The saga of Charles Gayle is a long and winding tale full of highs and lows. The fluctuations are mostly not in quality (he has made just two subpar albums out of twenty-two he's led from 1988 on), but in media and record label attention to his talents. He was a big story in the '90s (well, on the NYC avant-jazz scene), often with weekly gigs at the Knitting Factory, but then he became dissatisfied with his approach and began experimenting, musically and in terms of presentation, withdrawing from regular performance while he did so. In recent years, he has been working on combining the precision of bebop with the intensity of free jazz.
We have been flooded with reissues of â€œforgotten psychedelic classicsâ€ in the past few years. Some of them are good, lots of them are fun, and many demonstrate why they were forgotten. Few are classics. Now here comes Drag City, a Chicago label more associated with the current alt-rock scene, surprisingly touting this extremely obscure 1973 psych-folk album by a New England hippie, Gary Higgins. Even more surprisingly, this IS a classic.
So how could the folks at Radioactive have missed it?!? One reason, perhaps, is that the only overtly psychedelic musical touches â€“ really pretty mild â€“ are a few keyboard riffs spiced by Terry Fenton with pitch slides (â€œIt Didnâ€™t Take Too Longâ€) and some creative organ registrations (check out the tinkling notes on â€œStable the Spudsâ€).
An intelligently constructed program, especially if it's based on a compelling concept, is almost as important to a recital album as the quality of the playing. Jenny Lin, one of the finest classical pianists in New York (and that's saying something), has a winning concept here. As Luca Sabbatini, the author of the program notes, writes, "small forms -- preludes, etudes, nocturnes, poems, character pieces, etc. -- often served their creators as a space which fairly encouraged aesthetic revolutions and other breaches of convention..." Listening to this mostly chronological program from beginning to end, one hears the piano's vocabulary expand radically over the space of 17 years.
Halfway through his fifth decade in the public eye, Wayne Shorter sounds like as much of a jazz giant as ever: a superb composer and the architect of an elliptical improvisational sax style that has grown more and more influential. It's the latter facet that is emphasized on this album of concert recordings from the past three years.. The formation of a new quartet has seemingly invigorated him, and Shorter clearly inspires his younger sidemen to take risks -- Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade never seemed all that progressive before, and this is their most interesting playing.
Hands down one of the most intricately beautiful instrumental albums of the year so far. Jack Rose (of Virginia neo-psych band Pelt) is not only a guitar virtuoso of the highest order, an adept finger-style picker in the Rev. Gary Davis/John Fahey tradition (he covers the latterâ€™s â€œSunflower River Bluesâ€), heâ€™s an imaginative genre-hopper who â€“ like Fahey in his later years â€“ can make his acoustic guitar an instrument for meditative psychedelia, even make it sound like a sitar.
Aside from the Fahey cover, all eight tracks on this solo excursion are originals, starting out in a mostly traditional vein and then, on the second half of the disc, mixing in the raga influence on alternating tracks.