May 15, 2001
Jazz Solo Piano
Knitting Factory Records KFW 288
This album is going to throw most jazz fans for a loop, whether they're devotees or detractors of Charles Gayle. That's because Gayle is featured here not creating gut wrenching tenor saxophone or bass clarinet improvisations, but as a pianist.
Moreover, the keyboard approach of 62-year-old Gayle can't be classified as so-called avant-garde jazz, but rather as only a half step away from what you'd probably hear in sophisticated jazz clubs any night of the week. In his piano persona, Gayle consecrates the greatest part of his program to standards, from "What's New" to "Afternoon in Paris". More notably, his approach is decidedly pre-modern, with these Stride-through-Swing creations referencing pre-1950 masters such as James P. Johnson, Art Tatum, Erroll Garner and Willie "The Lion" Smith.
Gayle who began his career as a pianist — to add another factoid, he also plays trumpet — began concentrating on tenor saxophone when he made the move from Buffalo, N.Y. to Manhattan a quarter century ago. A storied period as a homeless person/street musician obviously didn't lend itself to piano work either.
Still, he has a firm, though sometimes stuttering touch, which is decidedly two handed like the improvisations of most pre-modern keyboarded icons. When he approaches standards such as "All The Things You Are" or "Cherokee" he often decorates them with Tatumesque grace notes, plus slip in a different tempo, usually with a stride reference, in its centre. "I Remember April", which obviously has a particular resonance for him since he deals with it twice, moves a bit outside, especially in "II". There the stride section is preceded by opposite, complementary, out-of-temp lines.
Originals appear to be even more of a throwback to earlier times. "Chapter Green" is practically a ragtime piece, as is "1939". The blues lines elaborated on "Bucket Blues" would likely be more familiar to rent party denizens of the 1930s then any abstracted boppers or followers of the atonal Cool school.
Massive tweaking arrives with the most contemporary compositions. So many additional notes and chord substitutions appear in the opening of John Coltrane's "Countdown", for instance, that you wonder if the composer himself would have recognized it — especially since the main theme doesn't appear until four-fifth of the way into the tune and is then subsumed by more decorations.
In future years this disc may be regarded as the ballad side of Charles Gayle. It's certainly one avenue reputation to approach his music for those who been frightened by his fire-breathing reputation. At the same time those who know his other work will probably be fascinated by this obverse look into the man's thought processes.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. 1939 2. I'll Remember April I 3.Round Midnite 4. Countdown 5.Bucket Blues 6. Nadoshe 7. Afternoon In Paris 8. All The Things You Are 9.Cherokee 10. What's New 11. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise 12. Body &Soul 13. I'll Remember April II 14.Chapter Green
Personnel: Charles Gayle (piano)