Trumpeter Eddie Gale’s “Black Rhythm Happening” is an example of free jazz that must be experienced by those with an interest in the subgenre, or by those jazz fans who have either forgotten or overlooked Gale’s work. The album evokes the fight for black Americans’ civil rights, poetry, and 1960’s counterculture music.
For people who are at least vaguely familiar with free jazz and the likes of Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, and Elvin Jones, the name Eddie Gale should sound familiar, too, as he played with all of them. Brooklyn-native Gale studied trumpet with Kenny Dorham. In addition, Gale also played with John Coltrane. However, the 1960s and 1970s found Gale playing and touring with Sun Ra.
“Black Rhythm Happening” was recorded in 1969. The album is the musician’s second as a leader. His first was 1968’s “Ghetto Music.” The overall soundscape on “Black Rhythm Happening” is reminiscent of the prevailing sounds in rock music. The vocals are insistent, soulful, and sometimes, stratospheric. On the surface, it might not seem as if “Black Rhythm Happening” has anything in common with a protest anthem along the lines of “Hair,” but just beneath the surface, where the songs are arranged and the meanings of the songs come to life, there is a commonality.
“The Gleeker” by Eddie Gale
What is striking about Gale’s work on “Black Rhythm Happening” is that he doesn’t always put his instrument on display. Often, the voices of female singers dominate the soundscape, or in some cases, they function as an additional instrument.
On “The Gleeker” there does seem to be a male voice added to the female chorus. The voices come in after a motif of horns that is accompanied by a clattering of drums. Human sounds act as a single instrument and create its own motif. But even among the voices, one stands out. The others sing syllables and a singular voice rises above them. The idea of tone on tone is evoked. It would be oversimplifying to call the effect “pretty.” It does, however, make listeners think. Almost 50 years later, this is a jazz song that shouldn’t be overlooked.
“Song of Will” by Eddie Gale
Soulful voices open the song. The lyrics announce what the entire song is about. “This is a song of will/ will to be/ will to know/will to do/will to see…” Soon after, a leader emerges and sings among other things “will to be strong,” it is paired with “will to live long.” The voices are unadorned and unaccompanied. They repeat their lyrics once, then a driving horn section complemented by shimmering and thumping drums overtakes the song. And just when listeners think they can detect a pattern, the song ends.
“Ghetto Love Night”
The song sounds as though it is a section of a musical. It begins with acapella singing. Syllables change into “the lovers are out tonight.” Moaning-like notes by backing vocalists contrast with the legato expressions of the lead. All voices mesh to sing the title. A lonely horn plays for a few measures. Then the voices inform listeners that “the lovers are out tonight” in crisp notes. The trumpet and drums create a bluesy motif. The upright bass adds texture and tension to a piece that isn’t lacking either. The expressive trumpet is not to be missed here, as Gale makes the horn sound like other instruments. At the end, the voices return, to sing a final motif.
“Black Rhythm Happening” was released after the deaths of black American leaders who struggled for equal rights. Gale’s work seems to incorporate the ideas of freedom and self-realization. The arrangements are just familiar enough not to be jarring, but the way voices interact with instruments is new and fresh and helps listeners “get” the themes more readily. Other arts seem to be reflected in the music of “Black Rhythm Happening.” All that seems missing is the stage play to give the songs yet another dimension.
“Black Rhythm Happening” is available for streaming on Spotify. To purchase, or to learn more, visit: http://store.lemonwire.com/eddie-gale-black-rhythm-happening-646315112818.html