A talented and distinctive jazz pianist, Conrad Gayle is equally influenced and inspired by 1950s/’60s jazz (particularly soul jazz and hard bop) and religious music. He began playing piano at six, performed when he was young in church, and has since carved out a career for himself as a jazz musician in his native Toronto.
Foundations is an excellent all-round program that features the pianist in three different settings for three songs apiece. All nine compositions are his originals.
The first trio of numbers has Gayle in a quartet with saxophonist Ryan Oliver, bassist Wesley Cheang and drummer Jake Oelrichs. During this miniset, Gayle not only gets opportunities to solo with a fine rhythm section, but his accompaniment clearly inspires Oliver. The program begins with “Tee-kah” which has a calypso feel worthy of Sonny Rollins. Oliver’s tenor solo is full of lively ideas, Gayle is percussive and playful during his improvisation, and the melody is catchy. The medium-tempo “Little ‘H’ Blues” has a likable theme, an excellent tenor spot with some good double-time runs, a fluent bass solo, and some brief tradeoffs with the drummer. Gayle’s solo builds up expertly, being a logical outgrowth of both the melody and Oliver’s ideas. The quartet concludes their portion of the CD with “Haunted.” The jazz waltz features Oliver switching to soprano where his solo begins mellow and gradually builds in intensity. Gayle makes a strong and concise statement and there is a feature for drummer Oelrichs. The playing by the quartet makes one want to hear more from this group.
The next three selections feature the pianist in a trio with basst Scott Kemp and drummer Colin Kingsmore. “T.O.” has a funky groove that is reminiscent of Horace Silver. The minor-toned song, which has short solos by Gayle and Kemp, is only three minutes long but very much a complete performance because the trio makes every note count. “Little ‘H’ Blues” is heard in a second and very different performance, one that puts Gayle much more in the spotlight. His playing is quite soulful and, after a Kemp solo, he trades choruses with drummer Kingsmore. The trio finished off with “Sing A Little Song,” a lyrical performance that is both swinging and impressionistic, a little bit like early Herbie Hancock although the trio displays its own musical personality.
In addition to his work with the quartet and trio, Conrad Gayle is equally skilled as a solo pianist. On “Blues in 7/4,” he uses intense chord patterns and repetitions quite effectively. “So I Will Be With You” evolves through several moods, being both thoughtful and adventurous, ending up out-of-tempo as if he is thinking aloud. Foundations concludes with “He Is The Lord,” a sincere spiritual piece in which Gayle makes a simple and straightforward statement that leaves a lasting impression.
Foundations, which is Conrad Gayle’s third CD, is his definitive recording and well worth exploring.
Scott Yanow, author of ten books including Trumpet Kings, The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76