Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Albert Ayler - Vibrations (Freedom, 1964)

Tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler performed his greatest music in a state of spiritual ecstasy. Like fellow seekers John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, he looked to use music as a Buddhist might use meditation or a Baptist might speak in tongues: to make contact with something greater than himself. Recorded in Copenhagen on September 14th, 1964, this may be the finest group Ayler ever led. Featuring the trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, they were playing collective music at an extraordinarily high level. Ayler would compose a fragment of melody, usually taken from a folk song or spiritual and then transform it into an near human sculpture, with long, raw saxophone lines speaking the grief of the modern world. On this album, the most explosive composition is "Children" with an abrasive saxophone interlude of potent emotion, echoing the pain of growing up in the modern world. "Ghosts," one of Ayler's most well known compositions appears here twice. The first version leads off the album with a short mournful melody, almost as a statement of purpose for what will follow. The second longer version takes the (literally) haunting theme into the netherworld for a long exploration. Ayler may not have the immediate familial connection with Cherry as he did with his trumpeter brother Donald, but Cherry was a kindred spirit, tested and tempered by many performances and recordings with Ornette Coleman and he is in many ways Ayler's ideal front line partner. Peacock and Murray are glorious, providing and every shifting bottom to the music but also collaborating and creating in real time as a fully realized unit. This is a very special album and should be heard by all listeners with open ears, hearts and minds.

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