Live in Belgium
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At 78, tenor saxophonist Charles Gayle is arguably the last living avatar of all-consuming Free Jazz, which during the 1960s and 1970s was expressed with burning zeal by figures such as John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Frank Wright. While he has tempered his program to include snatches of standards and his more conciliatory piano playing, like an enlightened devotee, Gayle is able to bring into his sanctified orbit any associates with whom he plays. Live in Belgium is a case in point. Throughout Belgium-domiciled Italians, bassist Manolo Cabras and drummer Giovanni Barcella follow Gayle’s sonic pilgrimage as effectively as if he was Ayler and they Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray.

This doesn’t diminish the contributions of either player. But with the drummer having played with many advanced American and Continental players ranging from bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel to pianist Bobby Few; and the bassist having worked with another cross section including drummer/pianist Chris Joris and pianist Erik Vermeulen, they’re sophisticated enough to showcase the featured performer’s ideas while only bringing attention to themselves if needed. A rest stop on the Gayle crusade, Cabras has “Sempre” all to himself. On it, his patterns reflect the subtle colors of contemporary notated expression, Jazz-like sways are propelled by strings that appear to be stripped to bare wires. “Di piccola taglia”, where the saxophonist pierces the nearly opaque pulse with some Aylerican high-register bugle-calls and low-pitched howls, gives the drummer a respite from boiling accompaniment for a solo. Bomb-dropping and cymbal shaking, Barcella’s whacks and pops effectively bridge the gap between tonal and atonal, and keep the fiery performance ambulatory. Gayle’s jerky keyboard musing which mate night club-like comping with dynamic Energy music tropes sometimes causes the busy percussion to rein in his vigorous beats, especially when Gayle appears to be quoting “Taker the A Train” as one finale.

Gayle’s oblique variant on “Giant Steps”, entitled “Steps” and the concluding version of “Tears (la parola chira)” show that the American’s mastery includes historical as well as freer sounds. “Steps” is traditional enough to have the drummer and saxophonist trading fours at the end. Also, in the midst of an exercise in renal growling on an earlier tune, Gayle makes an oblique defence to “Mr. P.C.” More persuasively when the balladic “Tears” is expressed with limpid reed timbres buoyed by double stops from the bassist, shards of Italian and French chansons enter Gayle’s evocative performance.

Live in Belgium proves that a committed fabulist like Gayle can create high-quality and sometimes unanticipated sounds no matter the situation, the place and the associates. Having two simpatico players like Cabras and Barcella on hand though intensifies the program.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Chiaro sguardo 2. Tears 3. Di piccola taglia 4. Sempre 5.Dimmi 6. Steps 7. Tears (la parola chira)

Personnel: Charles Gayle (tenor saxophone and piano); Manolo Cabras (bass) and Giovanni Barcella (selected drums and cymbals)