The trio of alto saxophonist Charles Gayle, bassist William Parker, and drummer Rashied Ali played with a potency and urgency that can make your hairs stand on end. They also just happened to have made one of the greatest albums in free jazz, a 1993 date called “Touchin’ on Trane,’’ a collection of tunes inspired by, rather than composed by, John Coltrane. (For contractual reasons, the album was released under the artists’ individual names rather than by By Any Means.) In 2008, more than 20 years after it formed, By Any Means finally released a proper album, a superb two-CD set called “Live at Crescendo’’ that was recorded at a club in Sweden.

Though the trio claims to have no leader, Ali, 75, was its senior and most famous member. He played with Coltrane during the saxophonist’s final years, most notably on the groundbreaking duo album “Interstellar Space,’’ on which Ali made his mark as a drummer who eschewed keeping time and instead improvised completely independent of structure. Gayle, 70, has acquired almost a mythic stature in avant-garde jazz. A fiery, spiritual altoist who occasionally plays piano (and sometimes performs while dressed as a clown), Gayle worked so little during the early part of his career that he was homeless for years. And Parker, at 57, is the baby of the group, but its most prolific member. He often leads several groups at the same time and is the most in-demand bassist in avant-garde jazz, doing side work for Cecil Taylor, David S. Ware, and Matthew Shipp, among others.

With such a breadth and depth of experiences, it is not surprising these three men played so well together. “I really like this group a lot,’’ Ali said over his cellphone. “We just go with the flow. Everybody’s used to everybody. We play off of each other. We work together. Nobody’s got the lead. Everybody’s listening. We’re listening very closely to what we’re doing, and we’re listening to each other.’’

What makes the music so strong, so intoxicating, has to do with the chemistry among the players. Because they listen so intently to one another, they sense where a song is headed, despite the fact that nothing is composed. They play off one another’s strengths.

(By Steve Greenlee - Boston Globe - August 7, 2009)


The New York Times June 29, 1994


Denizens of the Nightclubs Venture Into the Daylight


The first of the JVC Jazz Festival's free outdoor concerts brought five groups and five hours of music to Damrosch Park on Sunday afternoon. Most of the concert was like a sampler of average nights at mid-level jazz clubs, minus the cover and minimum.

There were quartets led by drummers (Roy Haynes and Rashied Ali), a guitarist (Russell Malone) and a tenor saxophonist (Steve Grossman), along with Larry Goldings's organ trio. Most of the concert was bread-and-butter jazz, competent but not revelatory, the sound of musicians settled into a style. At its best, the music wriggled free of expectations, breaking patterns; for the most part, it was technically adept and glib.

Four of the five groups played mainstream small-group jazz, jovial workouts on standards, blues and be-bop tunes.

The odd group out was Rashied Ali's quartet, By Any Means, which shrieked and thundered and zoomed through free-jazz pieces. After hours of theme-solos-theme, the music at first seemed to sprawl out of control. Charles Gayle played tenor-saxophone shrieks, Greg Murphy added skittery piano lines and William Parker plucked hyperactive undercurrents on bass as Mr. Ali propelled the group in and out of steady, swinging time. Gradually, the quartet established its own context, and it became clear that the group was exploring musical and emotional byways -- noisy and hushed, enraged and eerie -- that the other groups left untouched.