Sunday, February 24, 2019

Charles Tyler Ensemble - 1966 - Charles Tyler Ensemble

Charles Tyler Ensemble
Charles Tyler Ensemble

01. Strange Uhuru
02. Lacy's Out East
03. Three Spirits
04. Black Mysticism

Bass – Henry Grimes
Cello – Joe Friedman
Alto Saxophone – Charles Tyler
Drums – Ronald Jackson
Vibraphone – Charles Moffet

One of the true firebrands of early creative improvised music, alto saxophonist Charles Tyler has always been revered -- especially by Europeans -- as a forefather of the free jazz movement alongside John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Albert Ayler. Also titled Tyler's "First Album," Charles Tyler Ensemble has the same four tracks as the original album release, totaling about 34 minutes of music with no alternate or bonus cuts. This mid-'60s recording, one of two he did for ESP, has been identified by many as a cornerstone statement of the movement, and its issuance on CD does nothing to dissuade the listener of that notion. Regardless of genre, this is a very stimulating band that buoys Tyler's freedom statements, featuring a young pre-Ornette Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums, the emancipated-from-mainstream-jazz bassist Henry Grimes, and obscure cellist Joel Friedman, who worked briefly with Ayler. Drummer Charles Moffett -- also closely associated with Coleman in this time period -- plays the bright, so-called "orchestra vibes" on one track. With this vivacious music that stretches time parameters and harmonic envelopes, Tyler and his crew bend whatever malleable shapes they can, while burning down the traditional jazz house and still paying homage to bebop. It's intriguing to hear Tyler's expressive and robust color palette, using overtones juxtaposed in contrast with Moffett's tinkling vibes, a fickle sonance during "Strange Uhuru" as the bowed string players surround the sound in hushed tones. Jackson's bop-like rhythms permeate "Lacy's Out East" in a rambling deep blues that reflects his peer group of saxophonists, including Steve Lacy. "Three Spirits" is a song turned inside out, sped up and on fire with incendiary phrases in a fast free bop with little regard for subtleties. Tyler employs a spiky, tongued technique with harder accents of reference during "Black Mysticism," unafraid to wail as Jackson's rolling-thunder drumming makes this sound like a duet, though Grimes is present in rhythmic passion, more so during his and Friedman's bowed solos. This is certainly a definitive recording, a breakthrough for Tyler individually, but also one that sets the bar high for '70s free jazz to establish itself as a powerful force some ten years after it was brought into being, amidst naïve skepticism and misunderstanding. Bravo to Tyler for staying the course, starting with this bold and innovative album.

Charles Tyler, from Albert Ayler's band, makes a startling statement on his debut solo record. His group, featuring an unusual instrumentation of cello, bass, drums, orchestra vibes, and saxophone, plays through his original compositions and showcases some heated solos. 
Although primarily known as a baritone sax player, Charles Tyler is featured on alto sax yet his sound and concept are fully evident on this record. 

Charles Tyler Ensemble possesses a profound quality. Unlike many records of the mid-1960s, it burns with a quiet blue flame, eschewing the intellectual posturing that characterized much new music in the avant-garde era. Tyler, a baritone saxophonist who became an acolyte of Albert Ayler—following him to New York in the early part of the movement—transposes Ayler's famous gravitas to the horn of a higher register, the alto. 

This act alone gives his spare and deeply spiritual compositions more urgency. It is almost as if Tyler has come to feel the mortality of an artist in the grander scheme of things. He successfully creates a narrative soundscape where pure contrasts are highlighted: for instance, Charles Moffett orchestral vibes tinkle off the thunderous grunting of Ronald Shannon Jackson drums and the magnificent Henry Grimes plays staccato and legato passages in the swirling warmth of his bass, leaving room for Joel Friedman's cello to screech in counterpoint. Tyler himself wails and moans and lets slip burnished glissandi with surprising facility. He is vocal, expressive and chatters breathlessly, as if the idea and story of the moment exists only in that moment and must be told before it vanishes forever. And he does so time and time again. 

"Strange Uhuru" is an ironic, dirge-like wake for the freedom of flight, and the inner journey that didn't dig deep enough for the spirit to lift one's wings. "Lacy's Out East" seems to put enlightened thought in perspective, highlighting Steve Lacy and Tyler's own debt to the cradle of all sound—the primal Afro-centric polytonality that was born in the swinging depths of New Orleans. "Three Spirits" speaks of every free spirit that has blazed a trail for acolytes to follow. Hints of Charlie Parker Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler—along with the chopped musical architecture of Thelonious Monk—fill the air in a cloud of notes and sounds. Grimes and Friedman solo with soaring brilliance—especially Grimes, whose pedal point is spot on. "Black Mysticism" rushes from Tyler's lips like a frenetic, dancing prayer circle. With Friedman bowing to create a swaying movement, Grimes fires rapidly, plucking intensely to feed the alto saxophonist's gathering fervor. The percussionists create polyrhythms underfoot and keep the prayer meeting going. 

Charles Tyler is gut-wrenchingly direct, suppressing the urge to intellectualize contemporary music in this veritable feast of modern sound. But he and his band also argue for the intelligent use of song, showing reverence for music history stretching as far back as the cry of Holy Rollers, bebop and shackled human beings. And they do it with perfect pulse in notime.