one of the most intriguing figures in modern jazz today. His powerful, free, and onerous style defies easy categorization. His background as a vagabond New York street musician adds mystique, like the Renaissance artists who toiled without financial reward while pushing the envelope of art and music beyond conventional boundaries. He is a devout Christian and concerned citizen whose willingness to speak his mind does not always jive with club owners. He has performed in clown's garb as "Streets, combining pantomime, social commentary, and music in an eclectic blend that reflects his years of homelessness.
Gayle's early years included associations with legendary figures Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders, as well as others from the free jazz movement of the '60s. After years in relative obscurity, performances in the late '80s at the Knitting Factory helped spread the word, leading to a number of key recordings and performances with Cecil Taylor, Rashied Ali, and William Parker. Although Gayle studied piano formally, he is largely self-taught on saxophone. He has stated that he rarely discusses music with bandmates, preferring to trust in their creative abilities.
Shout! places Gayle in the company of bassist Sirone and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Perhaps more melodic than previous efforts, it is nonetheless full of fire, dissonance, and compassion. One simply can not listen to this music without attention; it is far too intense for a casual spin. Gayle's "Unto Jesus Christ, a ballad that uses a simple seven-note pattern to form the melody, is a good place to start. The relaxed tempo allows Gayle to expound upon spiritual beliefs in profound fashion. His vibrato is akin to the inflections of a preacher, as are his use of altered tones, bent notes, and rhythmic phrasing. All are played using the entire range of the saxophone. Sirone and Cleaver do a fine job hinting at structure while keeping things loose and properly dynamic. Listen to Sirone's solo and you will notice Cleaver laying down a subtle pattern of six against four. Nice work!
For the standard "I Can't Get Started, the longest cut on the disc, Gayle switches to solo piano. Listeners will be surprised by the more traditional style. Unlike the five Gayle originals, the tune's recognizable form and chord changes serve as the foundation for exploration. Like with his saxophone playing, Gayle uses the entire range of the piano. His style is highly personal, yet firmly grounded in the playing of past masters like Art Tatum and Bud Powell. Gayle's performance on this cut is a virtual history of jazz piano styling, incorporating linear development, stride techniques, glissandos, mass chords, pedal tones, and chromatic ideas. Repeated listening will help translate the full impact of what is being communicated.
The disc is well-recorded, framing the commanding expression in proper terms. Listeners familiar with Gayle's work will not be disappointed, and novices with an open mind will find a unique voice worthy of investigation.