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Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music

Eddie Gale

The thing I know best about the trumpeter Eddie Gale, who has died at the age of 78, is the first of two albums he made for Blue Note at the end of the 1960s: Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music, an uncompromising title for a piece of music designed to reflect the black experience. In mood and message, it aligns with Max Roach’s slightly earlier We Insist! and Archie Shepp’s slightly later Attica Blues.

Gale had already played with Sun Ra in the mid-’60s and appeared on Cecil Taylor’s first Blue Note album, Unit Structures, in 1966. As a child he’d listened to gospel music and hung around outside a Brooklyn club to listen to Lester Young. He’d taken lessons from Kenny Dorham and sat in with Coltrane at the Half Note: a life-changing experience. He would also be featured on Larry Young’s Of Love and Peace for the same label in 1969. Recording his Ghetto Music project was one of Blue Note’s more unexpected moves. The producer was not Alfred Lion, who took that role on just about every one of the label’s releases, but his partner in the business, Francis Wolff. (Lion had retired when Blue Note was sold to Liberty Records in 1967.)

The five compositions on this album use an instrumental sextet of trumpet (Gale), tenor (Russell Lyle), two basses (Judah Samuel and James “Tokio” Read) and two drummers (Richard Hackett and Thomas Holman), plus a choir of 11 voices, including two lead singers (Elaine Beener and Joann Gale). The leader apart, I’d never heard of any of these musicians before I got the album on its original release, and I’ve never heard of any of them outside of Gale’s orbit since. They seem to have been part of a collective based in Brooklyn.

Whoever they were, they made music with a raw edge and a powerful immediacy. You can hear that on A Walk With Thee, my favourite track from the album. The bass vamp, the martial/bolero drumming, the unison of the horns and voices: it’s a strong brew. Gale has a big sound with a wild edge. Lyle, the tenorist, solos with a kind of suppressed hysteria. It’s an offshoot of what Albert and Donald Ayler were doing a little earlier in the decade. It doesn’t need to be judged according to anyone else’s idea of finesse or sophistication.

A year later the singers and two of the players, Lyle and Judah, were on Gale’s second and last Blue Note album, Black Rhythm Happening, a year later, joined by Jimmy Lyons, the altoist, and Elvin Jones. Gale himself recorded with Sun Ra’s group in the ’70s (Lanquidity on Ra’s Saturn label) before moving to California, where he was an artist in residence at Stanford University, ran a workshop in Oakland and organised music-education programmes in San Jose, where he became the city’s official ambassador of jazz. In 2001 he received an award for his work from the California Arts Council.

Breaking the mode of graphic presentation Blue Note had established under the art director Reid Miles, Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music was released with a strikingly confrontational cover, at least by the standards of the time. A bunch of black men in hoods with women in white robes and mean-looking hounds? In 1969, that sent a message. And still it speaks.

* Originally issued on Blue Note in 1969, Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music was reissued on CD by Water Music in 2003. The photograph of the musicians is from the original sleeve and was taken by Richard Graf. Some of the details of Gale’s life are from this interview in Jazz Times by Andy Tennille:

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. tansey #

    Having just watched the excellent Storyville docs on the Black Panthers, I’d imagine Gale would have bee prominent on their playlist

    July 13, 2020
  2. Tim Adkin #

    If memory serves you also made ‘Black Rhythm Happening’ Jazz Album of the Month in MM circa March 70. A couple of years later on the back of that review and Gale’s contributions to ‘Unit Structures’ whilst a student I bought ‘BRH’ for a quid in Newcastle Virgin. It’s a matter of some regret that I never really got on with the album (think it’s a personal thing with jazz and massed voices – your referenced ‘Attica Blues’ excepted) and subsequently offloaded it. I subsequently heard a track from it on one of those many Blue Note compilations which flooded the market in the 90s and it sounded rather good. I think it was a good while before Blue Note actually released it on CD

    July 13, 2020
    • Mick Steels #

      Spot on with your recall about BRH been made MM’s Jazz Album of the Month, usually was a good guide to what to spend your hard earned shillings on.
      Not so reliable was the Pop Album of the Month remember Flaming Youth’s only LP receiving the accolade in Dec 1969 when they were some pretty strong releases, I think Bob Dawbarn was to blame

      July 13, 2020
      • What an amazing memory you have! We were all a bit puzzled by that accolade for Flaming Youth. Was it a Howard & Blaikley record? I think Bob might have been out to lunch with them and returned a bit over-enthusiastic.

        July 13, 2020
      • Tim Adkin #

        Flaming Youth’s other claim to ‘fame’ was having Phil Collins in their ranks.

        July 13, 2020
      • Mick Steels #

        Probably more than you need to know

        July 13, 2020
      • Mick Steels #

        Digressing to some degree but it’s happened before on this forum, a perceptive review by Bob on Bob

        July 13, 2020
  3. Eddie Gales’ Blue Note LPs paved the way for Kamasi Washington’s recent recordings and also the excellent Damon Lock’s Black Monument Ensemble LP… easily one on my albums of 2019… his Blue Note LPs captured the spirit of the times residing comfortably alongside the collective endeavours of the AACM and musicians like Phil Ranelin in Detroit and Horace Tapscott in LA. At the turn of the millennia Eddie Gale worked with hip hop artists and held regular creative music workshops at the Black Dot Café, a grassroots performance space in Oakland. He helped take music in schools and hosted a free trumpet program for underserved youth in San Jose. His Inner Peace Orchestra performed fundraisers for musicians’ health care. He took his music into churches, universities and colleges. Right now, I need to tap into his spirit … first up… ‘Black Rhythm Happening’ and then I’m gonna touch down on ‘The Rain’… and play it LOUD! Love it when voices, bass & drums crash in!

    July 13, 2020
  4. An artist and record I was never aware of. And now I am. The cut “A Understanding” is and amazing performance on Gale’s part and quite the experience for this listener. Thank you!

    July 15, 2020
  5. TeeJay #

    I suspect my tastes are different from others here but I was blown away by the track by Eddie Gale with Mushroom “I Was Torn Down At The Dance Place – Shaved Head At The Organ” from the ‘Joint Happening’ album.

    July 15, 2020
  6. TeeJay #

    Believe or not Eddie Gale also recorded a track called “I Was Torn Down At The Dance Place – Shaved Head At The Organ” in collaboration with a group called Mushroom.

    Despite these unpromising details, it is actually great. In places it reminds me of Nils Petter Molvaer. Check it out here.

    July 16, 2020
  7. Ted O'Reilly #

    The original liner notes for Ghetto Music were written by my friend John Norris, of “coda — Canada’s Jazz Magazine”. He and I were browsing in a record store in Melbourne many years later, and I found it on CD. There was only one copy, so of course I had to defer, and show him the treasure which he immediately bought. Neither one of us had heard that it would be on CD, but had it as an LP. (Sorry, I can’t bring myself to call that release ‘vinyl’.)

    July 16, 2020
  8. TeeJay #

    I don’t understand why this comments section includes comments on Bob Dylan and Flaming Youth and yet a comment which I have submitted twice hasn’t appeared despite the fact that it specifically addresses Eddie Gale.

    Perhaps the moderator would like to contact me and explain why.

    July 17, 2020
    • There is no “moderator”. There is only me. And I was busy. Fixed now, anyway. And thanls for your tip. RW

      July 17, 2020
      • Teejay #

        Thank you.

        Sorry to sound a bit uppity but a post from someone else dated July 16 had appeared at a time when my post of July 15 hadn’t appeared.

        July 17, 2020

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