On the reigning master of free improvisation’s second summer stop in Southern California, Charles Gayle exhibited a flair for re-creating the boiling and frenetic sounds of the New York City streets he wandered before being discovered performing in subways. In a collection of rambling untitled pieces, Gayle, his bassist and drummer suggested traffic jams, the dawn of a fall day and a World Series celebration. In spots, it captured an intensity and otherworldly communication associated with the best improvisation.
Gayle, jazz messenger for New York’s Knitting Factory, the preeminent performance space in the United States for “new music,” opened his set with nearly half an hour of screaming and screeching that had the repetition of a cat stuck in a tree. His shrieking lines turned into a howling mantra. Drummer Michael Wimberly, however, gave the performance resonance and depth, providing a necessary anchor to keep the crowded house under the musicians’ spell.
More successful was a ballad Gayle performed on the bass clarinet, giving bassist Michael Bision ample space to stretch in a complex and coherent solo before dashing off his own colorful lines.
Gayle’s solos from there on were picturesque, even if they did occasionally lose a listener, and full of the imagination the people in his corner have been praising for years. Next month, Knitting Factory Records will release Gayle’s latest work, with an improvisational superband featuring bassist William Parker and drummer Sunny Murray.
In the closing number of Gayle’s first set, he spoke fervently and caustically about not talking to him about John Coltrane until you understand God. As long as he plays this music, he’s going to have to listen to a lot of talk about Coltrane — and the comparisons are likely to be good.