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Philip Gayle - The Mommy Row

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Artist: Philip Gayle

Album: The Mommy Row

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Aug. 10, 2005

Philip Gayle reminds me a bit of Henry Kaiser; he’s an American guitarist well versed in both post-Derek Bailey free improv and far Eastern musical practices. But where Kaiser indulges a myriad of cognitive dissonance-inspiring projects, Gayle keeps a narrower focus. The Mommy Row’s 11 tracks may revel in clash and collision, but they never leave the Difficult Listening Hour’s studio to visit the Deadhead zone or Madagascar.

“Gyo, Gyo, Gyo, Gyo” opens the record with a burst of sound like the infant Alien had just gnawed its way out of Gayle’s guitar’s innards and punched its head through the strings. But the music, while spontaneously generated, is hardly random; this is a studio recording with multiple overdubs that articulate a strong interest in unconventional harmony. On “Zoomly Zoomly,” gong beats pace a conversation between several bowed strings, some coarse and ragged, others with a glassy-smooth sustain, yet others echoed until they sound like the amplified whine of mosquitoes. Gayle also makes room for more conventional guitar language; the opening section of “128 High” sounds like he overlaid two different takes of the same brief ballad, one more rustic, the other wayward and jagged. But then he reverses the tape so that the elastic notes tumble and twist, cohere briefly into a fragment of song, then flap and flicker like a played out reel of film.

Gayle repeatedly affirms his affinity for Japanese culture (he’s lived and played there); “Certificate” rests a delicate, unabashedly Oriental melody atop a jagged pillow scrabbling strings, and the chimes and gongs that usher in “Yayamo” evoke a meditative temple scene. But then a cascade of ping-pong balls disrupt the reverie in a move so perverse, you have to smile at it. The combination of ornery humor and musical mastery once more brings Bailey and Kaiser to mind; Gayle’s in good company.

By Bill Meyer

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