Charles Gayle Trio: Live at Glenn Miller Café

Charles Gayle has gotten too much ink for extramusical reasons and not enough for his playing. That’s a pity, since he is one of the few living saxophonists able to combine imagination and intensity on a level with past free-jazz greats. On this excellent, no-frills concert date, Gayle plays alto in the context that serves him best: a trio with a top-notch bassist (Gerald Benson) and drummer (Michael Wimberly).

The set starts with a hyperfast take on “Cherokee.” Gayle subverts convention by openly inviting comparison to the tune’s Bird-based paradigm. Rather than approach the tune from outside the tradition, as a more self-conscious experimentalist might, he embraces what characteristics best suit his concept (melody and tempo) and jettisons what doesn’t (harmony and form). It’s been standard free-jazz-performance practice since Cecil Taylor first did it 50 years ago. Few do it better today than Gayle. He takes the same approach on tunes associated with John Coltrane-“Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” and “Giant Steps”-to similarly inspiring ends.

Gayle’s not exactly a man for all seasons, but everybody should experience him at least once. Especially given the excellence of the rhythm section, this disc is as good a place to start as any.