Eddie Gale is most widely known for playing trumpet on Cecil Taylor's UNIT STRUCTURES (1966) and Larry Young's OF LOVE AND PEACE (1966). He was a long-term member of Sun Ra's Arkestra, and was John Coltrane's choice for trumpet on ASCENSIONS (1965), but could not be reached in time. Throughout much of his musical career, he worked days and nights to support his family. It is said he was fired from more than one job for playing his horn on his lunch break and returning late to work.
In the late sixties, before the eventual "fusion" of jazz with other genres, jazz labels were already eager to capitulate to their dwindling audience with soul- and psych-inspired albums. Many prominent jazz artists of the day had their turn experimenting with the human voice and the post-bop sound with varying degrees of success. As time chugs along, the specifics of this kitschy, ethereal wrinkle in time have faded into footnotes, but Eddie Gale's two albums for Blue Note sound more vital today than ever. Indeed, they are two of the most unique and captivating albums in the Blue Note catalogue. Other notable attempts at the vocal psych-jazz sound include:
SONNY SHARROCK's Black Woman (1969)
ANDREW HILL's Lift Every Voice (1969)
LARRY YOUNG's LAWRENCE OF NEWARK (1973)
BOBBY HUTCHERSON's Now! (1969)
PHAROAH SANDERS' Izipho Zam (1969)
TONY WILLIAMS' Ego (1970)
CHARLES MINGUS' Let the Children Hear Music (1971)
The psych-jazz sound reflects many of the interests of the day, including Eastern music, sonic space, Afrofuturism, and radical social consciousness. Perhaps most notable of all, these albums employ voices at the service of the music, not the other way around like, say, Johnny Hartman. When not chanting or speaking in low and resonant tones, the voices on these albums share a warbly, shrill quality that is hard to place outside this specific subgenre of music. It's a strange sound somewhere between call and response, Soul, and the musical theatre. The earliest example of using human voices behind jazz music might be Donald Byrd's A NEW PERSPECTIVE (1963) and the latest McCoy Tyner's INNER VISIONS (1977). But it is Sun Ra's SECRETS OF THE SUN (1965) that serves as the earliest forbearer to Eddie Gale's sound-- an album Gale appears on. Gale was strongly influenced by his years with Sun Ra's Arkestra, playing with him until 1980.
"Playing with Sun Ra is a great experience--from the known to the unknown. You play ideas on your instrument that you never imagine. His music provoked me to explore the use of trills, for instance, and the placement of whole tones and then a space chord--ideas you do not find in the exercise books. Traveling with Sun Ra is also interesting. He had me play the role of straw boss one time and it required me to pay one of the musicians to not play on a particular job. Sun Ra, the master psychologist."
At their worst moments, the commercial efforts of these psych-soul jazz records gave us pure sixties kitsch without much in the way of innovation. Nothing to sneeze at in its own right because these records sound like nothing else. At their best, however, they offer us a divergent musical history where Black power and political awakening help unite the earth's people, a history now as obscure as Eddie Gale himself.
Blue Note producer Francis Wolff believed in Gale's vision enough to finance GHETTO MUSIC (1968) and BLACK RHYTHM HAPPENING (1969) out of pocket. No small sum when you consider Gale's ensemble was much larger than the normal jazz group. Both albums featured two bassists and two drummers (the latter album featuring Elvin Jones) with eleven Noble Gale Singers, all of them dressed in robes. The final result is an irresistable blend of African rhythms, operatic arrangements, lilting voices, and, of course, Gale's trumpet, as brash and avant-garde as it is evocative and passionate. The concept, as described on the original poster for GHETTO MUSIC, was "to play a significant role in the life experience of the community as a whole." While it's doubtful such a lofty goal was achieved in these obscure albums, it is certain to have a strong impact on the receptive ear.