Following by mere months the release of Streets, Charles Gayle’s return to his sax/bass/drums trio format, Look Up is a document of a live date in the same configuration from eighteen years earlier in Santa Monica, California. Touring the West Coast for the first time. Gayle, his tenor sax and bass clarinet took to the road with Michael Wimberly on drums and West coast-based Michael Bisio on bass, just a few years after he was pulled in from the streets of New York and found himself performing with the likes of Milford Graves, Sunny Murray and Cecil Taylor. In another first, Look Up is Gayle’s first release on ESP-Disk, a label that made its mark by introducing many of Gayle’s contemporaries, including one of his main inspirations, Albert Ayler.
Playing to patrons with different dispositions on the other side of the country mattered none of all to Gayle, the music is the same bracing, unrelenting intensity he was already well known for in NYC, and he was surprised to find such warm, receptive audiences wherever he went. The five pieces he played for this night’s set went from the full-on explosions of “Alpha,” the Ayler-inspired cataclysmic lyricism of “Homage To Albert Ayler” and the spacious and pondering “I Remember Dolphy” features the solo extemporaneous expressions of both Bisio and Wimberly. But it’s not clear if even these free jazz fans were ready for what followed next, because for “In The Name Of The Father,” Gayle puts down the sax for a six minute non-stop sermon that’s unequivocal and directly challenging the patrons, exhorting that if they don’t know God, then they don’t know John Coltrane, Ayler or Dolphy.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: For the volcanic Streets, Gayle goes back to his bread-and-butter tenor and his bread-and-butter bass-drums-sax format. His sax tone is huge, abrasive, confrontational, but in an odd way, also ingratiating.]
Gayle’s strong Christian faith is something all fans of free jazz — including the atheists — should be glad for. Like his forbears Ayler, whose signature records include Spiritual Unity and Spirits Rejoice, that spirituality is a huge component in freely improvised music, where it fills in the space of music vacated by structure and premeditation. Moreover, his free flowing brand of gospel is sincere and passionate. “To me it’s basically all from the spirit. It all relates somehow to the Lord; that is the genesis of all of it, I would say, not matter what it sounds like; it is all dedicated to God,” he attests.
The final piece, “The Book of Revelations,” is as dramatic and esoteric as those Biblical verses. Running at over twenty-two minutes, it’s a contrast to the shorter, more concise performances that Gayle plays these days. A new companion to the live, Knitting Factory records from the same time period, Look Up shows that it didn’t matter where Gayle played and who he played with, he performs as the living, high priest of guttural jazz. Few, if any, can preach this kind of gospel with this much vigor and personal investment.
Look Up went on sale September 25, by ESP-Disk.