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Eddie Gale - Ghetto Music & Black Rhythm Happening

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Artist: Eddie Gale

Album: Ghetto Music & Black Rhythm Happening

Label: Water

Review date: Dec. 18, 2003

Gale Force

Certain albums are snapshots of their eras. They encapsulate the good with the bad and offer lucid apertures into the way things were. Eddie Gale cut two sessions for Blue Note at the close of the ’60s that are beautifully indicative of time and place. Jazz was a cauldron of fomenting styles – fusion, funk, free, R&B, Rock and African, all of these genres were feeding into the music with replenishing regularity, birthing hybrid forms at a pace that was sometimes dizzying to the record-buying public. Gale crafted an alchemical blend from the abundance of ingredients. The borrowings carried over beyond the music. Garbed in Monkish robes in a grassy field on the cover of his first record, his band took on the guise of musical ascetics.

Gale definitely had the skills to make his ambitious plans work. Former sideman gigs with Cecil Taylor (Conquistador) and Larry Young (Of Love and Peace) and an ongoing musical relationship with Sun Ra were the proving grounds in which his chops were honed. Ghetto Music finds him augmenting his customary trumpet with peripheral instruments like soprano recorder, Jamaican thumb piano and bird whistle. Gale claims all composer credits save the opening invocation “Rain,” which he shares with his younger sister Joann. The ensemble on hand pairs the tenor saxophone and flute of Russell Lyle with a bolstered rhythm section of two bassists and two drummers, plus the Noble Gale Singers, an 11-person choir.

Joann supplies lead voice over delicate acoustic guitar chords on the opening invocation “Rain.” The piece soon explodes into a full-blown orchestral vamp anchored on a pulsing bass line and riffing horns. Another interlude by Joann and guitar and the pattern repeats, blooming into another cathartic release led by Gale’s stentorian Flamenco-tinged brass. “Fulton Street” focuses on rhythm, specifically the torrential traps play of drummers Richard Hackett and Thomas Holman. Gale once again sputters and soars, this time against a crashing wall of barely bridled percussion. Lyle’s solo is saturated in studio reverb, lending his lines a ghostly transparency along with a relentless forward momentum. Bass and drums follow to an explosive climax.

“A Understanding” makes use of the choir’s size to realize spiritual referents over a dirge-like center. Showers of cymbals punctuate sectional development as Gale and Lyle blow dour lines over droning arco bass, but the piece ends up feeling a bit overwrought. The mood shifts to more emotionally effulgent regions for “A Walk With Thee.” Building from a bouncing cadence and anthemic beginnings, Gale, ripe with metallic smears and slurs, and then Lyle dig in for ebullient solos. The choir returns for the close, matching the horns in ascendant jubilation. “The Coming of Gwilu” signals the leaving of the band, but not before a circuitous tripe through 13 ½-minutes of dreamy flutes, delicate thumb piano, ostinato bass, call/response incantations, steel drums and more heated horn solos.

Black Rhythm Happening, Gale’s sophomore album, enlists a slightly larger group with a couple of all-stars on board in the form of alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons (a colleague from his Taylor days) and drum-cyclone Elvin Jones. Saxophonist and flautist Roland Alexander joins stalwart Russell Lyle as third reed. Several new faces appear in the choir and returning vocalist Fulumi Prince assumes the role of lead singer and chorus director. This time out Gale opts for quantity over duration. Half of the disc’s eight cuts hover around the three-minute mark. The choir plays a more substantial role on these pieces, frequently annexing as much space or more than the instruments. It’s a difference that gives the album a more operatic cast.

The title track picks up where the previous disc left off, setting a street scene full of bustling voices and urban-oriented grooves buttressed on Joann’s electric guitar and a steady dual-bass throb. Her contributions to the “The Gleeker” are equally assured as she slips gleaming riffs between slabs of unison horns, rhythm and voices before the band arrives en mass. The latter dominate “Song of Will,” cutting an a cappella swathe with uplifting lyrics. “Ghetto Love Night” supplies the first expanded solos by Gale, Alexander on soprano and Lyle on tenor. Sadly Lyons is left to ensemble work until the following “Mexico Thing” and his brief statement on this tune ends up his only one of the date.

Side two of the original album opens with “Ghetto Summertime.” It’s a terse piece that rolls out on a chugging bass line, gently ringing guitar tones and Gale’s somber trumpet flanked by driving drum patterns. Hand percussion, cymbals and bass achieve a similar momentum on “It Must Be You” and are soon joined by choir and the brittle phrasings of Gale’s brass. The vocals are a bit ungainly, but the palpable convictions of the band deflect any assumed triteness. Dedicated to Eddie’s recently born daughter, “Look at Teyonda” carries almost Morricone-esque connotations on the loping back of Joann’s twanging guitar and a slowly shuffling beat. It ends with an odd spoken-word lecture by William Norwood, dubbed “The Astrologer” in the sleeve notes. Again, the blend isn’t a completely seamless one, but the sincerity of the music largely offsets the audible flaws.

Gale went on to a career that continues today as both musician and educator. But regular recording doesn’t seem to have been a priority and his early Blue Notes still stand as an early apex of his art. As such, the San Francisco-based Water label deserves props. Not only for licensing these badly-in-need-of-reissue masters from Blue Note, but for doing the music justice through first class pressings and packaging.

By Derek Taylor

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