Monday, January 07, 2008

Healing Force - The Songs of Albert Ayler (Cuneiform, 2007)

In the short and controversial career of saxophonist and composer Albert Ayler, none of his music stirred more bile than his late 1960's attempt to meld free jazz with gospel and rhythm and blues. Even his supporters began to abandon him, and shortly afterwards his lifeless body would be found in the East River. Forty years later, the music Ayler made at that time sounds as fresh and fascinating as any of his other music and is ripe for rediscovery. Healing Force is a collective band made up of Vinny Golia on saxophone, Aurora Josephson on vocals, Henry Kaiser on guitar, Mike Keneally on piano, guitar and vocals, Joe Morris on guitar and bass, Damon Smith on bass and Weasel Walter on drums. They examine Ayler's late period music with no preconceived notions and make some admirable music in the process. The group revives the incantation "Message From Albert" before moving into a lengthy exploration of "Music is the Healing Force of the Universe," one of the key themes of Ayler's late music. With Josephson's haunting vocals laying the groundwork, the group makes a nuanced exploration of this song. The medley of "Japan/Universal Indians" builds in some world music themes, before moving on to the centerpiece of the album, the blistering "Oh! Love of Life." Vocals echoing dreams of universal love are led by a phalanx of electric guitars and wailing saxophone in an astounding performance. Perversely, this triumph is followed by the inexplicable "Thank God For Women," a cringe inducing gospel R&B song which made no sense on the original LP, and fares little better here. The ship is righted by a stomping "Heart/Love" which alternates gentle vocals and fierce instrumental passages. This album succeeds in redirecting attention to some of Alyer's unjustly ignored work. The performances are quite good and take an admirable open minded view to music that stretched boundaries and defied genres.

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