At 78, free-jazz titan Charles Gayle sounds as focused and passionate as ever | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

At 78, free-jazz titan Charles Gayle sounds as focused and passionate as ever 

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click to enlarge Charles Gayle

Charles Gayle

JEROEN WERKMAN

Charles Gayle has canceled. A trio of Nick Mazzarella, Mike Reed, and Joshua Abrams will perform for free instead. Charles Gayle no longer attracts the attention he did in the late 80s, when the onetime street musician became the face of a new strain of energy music. Gayle’s ferocious work on tenor saxophone demanded a lot from his rhythm sections; he pushed his huge sound into the sax’s upper register with wild overblowing or swerved around its bottom with fat, volatile tones. In subsequent years he became more unpredictable, as likely to don clown’s makeup and lecture audiences on the evils of abortion (as his alter ego, Streets) as he was to sit down at the piano and deliver the same sort of fury he unleashed with his horn. Now 78, Gayle has slowed down, but he remains as committed as ever to unrelenting free jazz. His most recent recording is an untitled digital-only release on the imprint operated by the great London venue Cafe Oto, an epic, searing 2015 trio session with bassist John Edwards and drummer Roger Turner that sounds as good as anything he’s done on tenor or piano. It helps that he’s in such superb company, flanked by two veterans whose devotion to free playing is rooted in the fundamentals of swing-based jazz. They support, cajole, and push the front man with sharp understanding and faultless pacing. When Gayle most recently played in Chicago, in 2014, he got equally deft accompaniment from bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Mike Reed—who rejoin him tonight.   v

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