It could have been an explosion of extremism when New York City free jazz tenor saxophonist-pianist Charles Gayle and his trio played Phillips Hall Saturday at George Washington University. Instead, it was a declaration of greatness--and Gayle wasn't even the best player that night. Bassist Vattel Cherry dazzled the audience with an animated display of bowed string-mangling and blindingly fast runs through his frets while producing tonalities on his amplified acoustic bass that ranged from the elegiac to the electronic.
Even if Cherry was the most dominant player, drummer Paul Murphy will have the best story to tell. Murphy met Gayle for the first time a few hours before the performance and managed to keep up with the saxophonist's wildly exciting playing, which elicited sincere praise from Gayle following the trio's 90-minute performance of improvised music.
The formerly homeless Gayle developed his saxophone chops while playing solo on the streets, which he still does, so keeping up with his unusual shifts in tempo and styles is far from easy, but Murphy did a magnificent job.
Often aligned with the spiritual, energy jazz of John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, Gayle did nothing to dispel this comparison as he quoted from the former's "Naima" at one point while playing piano. Saturday Gayle proved that his name deserves to be mentioned alongside those greats.