Review: Charles Gayle Trio at Café Oto

Charles Gayle Trio at Café Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


Charles Gayle Trio
(Café Oto, 29 October 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


Charles Gayle, outwardly shy, self-effacing, is, nonetheless, anything if not single-minded. This is borne out in his tough life decision to busk the streets of New York, a way of life which lasted for around fifteen years, after he'd arrived there in the mid-sixties as a steel worker from Buffalo, in order to fulfil his musical calling. This comes through in his music - on this occasion, on tenor sax and piano - and a calling it is. Gayle has a deeply ingrained religious belief, which goes back to his childhood, which can find vocal expression in his performances, but in the relaxed setting of Café Oto, in the company of two top drawer Europeans - bassist, Ksawery Wójciński and drummer, Klaus Kugel, he was in his element and the focus was the music.

Gayle has an intensely personal timbre to his saxophone tone. It's like a pressure cooker with the lid sealed tight and the regulator letting the steam escape - tight, suppressed, yet uniquely expressive. There is a dry tone, a sinewy cast to the deliberate articulation he forces from the instrument which gives his voice a striking individuality. His abstract phrasings, at several removes from conventional melody, and the way he held the pauses contrived to create a directive to listen, to watch the notes emerge, as he flexed and wavered with the flow.

Wójciński and Kugel were the perfect match to Gayle. Highly attuned to his style, they worked in tandem to create a strong, ample bedrock with an impressive, accomplished range. The classically-trained Wójciński can play loud, but the volume was combined with a soft, rolling tone that supported rather than challenged. Kugel, was capable of unleashing a ferocious episode, but it was his constant thinking ahead and dexterity in building up a forest of percussive resonances that gave the edge to his contribution.

When Gayle took to the keyboard it became the window to his intuitive compositional spirit. There was real beauty to his playing - spacious, assertive yet unpredictable - in the spirit of Cecil Taylor, with whom he has recorded, and with a hint of Monk's penchant for the oblique, the surprising - and Café Oto's Yamaha added an additional dimension of crystal clarity and richness.

As with Henry Grimes, a few weeks ago, it was a joy to get so close to the heart of jazz's free spirit which Charles Gayle exemplified with such elegance, and which was complemented with magnanimity by Wójciński and Kugel.

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