|| Charles Gayle Quartet
Cat. No.: SHCD137
Charles Gayle tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, viola
William Parker bass, cello, half-size violin
Vattel Cherry bass, kalimba, bells
Michael Wimberly drums
1. In Christ (C. Gayle) 17:08
2. Blood's Finality (C. Gayle) 12:50
3. Death Conquered (C. Gayle) 15:33
4. Grace (C. Gayle) 14:48
5. Raining Fire (C. Gayle) 8:21
Total time: 71:48
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|"The all-out assaults of his
earlier sessions gives way here to a more open rhythmic sensibility. Gayle's
playing takes on an emotionally incantatory urgency here over the shifting
layers of dual basses and Wimberly's tumbling, flexible attack. Raining
Fire is the more fiery of the two CDs, from the opening blasting hurricane
charge through In Christ with Gayle's most incendiary playing of
the two. Translations (Silkheart 134) and Raining Fire are
welcome additions to Gayle's growing discography, documenting Gayle's uncompromising
intensity and continued growth."
Michael Rosenstein, Cadence, November 1994
The Final Nite
Complete Notes from
a Charles Gayle
Standing on a Chinatown streetcorner, waiting for his ride to a New Jersey studio for day two of recording Raining Fire and Translations (Silkheart 134), Charles Gayle found himself flanked by two guys who wanted him to do something - wanted him to document his playing on chord changes. Gayle's Rollins-like hurtling hurdles usually heard during second sets, live are startling, all the more to folks who keep insisting outcats can't really play.
So these two unlikely allies, with very different relationships with Gayle, were
trying to get a stubborn independent to see things their way. One of them had
gently pressed Charles on this matter yesterday, and the day's session log lists
fragmented takes of "Oleo" (for solo tenor) and "Giant Steps". He'd also taken
a stab at "Naima" and "Be-Bop" - played on request, with Gayle's stipulation the
tape was off. "Everybody wants to play be-bop, the true stuff is coming out,"
he'd joked at the time, looking askance at new drummer Michael Wimberly: "I thought
you were my friend."
Now, next moming, standing on the curb, the other kibitzer suggested a compromise:
play a piece on rhythm changes, without a theme, if only to see how many of his
boosters and his harsh critics would recognize it.
Gayle said he might give it a try and he did. Late in the day, the band played
"Grace". Then, just before packing up, Gayle began an explicit romp on Mr. Gershwin's
chords, interpolating "Let's Fall in Love", then abruptly cutting it off at three
minutes . "I can't do it," he said. "That's all." And it was.
Gayle is a stubborn man - stubborn enough to take up free playing back in Buffalo,
where jazz fans liked their music more regular. Even so, one person did get Charles
to bend to his will, the musician who's usually the quietest person in a room
and the stealthiest presence on the bandstand, a musician preferred by strong
leaders like Cecil Taylor because he has the strength to move the rudder in mighty
torrents. William Parker.
In the studio or on the stand, Gayle wants to make the music expressive and keep
it moving. The music is "free", in jazz's woefully inexact terminology, but Gayle
may give sidefolk terse verbal instructions. (He's first among equals: "There's
not much direction, but what there is is given by me.") He'll turn to the drummer,
when energy has flagged, and yell "Home!" or "Blood!"
Which means, take it to the ceiling, right now. He does this to jump-start the
band, but flat-out burning isn't everything for him.
In an interview, I'd once elicited Charles's endorsement of the oft-cited connection
between freejazz horn hollers and spirit-possessed tongue-talking. When we spoke
about this again recently, he cautioned that the issue's really more complicated.
Although a new tide of Christian feeling overcame him around 1990 (as far as I
can pinpoint it) - "I stopped walking the treadmill," he says no marked change
in style gave outward sign to his reawakening. "I feel better, and more centered
about music, and it's easier for me to play, but that doesn't mean anyone else
can hear that. But then I heard a tape from eight or nine years ago recently,
and my playing has definitely changed since: it's more assured, more stretched
out. More extreme, broader, not as thin. It doesn't sound like the same person."
For Gayle, being a Chnstian, reading the Bible, playing music - these things signal
not a retreat from but a foray into the world. He calls on musicians of diverse
background so his music will encompass wide experience.
Michael Wimberly - born December 26, 1957, Cleveland - came to New York in '82,
has a master's from the Manhattan School of Music, and works mostly as a composer
for dance companies, Alvin Alley and the Joffrey Ballet among them. He plays African
and tuned percussion, has recorded with Paul Winter and Steve Coleman, and has
worked as an actor, with Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and others. These sessions were
the first time he'd ever played with Gayle's group.
Vattel Cherry joined in January '91. Born in Chicago (December 20, '64), he grew up in Wheaton, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. He originally played electric bass, then switched to acoustic, inspired by Butch Warren and his teacher Keeter Betts. Cherry also attended the Manhattan School of Music, and first surfaced on the scene playing with drummers Marc Edwards and David Pleasant, both of whom have worked with Gayle. Vattel plays in New York schools, works with the African-style dance troupe, Sands of Time, and had recently taped some ersatz Mingus for a hiphop sample.
William Parker is to Silkheart what James Spaulding was to Blue Note in the 60s: a soulful utility player. For this label he's recorded with David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, Rob Brown, William Hooker, and the coop Other Dimensions in Music.
Like Gayle, Parker is a survivor of the decimated black downtown scene, the old
loft-jazz crowd which vanished through attrition, neo-con contempt and a lack
of paying gigs.
Gayle likes the sound of two basses; both Vattel and William use a bow more than the average jazz bassist, but there's an obvious generational difference. Cherry's playing is idiomatic to doublebass, but he retains an electric bassist's punchy presence. Parker's esthetic was formed before bass amplifiers became commonplace, and is less overtly assertive. His pizzicato thump functions as a ground tone, a tack which strikes these ears as a pre-blues, African retention. You can usually pick William's bass out of a welter of lines, by listening for his resounding open G string.
However, Parker makes his greatest impact on these sessions playing cello and
a child's-size violin, which he'd been playing at home and brought along at Gayle's
request. (He'd played cello in junior high, before switching to bass, and used
it on Ensemble Muntu's 1977 First Feeling). William says he sees the cello as
an extension of the bass, and his celebrated manic bowing, which gives his music
elemental force, adapts readily to the smaller fiddles. (He plays cello on "In
Christ" and "Raining Fire", violin on "Blood's Finality".)
In modern jazz, the cello is a character actor, deployed either as melody or rhythm
instrument. Parker's cello, which sounds unbeholden to anyone, hovers ambiguously
between. His sawbones style is half lead-folk-fiddle, half Carnatic background
After Parker had been playing cello with Gayle awhile, I asked each separately
if they heard it as part of the front line or the rhythm section. William: "Both."
Charles: "I don't know, honestly." Whatever its role, Gayle frequently bounces
his intervals off Parker's bed of sound. The cello expands and permeates the group's
sound, opens up options for everyone, allows for music new to the Gayle canon
like "Raining Fire" or the haunting coda to "Blood's Finality".
"I just want to keep pushing, keep on changing'" says Gayle. "I'm not into trick
playing, but I would like the music to evolve quicker- like ten years in five
months. Otherwise it's like watching grass grow."
In effect, Gayle on these inaugural sessions with a new band, recapitulates the
AACM's evolutionary role in modern jazz's development, leading free play out of
the cul-de-sac of playing on the ceiling all the time, via greater attention to
quiet timbres and small percussion, placing old instruments in a new context,
and bringing to free jazz more open space and more open time. ("Raining Fire"
encompasses it all.)
After the session was over, Charles and company got a ride back to Manhattan,
got out on Canal Street. Charles lugged his stuff into McDonald's for something
to warm up on. In the months ahead, he'd use this same band on a month of Monday
night gigs, and would record two more albums with it. Gayle tinkers with rhythm
sections to keep things from getting staid. On one memorable gig the following
autumn the rhythm section was Hilliard Green and Rashid Bakr, but William Parker
was still hanging in on cello. But that was all way in the future.
Gayle finished his coffee, went back out in the cold, and walked uptown to his
place on East Ninth Street. He was having a conversation on the sidewalk out front
when a neighbor stuck his head out the front door and said there was a building
meeting - there'd been murmurs the city might kick the squatter-tenants out. (It
didn't happen. Months later, Charles finally broke down and got a phone.) Gayle
tied off the thread of conversation, politely excused himself, and got back to
his real life.