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Charles Tyler Ensemble: Charles Tyler Ensemble

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In 1960, altoist Charles Lacy Tyler met Albert Ayler in Cleveland, Ohio. After the two moved to New York City to work, having heard Tyler with Ayler’s group in the live performance that became ESP’s Bells, a prescient Bernard Stollman offered Tyler the opportunity to debut his own group on ESP. Charles Tyler Ensemble was made in 1966 in New York City. The group was unique instrumentally for its time. Tyler added to a standard trio, that included Henry Grimes on bass and Ronald Jackson on drums, drummer Charles Moffett on ‘orchestral’ vibes and Joel Friedman on cello.

Distinguishing Tyler, from Ayler, is the sourness of his flourishes. He avoids lengthy arpeggios, but tends towards eerie high tension phrases, vibratos and nearly fully-realized melodies. In the first track, “Strange Uhuru,” Tyler’s extraordinary birdlike peaks on the alto are perfectly matched with the registers of the vibes and the cello. The vibes return in “Lacy’s Out East” to interact with the bass.

Tyler seems to carry away from Ayler the penchant to repeat fanfare-ish choruses, as heard in the intros and the closings, to “Lacy’s Out East” and “Three Spirits.” These structured choruses bracket Tyler’s seemingly frenetic, yet, purposeful improvisations.

Generally, Grimes emulates Tyler’s attack in pace and Jackson stays simply and softly on the cymbal behind the upfront lines. Particularly in “Three Spirits” and “Black Mysticism,” Grimes’s playing establishes the significance of the bass as a solo instrument, rather than merely a part of the rhythm section. In “Black Mysticism,” in his solo, drummer Jackson clearly exhibits a diversely open approach to the kit. With Tyler’s lead, however, the music sparks its own identity. After all, this was a period in the history of jazz in which the freedom of the music’s expression predicted its controversial future.

Originally Published