We'll begin the weekend, and end Black History Month, with the 81st birthday of an iconoclast with as compelling a life story as anyone I've ever covered on here.
He didn't even make a record until 1988. Before ever setting foot in a recording studio, though, he must have lived 100 lifetimes in 20 years on the streets of New York City.
I'm certain I saw him, as his alter ego Streets the Clown, walking down 2nd Avenue playing the most wicked, out there shit on an alto saxophone, sometime in the early 1980s.
It's hard to forget a hobo-looking guy in a clown outfit playing like that, you know? I maybe am inventing the memory but I am somehow sure I saw this. Back then, such things weren't at all unusual in NYC.
So, yes. He made his first record in 1988. He's made 40 as a leader since that I can count, and a whole bunch as a sideguy too. Mama used to call that "making up for lost time".
He ain't just a blazing saxophonist in the mold of a Pharoah Sanders-meets-John Zorn-at-Marzette Watts' cookout, either. He's a topnotch piano player who sounds like a cross between Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver, with a fair helping of Mal Waldron thrown in for good measure. Or mood gesture.
Outside of that, he also plays the bass. And the clarinet. Maybe the shorter list is instruments at which he's not proficient, I dunno.
Notorious for between-song stage raps about religion and the cosmos that sometimes go on longer than the concert, he's as unfiltered an artist -- and a guy as completely himself -- as anyone I will ever write about on this page.
I am tryna think of a cat as 100% authentic as Charles Gayle -- or another figure of contemporary music with a life story as intense as his -- and I'm coming up about as empty as the conscience of Capitalism itself.
And let's be clear: this isn't intended as a feelgood screed about how you can save yourself from the depredations of this porcine paradigm we accept as real.
There's simply no way someone this multitalented should have ever walked the streets barefoot for the better part of two decades. A social construct that treats its most visionary creatives like chattel isn't a social construct at all.
It's a fragmented, abysmal and deathdealing shitshow, waiting to moulder on the dustbin of all history whilst its surviving victims dance around its funeral pyre with Pure, unadulterated Joy.
All right, enough polemics. Let's get to the saxophone histrionics!
Charles Gayle Trio
The Red Rose
01 Jez Nelson FM intro
04 Kevin LeGendre interviews Charles Gayle
05 Jez Nelson FM intro
07 Body & Soul
10 Naima/Charles Gayle outro
11 Jez Nelson FM outro
Total time: 1:22:04
disc break goes after Track 04
Charles Gayle - alto saxophone & piano
William Parker - bass
Mark Sanders - drums
digital capture of the complete 2008 "Jazz On 3" BBC 256k rebroadcast
officially released material has been removed from the interview segment
this will fit and play seamlessly on a single CD if the interview segment itself is removed
402 MB FLAC/February 2020 archive link
There aren't a whole lot of unreleased items in his catalog -- he is someone that tends to err on the side of releasing it all -- but this unissued performance has everything that makes Charles Gayle the exercise in uniquely furious passion that he is, and features him on sax and piano operating at the peak of his considerable powers.
That will do it for February, eh? My first month back trying to do this at my regular level of frequency and commitment. And it's fitting that it's about Charles Gayle -- born this day in 1939 and outlasting all the other clowns who abused and marginalized him for so long -- whose commitment to the vibrational frequencies emanating from his horn and other axes brought him from the depths of an uncivilized civilization and into a place where he could be heard as the avatar he unquestionably is.--J.