"I met Steve Dalachinsky at the bar one night when we were both listening to the Steve Lacy Sextet at "Sweet Basil" in lower Manhattan and we agreed to write to each other once in a while. So one day Steve wrote a card to me with a couple of suggestions for artists likely to be of interest to Silkheart, and one of them was Charles Gayle. He said that if we'd cover his tape costs he'd send a tape, and in due course it turned up in the mail. The music was pretty interesting, but I wasn't sure just how special it was and turned the tape over to my associate, Lars Olof Gustavsson, for his reactions. Some little while later Lars and I got together and talked about Steve's tape and about Charles Gayle. He was quite lukewarm about the whole thing, which is a fair indication of just how hard it can be to assess new music and new musicians when presented via low fidelity live recordings. I sounded out Lars again and he was rather concerned because, in principle, the project was just the kind of thing Silkheart should be working with and he wished he liked the tape more.
We left it on that note, but some weeks afterwards Lars was in New York on business and had the opportunity of hearing the Charles Gayle Trio at the "Knitting Factory" in East Houston Street. He came back to Stockholm shortly before Christmas full of enthusiasm for Gayle's music, having clearly heard things during the personal appearance that he hadn't ear on Steve's tape. It was agreed that Silkheart arrange to record Gayle with a trio, and it was also decided to record him as part of a quartet with John Tchicai alongside.
For some time, Silkheart had had the intention of recording John Tchicai in New York and Lars wanted to find a situation in which Tchicai could be featured with New York musicians who would push him into producing music of a different nature from that of his recent Danish and European efforts. The two of them had discussed the idea in a general sort of way and I was given the job of putting a session together.
Archie Shepp and Bill Dixon met John Tchicai in Helsinki in 1960 and suggested that he move to New York. Tchicai was active on the New York scene for a large part of the sixties, with a celebrated background of performances and recordings together with the New York Contemporary Five, the New York Art Quartet, John Coltrane ("Ascension"), and Carla Bley. He played at the Cellar Cafe during Bill Dixon's 'October Revolution' of 1967 and became a charter member of the Jazz Composers' Guild, a brave venture having much importance in retrospect. At the present time, he has not recorded in a new jazz Situation in the U.S.A. for more than twenty years, and the sad fact is that Tchicai has tended more and more to cease being the jazz visionary he once was and has become almost journeyman in his approach.
Sirone was chosen as the bassist for the Charles Gayle Trio and seemed also an appropriate choice for the quartet. Sirone has an impressive history in new jazz, beginning with his involvement in the activities of Bernard Stollman's ESP label during the sixties. Since then he has played with many of the artists active on the new jazz scene in the U.S., leading groups of his own on occasion, and co-leading the Revolutionary Ensemble for a number of years. Currently he is co-founder of The Group. Sirone is an astonishingly creative improviser with a style that is very much his own. To describe him as an individualist is an understatement and he is a good man to have on a session.
It was proposed from the outset that the quartet and trio sessions would have different drummers. It was decided that the Chicagoan, Reggie Nicholson, now based in New York, would perform with the quartet while Gayle's regular drummer, Dave Pleasant, would record with the trio. Reggie Nicholson is a young drummer with a bright future, who has already played with a good many artists including the Henry Threadgill Sextet, Amina Claudine Myers, and Wilber Morris' Wilberforce. He was more than happy to have the opportunity of taking part in the recording session and played superbly; being more than a little responsible for the overall success of the proceedings.
The question of rehearsals was brought up, but Charles Gayle was quite adamant; there were to be none. Charles and John did speak on the telephone when Charles was in Germany a few weeks before the session, but they didn't talk about the same things. Charles was into energy and intensity and John spoke of colors, shades and textures.
Gayle doesn't plan what he's going to play until he plays it, although it would as likely as not be high energy; It was in this spirit that he aimed to go into the studio and simply play his music. In retrospect, while this strategy can be seen to have worked perfectly well as far as the trio recordings were concerned, there were a few matters that required attention before the quartet began to produce real music.
To iron out the differences in musical philosophy between the two saxists, a public gig for the quartet was arranged to take place at "The Knitting Factory" before the recording. Charles was more than willing to appear with the quartet and, since the music was not notated, the session would have been particularly valuable. Although arrangements were made well ahead, the club got into a tangle with its dates and was unable to offer the quartet space until after the recording session had been completed.
Charles Gayle is extremely forceful when he needs to be and there were occasions during the early part of the quartet recording session when this was necessary. First of all, there was the matter of historical perspective which he had to clear up. Gayle explained that he could play many kinds of music and in specific circumstances he played what was appropriate. For a recording of his own music, he intended to play material of a kind that had not been played before. Otherwise why bother? Power was what his music had to offer and it would be of a different order from music that had gone before. A few quotations will best give the idea of what Gayle was trying to get across to the other members of the quartet.
"All of my music is completely spontaneous
I plan nothing and say nothing to the musicians."
"If the building is still standing when we're through, we've failed."
"What I play has to do with power, my father was a steelworker."
"When I play I want to go through the wall."
As far as the quartet was concerned there was an additional vector to account for and John Tchicai put his finger on it when he said, "We only started to pull into shape when Gayle understood that the music had to be played as a cooperative endeavor by all four of us."
What actually happened in the studio on those two days was fascinating in the extreme. At the outset there were several violent expressions of intent from Gayle and a fair number of musical upsets. Tchicai was simply magnificent, playing with the benefit of long experience as he worked on making the quartet into a group. This realization appeared to come simultaneously from all four musicians partway through that first day; All of a sudden there was music coming out from the studio and, as time went by, it simply got better. In the end, the results were eminently satisfactory and a great deal of highly varied, fascinating, and exciting music was produced. Especially noteworthy perhaps is the extraordinary bass and drums duo, "Coming Together", between Sirone and Nicholson.
Gayle is heard elsewhere in the right channel, with Tchicai in the left channel where he can be easily recognized by his more staccato approach and his fruitier tenor sound. Gayle has a huge saxophone tone and a blistering attack, which is based on wide intervals and astonishing melodic turns. Two more contrasting musicians would be hard to find and they complement each other very well in a certain way.
Gayle utilizes a variety of approaches to each piece he plays, with, as he puts it, "A different range and a different technique." When he speaks of variety, he is referring to the contours and textures inherent in a particular composition, not so much the melodies, and this aspect of his playing is exceedingly well organized. As a result, the form presented in a group performance is invariably very clear indeed and there is little doubt that, in this sense, Charles Gayle has taken a significant step forward in his presentation of free jazz.
Towards the end of the second day, John Tchicai and I were in the control room listening to playbacks and John leaned over and said with a laugh, "Dear me, what is this you and Lars have got me into!" I replied that I thought it hadn't been so bad and he agreed, very warmly, that he'd thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Finally he said, "I hope you can arrange to have a line on the cover saying 'featuring me'." I agreed."-Keith Knox, from the liner notes
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