Monday, 17 September 2007
Charles Gayle with William Parker and Mark Sanders...
The last time I saw Charles Gayle perform live was at least ten years ago, the gig taking place in a cellar in Edinburgh, with the great drummer Sunny Murray cajoling him to incredible heights. That night he played tenor sax and piano, and there was no doubt that listening to their music was to tap into a direct line back to Albert Ayler and the late works of John Coltrane. There was something highly charged and extra-musical about it. Call it spiritual, for want of a better word, the music was as passionate and driven as anything I've ever heard.
Last night I had another opportunity to see Gayle, and even though these days I get to about as many gigs in 12 months as I used to see in a week, this was one that I couldn't miss. Playing at a relatively new venue in Newcastle, The Star & Shadow Cinema, the small space with good natural acoustics made a perfect setting for a gig of this type. That the venue is also run by a colourful anarchist collective also helps to make it that bit more interesting than the average room above a bar. In short, it's a venue with plenty of character and a warm, intimate vibe.
Although I hadn't seen drummer Mark Sanders for at least 4 years, it was nice to greet him again as if it we'd only last met the day before. When I was promoting this kind of music he made regular trips to the region, and as well as frequent trips with Evan Parker, Paul Dunmall and Elton Dean, I'll never forget the time he appeared with Peter Brötzmann. I was a bit nervous, to say the least, about approaching the formiddable and imposing German sax-terrorist, but Mark put me at ease by saying something along the lines of, 'Don't worry, he's a pussycat really!!".
Completing last night's trio was the man/bear/bassist William Parker, who I'd once booked with Jemeel Moondoc and Hamid Drake, and on the day of that gig I found myself having to make numerous desperate 'phonecalls to secure a bass speaker two hours before the show was due to start when I found learned that he'd travelled without one! Always a pleasure to see him on stage, and he never lets you down when it comes to the performance. As if all of those good memories weren't enough, three members of my old band were in the audience too, and as I don't get to see them so often the night had a bit of a re-union feel about it.
From the off the music was an intense and serious affair. Gayle, dressed in black, tall and thin, cut an iconic appearance. His presence was made all the more interesting by his adoption of a white plastic alto saxophone as his new instrument of choice. For most of the evening, however, it was more Ayler and 'trane than Ornette that informed his direction. Some of the short-lived and boppier passages had flashbacks to the great Texan about them, but the vast majority of the show was a thrilling full-on assault on the senses.
I rarely listen to energy music of this kind anymore, but was tuned into the trio's sound within the first thirty seconds. Even though it may be a while before I next listen to to any more, for two glorious hours didn't have a care in the world. The music was loosely shape-shifting and for the most part ferocious and with few recognisable handles. At one point I thought I detected the melody from 'Nature Boy', and there was also a brief rendition of Ayler's 'Ghosts' played at a cheeky swing tempo before disintegrating and disappearing into the stratosphere, projected by Mark's always musical, but always terrifying, onslaught.
Quite a night, and up there with some of the best music of it's kind that I've been fortunate enough to witness. Hell, it was almost inspiring, but I think my sax will be staying put in its case for the time being. Probably the best place for it, and with Sonny Simmons and David Murray making returns to the region in the next few months, my saxophonic pleasures will most definitely be taken vicariously...