Monday, February 13, 2012

Listening Booth week 7: Charles Gayle Trio

  • Charles Gayle Trio: Streets (Northern Spy Records, 2012) - Streets is Charles Gayle's first studio album since his two 2006 releases, Consider the Lilies (Clean Feed) and the solo piano Time Zones (Thompkins Square.) Streets is also the first album to feature Gayle's alter ego, Streets the clown, the significance of which I shouldn't speculate too much on, although Gayle has performed in clown painting for a while. Me, I figure the title refers to his many years spent homeless on the streets of New York. If the clown somehow allows him to put himself in the mood of that period, well, then all the better. Charles Gayle has become somewhat of a sax-bass-drum trio specialist over the years. 'Though he hasn't performed exclusively in that format, much of the time he has, and his most memorable albums are trio albums: the soulful Homeless (Silkheart, 1988), with the deep rolling bass of Norris "Sirone" Jones and Dave Pleasant on drums, and the heady rush of the now deservedly classic Touchin' On Trane (FMP, 1991), with William Parker's rumbling, talking drum-like bass lines and the fleeting drumming of Rashied Ali. As with those two albums, Streets is a trio recording, and also one very much marked as much by Gayle's compatriots as his own distinct style and timbre. Bassist Larry Roland's playing here is the very essence of plucking, creating percussive patterns with only minimal sustain, barring the odd sections such as the intro to "March of April." Gayle himself has never been too occupied with themes or melodies. He is all about feel. It's as if he just steps up to the podium and speaks his mind. So it is perhaps fitting that the first thing you hear on Streets is the sharp sound of Gayle's tenor. He has, either by age or by design (I'd be inclined to say the latter), by and large abandoned the lung bursting runs and screams that used to be synonymous with much of his music. Rather, him and Roland play in bursts, with sudden stops or pauses, and the rhythmic pattern becomes almost Monk-like, especially on "Compassion II." Drummer Michael TA Thompson is much more of a constant, laying down a platform for Gayle and Roland's interplay as well as pushing them on. Although these are patterns and elements you'll find throughout the album, they are used to different effect: "March of April", with Roland's aforementioned menacing bass intro, is ominous, the closing "Tribulations" is fierce and a nod back to Gayle's older material, and the prayer "Glory & Jesus" is peaceful and gorgeous. Streets is not only a worthy addition to Gayle's discography, I'd be tempted to say it's also his best since Touchin' On Trane. 8*
* The Perfect Sounds Listening Booth series is where I post jotted down thoughts and impressions of records. The writing of these notes is mostly done during listens, without too much consideration to composition and/or argumentation, and while the intention is that these notes will form the basis of possible future reviews, they should not be considered fully formed reviews in and of themselves. The grades are tentative and liable to change.

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