Afro Fire marks Eddie Gale's comeback as a bandleader, and is long overdue. As a sideman his trumpet graced such seminal recordings as Larry Young's 1966 masterpiece Of Love and Peace, Cecil Taylor's 1964 classic Unit Structures, and no less than four Sun Ra offerings, the most notable of which is the revolutionary -- and under-noticed -- Lanquidity. But Gale is best known for his two Blue Note recordings, Ghetto Music and Black Rhythm Happening, issued in 1968 and '69, respectively. These wild platters employed tough soul-jazz, funk, and gospel choruses, and melded militant politics and '60s Aquarian-generation optimism. They are both underground jazz classics. Gale recorded one more date as a leader in 1992, his fine Minute With Miles -- a kind of tribute album to Miles Davis -- with pianist and keyboardist Larry Willis. From its cover, Afro Fire apes the look of a Blue Note title. And though it is an ultramodern side, it feels right as an extension of what he accomplished for that label in the late '60s. Gale is not only unafraid of technology and musical evolution; he actively courts it here and in the numerous dates he's played with hip-hop tribes, rock and funk bands, and electronic ensembles. Assembling a non-traditional quartet for the date, synthesizers and rhythm tracks underscore and complement his spacey, muted trumpet playing, David R. Hayden's bass playing and rhythmic programming construction, and William Nichols' Rhodes piano work. Chet Smith plays "orchestral synthesizer"; he steeps everything here in deep textures and atmospheres. The set opens on the electronica fringe with "Welcome to Silicon Valley," displaying everything from cut-up vocals and treated triple-tracked brass to breakbeats, all of which lace through and boil everything down into a punchy, space-age, jazzy house jam. On "Free You -- Free Me," funk is the teacher, where rhythm tracks lace through Gale's trumpet, and synth and bass pop the space-is-the-place-groove and ease the whole thing into a soulful and trippy groove. But don't let the po-mo feel throw you. This is a jazz record with great soloing, beautiful emotional grooves, and compelling compositions, like "Afro Fire," with its funked-up future Latin tinges; the nocturnal, sensual ambience of "New York After Hours," and the bluesy, space-age soul-jazz on "Tribal Future." Chances are trad-heads jazz-neo-cons won't dig this, but then they didn't like his '60s records, either. For those interested in the edges -- where jazz meets the new musics of the technologic age creating a new sense of "organic" sound -- this is for you.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek