Radioactive Clout

Local genre-tweakers Mushroom meld with jazz giant Eddie Gale

The Bay Area rollers in Mushroom have synched up with some impressive outsider iconoclasts over their decade-long ride. Starting from their first 12-inch, the band has embraced and updated krautrock groove, melding it to soul-jazz, space-rock, and other hybrids, sharing studio time and festival stages with numerous luminaries, including Kevin Ayers from Soft Machine, Tortoise founder Bundy K. Brown, Gong mainman Daevid Allen, even Gary Floyd from S.F. punks Sister Double Happiness.

None of Mushroom's guests have quite the pedigree of its most recent collaborator, though — jazz trumpeter Eddie Gale. The two parties converge not only on the recent Joint Happening album but also at the Make-Out Room on July 12. Tethered by founding 'shroomers Pat Thomas and Erik Pearson, and joined here by players Ned Doherty, Matt Henry Gunitz, Tim Plowman, David Brandt, and Dave Mihaly, Gale sets Joint's mood with his sparse but authoritative tone. On sprawling cuts like "The Spirit" and "Peace," the exchange of ideas across the generation gap is invigorating and free-form. The group evokes Miles Davis' darkest rock fusions, or a mythic jam between Sun Ra and Soft Machine.

As a frequent presence in New York's jazz loft scene at its mid-'60s pinnacle, Gale's name appears on crucial "New Thing" albums of the era. Were it not for a missed phone call, he would've appeared on John Coltrane's watershed Ascension album as well. "John called me collect all the time out on Long Island," Gale recalls in his gravelly voice. "[He said,] "I hadn't heard from you! I was gonna have you on it.' He wound up getting Freddie Hubbard. And then he passed after that, broke my heart."

Born and raised in Brooklyn's Bed Stuy neighborhood, Eddie Gale came up in the mid-'50s playing trumpet in his church's marching band. He spent nearly every night watching bebop horn greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown. At the start of the '60s, Gale came under the tutelage of a recently relocated jazz pianist from Chicago named Sun Ra. "Sun Ra was one of the great teachers, not just for myself but for a lot of musicians," he says. "I learned a lot because of Sun Ra's discipline, about music and life." Gale's crisp yet abstract phrasing caught the ear of another heavy, Cecil Taylor. In 1966, Taylor recruited Gale for his thorny, exhilarating Unit Structures, where Gale's muted horn served as a clarion call amid the septet's maelstrom. And while the venerable Blue Note label eventually dropped its avant-garde program for soul jazz, Gale recorded two singular albums in 1969 for the imprint, Ghetto Music and Black Rhythm Happening.

"They were unlike any other 1960s Blue Note stuff I'd ever heard," Mushroom drummer Thomas gushes of Gale's records. "The way Eddie's music blended gospel, free jazz, folk, and soul was very groundbreaking stuff for its time — and still very fresh." His enthusiasm isn't surprising, since Thomas convinced his bosses at Water Records (where he works by day) to re-release the two discs in 2003.

After learning that Gale had relocated to San Jose in the early '70s, Thomas handed the trumpeter a Mushroom disc and invited him to sit in with the band (Gale has been known to perform with Bay Area groups like the Coup). "It just clicked — from the first minute," Thomas says. And Gale agrees. "It was really easy to jam with Mushroom. Joint Happening was a very good example of coming together, different musicians and styles."

Thomas also fondly recalls the recording sessions: "Eddie would say, "Let's take a break.' And then next thing I knew — he'd be telling us these incredible stories. "One time, Coltrane told me ... '" And so this eclectic train ride from past to present continues for Mushroom.

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