As a leader, saxophonist and composer Gary Thomas is wildly ambitious. Throughout the 1980s and into the '90s, Thomas experimented with everything from free jazz and funk to heavy metal and hip-hop. Exile's Gate is another such exercise. There are two distinct bands accompanying him here. One is made up of Thomas on tenor with drummer Jack DeJohnette and guitarist Paul Bollenback with organist Tim Murphy and bassist Ed Howard. The other features the latter two musicians, Marvin Sewell on guitar and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. The first band plays Thomas' free-spirited and aggressive originals while the second plays standards for the most part. Only Thomas would think of putting the two approaches together on one record on alternate cuts. The pace is set by the title cut that opens the set, a freewheeling, menacing journey into overdriven counterpoint, and spirited interplay between Bollenbeck and the saxophonist utilizing hard rock tropes with DeJohnette traveling from one end of the color spectrum to the other. As such, hearing the standards, which are much more finessed and restrained; they feel forced in comparison. "Kulture Bandits," with its accent on funky backbeats and knotty melody lines that borrow a bit from the fakebook of Ronald Shannon Jackson & the Decoding Society and Soft Machine. These are the cuts that point in new directions, toward a new kind of street jazz, one anchored in gritty yet focused improvisation. And while the standards here such as "Like Someone in Love," and "Night and Day," are played ably enough and with some real Thomas individualism; they don't contain the same kind of visionary focus or inspiration. For fans of Thomas' work with standards, the 1992 album Till We Have Faces is a better bet.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek