Charles Gayle blew down with hurricane force - the pun is too obvious - out of Buffalo. He drifted in and out of the first great free jazz scenes of the Sixties, playing with Pharoah, Archie Shepp, and other trailblazers. But he says now that his sound then was even more fiery and forceful than it is now, and he couldn't get a recording date. He drifted. He became homeless. He lived as a squatter in an abandoned Lower East Side tenement. He found Jesus. He played wherever he could; his steadiest gig was in the New York subways.
Eventually lightning struck. In the late Eighties Silkheart Records recorded three discs featuring Gayle's ecstatic, holy holy tenor. After that work, and recordings, came a bit more steadily. For the enigmatic German FMP label he recorded the all-time classic Touchin' on Trane with musicians as talented and passionate as he: bassist William Parker and drummer Rashied Ali. On some discs Gayle himself plays viola, bass clarinet, other oddments. But his chief double is piano, which he has played with increasing frequency and facility in recent years.
Popular perceptions may change, but a lot of people do not get familiar with the persononality of Charles Gayle because he speaks his mind in concert, and his views are not fashionable. He speaks about his Christian faith and about respect for life. He dresses up like a clown and acts the fool for the many who say he acts like a fool. His speech is as unpolished and sincere as his playing, and obviously springs from the same well.
There is no player on the scene today with the emotional wallop of Charles Gayle. His later discs - particularly Ancient of Days - manifest a mature improvisational talent that can stand with any saxophonists today. If you are interested in improvised music, you owe it to yourself to hear him.