Charles Gayle

Time Zones
Tompkins Square TSQ 2839-2

One unexpected description of Charles Gayle would be melodic. But he lives up to the definition on this solo piano session. Known for his blow-torch reed tone, Gayle first revealed adroitness as a solo pianist on a CD of standards in 2000. Time Zones is his all-originals follow-up.

Unlike his primitivist reed playing, on keyboard Gayle seems to possess the dexterity that characterized earlier stylists such as James P. Johnson and Earl Hines. Simultaneously contemporary and traditional, the irony about this CD is that the pianism pre-dates the mature style of Cecil Taylor, who is a decade older. Gayle’s disc is as ornamental as his reed style is sparse and as consonant as his saxophone playing is dissonant. The rent-party heft of boogie-woogie and decorative, continuous note-layering are always present.

“Blues in Mississippi”, for instance, doesn’t have the kind of elemental progression an upright piano-pounder like Little Brother Montgomery would have exhibited. Instead Gayle constructs a tremolo blues, with cross patterns from both hands, emphasizing the interweaving blues progression. His left hand plays walking bass, as his right hand decorates with light-finger twirls. For a coda he lets loose with a crescendo of blues notes. Monk – who evolved from stride – is another influence, as Gayle proves on “Rhythm Twins” a possible contrafact of “Rhythm-a-Ning” and/or “I Got Rhythm.” Flashier than Monk, he spools broken octaves with one hand as pedal pressure produces a solid swagger. By the finale, he balances the upbeat with a downbeat from his left hand

Here and elsewhere, Gayle’s rapid arpeggios and sudden voicing changes suggest that half-remembered ballads lie just below the surface. On this free-association parlor session, Gayle extends the tradition of the piano as mini-orchestra.

— Ken Waxman