Charles Gayle | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Charles Gayle 

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It's not hard to find a horn man or percussionist who plays piano passably: many learned it first, and many more use it as an aid when writing music (a degree of expertise known as "composer's piano"). But rarely do you encounter one with such command of the instrument that he could make it his primary focus and still achieve success. Charles Gayle, the avant-garde tenor saxist known for his guttural shrieks and jagged rhythms (as well as for making his living, and often his home, on the streets of New York for nearly 20 years), began learning piano at age seven but didn't release his first album of solo piano music till more than 50 years later, in 2001. A couple months ago he put out his second one, Time Zones (Tompkins Square), and it will undoubtedly stand up among the year's best and most original jazz-piano dates. Gayle plays free, dense, intensely busy music--clearly inspired in part by Cecil Taylor's cubist approach to improvisation, he splays tone clusters, hammers at parallel single-note lines, and sprinkles his music with some of the same sort of rich atonal harmonies Taylor uses. But unlike Taylor he gives equal weight to utterly conventional arpeggios and harmonies, as well as traditional materials like barrelhouse bass lines, blues melodies, and gospel riffs, which makes his music far more accessible. Sometimes he sounds like a free-jazz pianist trapped inside a bluesman, other times just the reverse, but either way his beautiful synthesis of African-American piano styles spans a century of musical evolution. Mon 5/29, 7:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

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