August 15, 2008
Charles Gayle, William Parker & Rashied Ali
Touchin’ On Trane
By Any Means
Live at Crescendo
Ayler Records aylCD- 077/078
Almost 16 years to the day separate these two live sessions, yet not one member of this trio of veteran players appears to have lost his edge or gusto.
Dispelling once again the old shibboleth that jazz is a young man’s game, saxophonist Charles Gayle, 68, drummer Rashied Ali, 73, and bassist William Parker, 56, create enough fire and commitment – mixed with experience – on both sets to enliven any program of improvised music.
Perhaps it’s because none has ever given in to the blandishments of more commercial music, but continues to follow a self-defined path, no matter the consequences. Senior statesman Ali is still best-known for his 1960s collaborations with John Coltrane, but he has participated in a variety of exploratory sessions since then. A fearless proselytizer and organizer for Free Jazz, Parker’s ensembles range from duos to big bands, yet he still finds time to help organize New York’s annual Vision Festival. Most mystifying of the three is Gayle, who seemed to suddenly materialize in New York in his forties, fully formed and ready to extend unadulterated Free Jazz into the 21st Century. Since then he has also revealed a quirky piano style. However – and this appears to be the trio’s only concession to advancing years – his characteristic screaming timbres are now the product of the alto saxophone’s upper reaches, rather than that of the tenor saxophone he formerly favoured
Recorded in Berlin in 1991, Touchin’ On Trane is the touchstone for this trio: an announcement of how well the hitherto unconnected three improvised together. Parker rhythmically walks through most of the five tunes; Ali’s strategy is low-key, encompassing vibrating rim shots, hi-hat slashing and press rolls, while Gayle’s trills, squeaks and reed bites extend Sonny Rollins’ work of the mid-1960s – rather then that of Trane. Listening to this CD in retrospect however, reveals just how much “in the tradition” the three were – and are – despite the neo-con mainstream rhetoric that was its nosiest at that time.
Parker’s sul ponticello sweeps mixed with slaps push Gayle to an even higher plane on “Part C” as the saxophonist’s whinnying and double-tonguing escalates from gritty growls to ejaculating juicy, splayed split tones – as if the suddenly released emotion had been saved up for years – as perhaps it had been. Following an episode of clattering pops and emphasized ruffs from Ali, the spotlight shifts back to Gayle who responds with screeching, squealing sopranino-pitched cries.
All and all however, the CD’s defining track is “Part D” which packs nearly every permutation of reed-bass-drums interface that can be imagined into slightly-less-than-28 minutes. Following the drummer’s quasi-parade-ground intro and Parker’s stolid walking Gayle’s exposition includes hocketing pauses, emphasized note clusters and repeated snorts. Lab scientist-like, he seems to be evaluating every centimetre of his instrument and testing every sound that can be forced from it. At the same time he moves from cerebral to pure expressiveness, exposing lengthy passages in altissimo as well as paint-varnish-stripping-styled keening.
Beside him Parker also works up from spiccato sweeps to double and triple stops, finding original spots below the tuning pegs or beneath the bridge to emphasize as he plays. Initially Ali sticks to blunt stroke and paradiddles. Multiplying his strokes so they become more complex however, he eventually creates a drum solo that is both a confirmation of the tune and a connection to the others’ popping runs.
Eventually Gayle reaches a crescendo of otherworldly glossolalia, replicating in curt passages a bugle cry, an infant’s wail and a wounded animal’s bay. Answering himself with low-pitched, vibrato notes, he doesn’t so much overblow, but stretch these splintered tones and wails to their maximum elasticity so that they are distended but never broken.
Despite turning to the smaller horn, and more than 15 years of existence, the saxophonist continues with this prescription on the two CDs of Live at Crescendo. On tracks such as “Hearts Joy”, his own composition and Parker’s “Eternal Voice”, polite musicians’ self-restraint and self-editing never enter into his solo construction.
On the later tune, Gayle begins his solo at the uppermost pitch at which the bassist has just concluded a bowed solo of swelling pulsations, and then the saxophonist moves the resulting notes higher into the stratosphere. Growling and vibrating, with spittle-encrusted split tones and skeletal abstractions, he toys with the lines, pitches and tessitura ‘way past the expected time period until it appears as if he can go no further. Then miraculously he downshifts to a warmer tone and begins playing in tandem with Parker.
On “Hearts Joy” committed to an altissimo output, Gayle begins piling notes upon notes, timbres upon timbres and runs upon runs. Operating agitato and staccato, the reed exposition is carved up into shorter and more fortissimo shards, climbing ever higher in pitch and becoming more dissonant. Avoiding solipsism, despite an inner-directed sound blurring, the jagged double-tonguing and grating guttural intonation eventually rights itself into complementary split-tones and ghosts notes as the tune decelerates with Ali’s cross-pulsed, restrained cymbal and wood-block thwacks and Parker’s measured slap coloring.
At points Gayle verbally exhorts the others. But, another change from the past, these asides are garbled enough so that you can’t hear whether they’re musical or ecclesiastical. Additionally, over the course of 11 tracks – the shortest of which clocks in at slight less than 6½ minutes – the three continue to prove that time hasn’t diminished their skills or original thought processes. Trane-like with wiggling split tones and cries, at one point, there’s a section in Parker’s “Zero Blues” where Gayle’s solo construction is so down-home that it makes him a sonic ringer for R&B altoist Tab Smith. Parker negotiates thick chording to flying spicatto with equal ease – sometimes on the same tune, sometimes within seconds of one another. Likewise Ali belies his septuagenarian status by advancing the date’s rhythmic component not only with reverberating cymbals and thumping bass drums but with unique permutations of cross-bounding beats, echoing flams and rifle shot-like snare raps.
Accepting Free Jazz innovations means that despite the time line, the only choice between these two exceptional sessions is whether you want the end-product in single or double-pocket form.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Touchin’: 1. Part A 2. Part B 3. Part C 4. Part D 5. Part E
Personnel: Touchin’: Charles Gayle (tenor saxophone); William Parker (bass) and
Rashied Ali (drums)
Track Listing: Live: Disc 1: 1. Introduction 2. Zero Blues 3. Hearts Joy 4. We Three 5. Different Stuff 6. Love One Another 7. Straight Ahead Steps Disc 2: 1. Peace Inside 2. Machu Picchu 3. Cry Nu 4. Eternal Voice 5. No Sorrow
Personnel: Live: Charles Gayle (alto saxophone); William Parker (bass) and Rashied Ali (drums)