Archive for the ‘Eddie Gale’ Category

The Tree of Music

April 21, 2008


Eddie Gale – Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music, 1968 Blue Note Records

Insight and ancestry. Two inter-related concepts that highlight the importance of the oft-cited “knowledge of self.” Insight and ancestry also provide context. Within music, insight and ancestry have helped me broaden my tastes and musical aptitude. As such, I think it’s important to occasionally climb down hip hop’s family tree and explore its roots.

I’ve just recently stumbled upon Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music. This is certainly one of those albums that flawlessly recapitulates the form and movement that constitutes great music; similar to the more renowned works of John Coltrane, Fela Kuti, or Sergio Mendes, to name but a few. Reminding myself that I’m still learning to listen to jazz, a few spins through this album has the feel of timelessness, should timelessness be an emotion. With its 1968 release date in mind, it is certainly reminiscent of a time when free form in music paralleled the free ideals that echoed throughout the late 50’s and 1960’s. For example, the use of a choir in the opener, “The Rain,” and the closing “The Coming of Gwilu,” provide a soulful demonstration of people and unity, a subtle, if manufactured, symbol of the civil rights movement. I was impressed to read in this 2004 review that Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music enlist 17 artists: from Eddie Gale on trumpet, steel drum, Jamaican thumb piano, and even bird whistle; his sister Joann Gale on vocals and production (“The Rain”); through a slew of other singers, horn players, and bassists. This album is truly a lesson in unity.

With all those cooks in the kitchen, you may think Ghetto Music may sound disconnected, especially with all the sounds and styles that Gale utilizes throughout. For example, “Fulton Street” is a seeming celebration of a community comprised of different people, or sounds. With the choir chanting “Fulton Street!” and Gale employing an all-orchestral attack as he leads on trumpet, its punctuated toward the end with bass and drum solos, before the choir and orchestra join hands again.

One of my favorites of the five track set is “The Coming of Gwilu.” It begins subtly, with the bird whistle, followed by what is presumably the Jamaican thumb piano, and a flute solo, before the drum- and bass-lines move in. The choir comes in with a classic call and response delivery; finally Gale and the other horns join the procession. “The Coming of Gwilu,” conjures an image of a forming parade: beginning with the whistling bird, floating down a street; it alerts the next marcher, who runs out of his of her house; the flute is alerted to the parade, and runs out of his or her house to join…and so forth and so on…until the entire orchestra (all 17 artists for all I know) are joined together, signaling the coming of Gwilu…down Fulton St. perhaps. Why not?

The aspect of this album I enjoy the most is the interpretive value it holds. A collection of so many artists and sounds is bound to be subjective. For me, it’s the celebration of unity. A poignant message in 1968. A message that has experienced a rebirth in 2008. And such is Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music: dated on one hand; timeless on the other. I’ve searched the net for reviews of this album and have found very few, including the one I’ve linked to above; check here for a comprehensive look at the Eddie Gale – he’s as essential as his music as the people he’s worked with span the musical world. I think the listening experience of Ghetto Music can lead to some great interpretations. Feel free to share your own.

Two closing notes. First, the album art is great. In 1968, was there a more powerful image than a unified procession, with dogs in tow? Secondly, this album reminds me of Max Roach’s We Insist (Freedom Now Suite) from eight years earlier. The diverse sounds and inspiring unity they produced parallels Ghetto Music.

UPDATE: Check this review out as it also covers Gale’s follow-up, Black Rhythm Happening.