Eddie Gale: Ghetto Music Album Review

Gale’s big break came in ’62, when he appeared on “Space Aura”, the third song on Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra’s Secrets of the sun LP. Three years later, Gale scored a bigger placement when he played on Cecil Taylor’s Unit structures, the pianist’s first album for Blue Note, now a pivot in the annals of free jazz. Then, after a star, organist Lee Young’s turns on Of love and peace, Blue Note co-founder Francis Wolff asked Gale if he wanted to record his own music. He put together a sextet with drummers Thomas Holman and Richard Hackett; bassists Judah Samuel and James “Tokyo” Reid; and flautist/tenor saxophonist Russell Lyle; along with an 11-piece choir called the Noble Gale Singers. They met on September 20, 1968 at the famous Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, and recorded Ghetto Music one day.

The album title itself was an act of rebellion. When people conjure the term “ghetto,” they think poor, dangerous, and black, using broad, racist strokes. This ignores the community that exists there, the togetherness that is stimulated by the lack of resources offered to it. Instead of, Ghetto Music was meant to celebrate Gale’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn and others like it. “It comes from all of us who lived in that part of town,” he once said. “That lived this life of music, going to school, learning and growing up. It was all-encompassing.”

Ghetto Music is written as a dramatic presentation accentuated by costumes and acting; between its choral chants and praying aura, it was an album that might as well have worked in the Theater District and The East, the famed Black cultural center and venue in Bed-Stuy. Moments of fear were met with equally calm, offering a nuanced view of black life beyond how it is portrayed in the news. Simply put: black people didn’t take anything from whites anymore; the tenants of nonviolence gave way to militant retaliatory measures. As thought progressed, cruelty would be reciprocated in kind; the days of “We Shall Overcome” gave way to James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” by Sly & the Family Stone. Along with that thinking came a new, unshakable pride; the tenor was less about what whites have done wrong and more about looking inward at the unification and construction of an isolated black world.

Where other music pricked its finger in the oppressor’s breast, Ghetto Music felt like a comforting hug for the oppressed. Here’s what “The Rain” does when Gale’s sister Joann sings about finding the resilience to move on out of need. “I have to go so long,” she cooed sweetly, her voice tearful and dejected. “Wipe the tears from your eyes.” Conversely, ‘Fulton Street’, a breakneck arrangement with thunderous drum roll and blistering trumpet wail, is twitchy and nervous, the feeling of speeding down the road and beating the yellow signals. The song stops and starts at various intervals, only increasing the intensity; in his quiet moments Gale shoots into his upper register; when followed by cascading drum fills, it’s the sound of a fully pressurized summer day in Brooklyn.

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