|| Charles Gayle Quartet
Cat. No.: SHCD134
Charles Gayle tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, viola
William Parker bass, cello, half-size violin
Vattel Cherry bass, kalimba, bells
Michael Wimberly drums
1. Joyous Fellowship (C. Gayle) 14:37
2. Healing (C. Gayle) 18:58
3. Holy Mountain (C. Gayle) 14:35
4. Hymn of Praise (C. Gayle) 8:51
5. Suffering for Love (C. Gayle) 14:00
Total time: 71:13
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|"At a time when too many musicians
rely on arch referential irony or a reverence to catholic, stylistic recreations,
it is bracing to hear a musician who unabashedly ignores fads and styles
to aggressively pursue a music imbued with such powerful, emotional depth."
Michael Rosenstein, Cadence, November 1994
The Final Nite
Complete Notes from
a Charles Gayle
This January Thursday breaks bright, boding well. At 10:15 that morning, a motorcade of taxicabs, its drivers protesting hazardous working conditions, moves slowly down Broadway toward City Hall, car horns in a distinctive staccato rhythm - a rhythm often favored by Charles Gayle, standing on the corner of Canal Street as they drive past.
This cold, windy Manhattan day feels oddly warm. Maybe it's the pale winter sun,
or knowing that 12 years of Reagan and Bush have ended. It is the first full day
of the Clinton administration.
At the inauguration in Washington the previous noon, at a podium a few feet from
the new president, the distinguished African-American writer Maya Angelou had
read an impressive entry in that difficult genre, public poetry rifting on the
triple trophes laid out in the opening lines: "A Rock, A River, A Tree"
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new
steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me,
the Rock, the River, the Tree,
That night, the president sat in with a band and blew credible blues licks.
Now Gayle, standing on the southwest corner of Canal and Broadway, bundled up in overcoat and cap, carefully sips steaming coffee from a paper cup, and greets the first member of his party to arrive. Charles is in a good mood, says he's expecting some kind of breakthrough in the studio today, but can't say what. "We gotta bleed today. We gotta draw blood," he says amiably, the way someone else might say the weather looks promising for the picnic. Charles professes to be bugged there's a tenor saxophonist in the White House. "I don't need the competition," he says sourly, and looks at you to see if you're falling for it.
Even well-meaning writers and fans may paint Gayle with broad strokes: as disenfranchised
- Homeless, as his first Silkheart title has it, as a dreamer oblivious to propriety,
as free musically as he is materially. If you know Charles, its hard to reconcile
this severe fellow with the sociable man who likes an icecream bar in the aftemoon,
and cracks up watching Jaleel White's TV nerd Steve Urkel. Even as scribes filed
their Gayle-the-homeless stories, he'd been living in a reasonably secure and
stable squat, in an apartment building on East Ninth Street a place where he gets
mail, and has electric lights, and locks on the doors, and neighbors who look
out for each other.
At 10:30, Vattel Cherry walks up wheeling his bass. He'd been in Washington the
other day, playing for a pre inaugural ball. (So many musicians are needed for
the social whirl surrounding a change of administration, gigs rain even on outcats.)
Michael Wimberly arrives, saying he'd had unusual trouble finding a cab. (William
Parker's driving out separately; he has a rehearsal with Cecil Taylor after the
record session, and needs to make a fast getaway.) As Gayle's people stand around,
a van pulls up in a No Parking zone, under the watchful eye of a policeman who
makes low-key shooing gestures, and everyone piles in.
We drive under the Hudson to New Jersey, where concrete at last gives way to pockets
of hilly woodland, river, rock, tree.
On the way, Charles says he likes to make occasional changes in the rhythm section,
not out of dissatisfaction, but just to keep things fresh. Cherry and Wimberly
have just met, and continue their conversation. Vattel had been in Gayle's band
two years; he's on Repent (Knitting Factory Works) recorded in early '92. Altoist
Will Connell had tipped Charles to Wimberly. Gayle went uptown to hear Michael
play, and immediately offered him a gig. Wimberly mentions he guests on a then-current
record, Steve Coleman's Drop Kick (Novus). West Orange is close to New York, but
the studio's in an isolated spot, tucked into a hillside. The air is clean and
apple-crisp. Inside, engineer Nick Prout, who radiates benign calm, gets the musicians
set up quickly. They're almost ready to go when William Parker arrives.
"William's the best bass player for this," Gayle volunteers in a conversation
sometime after the session, but for this date Charles had asked William to bring
his violin and cello along as well. By now a crowd of friends, fans, producers
and photographers is thronging the booth. A page from today's Times lies face
up on a table: Angelou's poem.
For Charles Gayle, recording is in a way just another gig, an excuse to play for
better money than you and yours get working for a slice of door money at the Knitting
Factory, thirteen Mondays of the year. Even so, he takes making records seriously.
Given his Buffalo steeltown working-class roots, Gayle surely doesn't mind that
making albums is good hard work. ("High-energy" refers to what goes in as well
as what comes out.) And he's the sort of inspirational team-leader modern industry
craves. At the end of a typical Gayle session, producers find themselves with
hours more tape than they'd bargained for. This Silkheart session has produced
two CDs so far--the other is Raining Fire, Silkheart 137--and there's talk of
Gayle says he wants to play some "shorter," 12 or 15 minute pieces. "You want
the special mood lighting?" Nick Prout asks before the tape rolls. "No, that'll
put me to sleep," Charles responds, laughing. The first number is a typical Gayle
set-opener: a vault into the falsetto-sphere, the place he has to get beyond to
arrive anywhere else. Gayle's like Sun Ra: often most interesting when he's finished
playing what he came to play, and then has to come up with more.
They launch immediately into another piece, later dubbed "Joyous Fellowship".
(The music on this disc appears in the order recorded.) It's amazing how quickly
Gayle recreates the feel of a gig behind the baffles--the four players arrayed
in an elongated diamond, drums the long way across from Charles, basses on either
side. Someone asks if Gayle's distracted by the two photographers milling about
as he plays. "No, you can let everyone in here if you want."
At the top of "Joyous Fellowship", Gayle conducts the bowing bassists, drawing
long arcs in the air, before quickly jumping in on tenor. In his saxophone improvisation,
the antiphonal interplay of falsetto barks and guttural middle register phrases
is like two voices in conversation, like Mingus-Dolphy instrumental dialogues.
Fourteen minutes in, Gayle cues an abrupt finish. After one more tune, he calls
a break. Outside, he remarks, "I don't consider myself avant-garde; I'm just a
For the next round, Parker unpacks his cello. Gayle gets out the bass clarinet,
his instrument for exploring the more sweetly plaintive side of his music. They
immediately cut "Healing", the oceanic/AACMish ending of which is something new
for Gayle. Earlier Wimberly had expressed a little apprehension, not having played
free music before, and never having heard any other drummer play with Gayle. Michael
fits right in. He has the capacity to explode and keep on exploding that Charles
likes, but also pays attention to texture and dynamics more than some of his predecessors.
The afternoon rolls on; they're supposed to break at six pm, but keep recording
till seven. William won't be on time for his rehearsal, but right now he's more
involved with what he's doing than what he should be doing. The day's last take
is "Holy Mountain", with William playing child-size violin with the same worrying
arco technique he uses on bass or cello, and Charles back on tenor. Vattel plays
kalimba and bells at the top.
"Let's do a set, with different combinations," Gayle says before the first take
the following noon. A couple of warmups later he says, "We'll do one more and
that's one set. We're gonna do them set by set." And then comes "Hymn of Praise",
returning to yesterday's textural text as if "Holy Mountain" was moments before.
Two hours later, "Suffering for Love" unfolds, a spontaneous suite beginning with
Gayle on viola and Parker on violin. William knows his way around the string family;
Charles is decidedly non-virtuosic. Parker dances in place, rocking back and forth
but mindful where the boom microphone is: Gayle, switching to incendiary tenor,
rocks from side to side, irregularly gyrating much as his lines do. The third
movement is explicitly Ayleresque hymnody, playing with gospel cadences as surely
as Angelou's poem does.
There's much more to say about the music Charles Gayle shaped in the studio those
two days, through pre-planning, exhortation and the wisdom to stand back and let
things take their own course. But for that, consult the notes to companion volume
Raining Fire. Charles's intimated breakthrough became obvious in retrospect: the
unit assembled for these sessions stayed together as his new working band. The
quartet went on to record the two-CD More Live at the Knitting Factory and Black
Saint's Consecration. Why Gayle kept them is obvious from these recordings. The
band keeps the music hard enough to draw blood, but lets it seek its own channels,
branching where it will, rock river tree.