Saturday, January 23, 2016

Albert Ayler - Bells/Prophecy Expanded Edition (ESP Disk, 2016)


The great saxophonist Albert Ayler was at the peak of his powers when these two albums were recorded live in 1964-65. Although they were recorded and originally issued separately, most subsequent reissues have paired the two records and CDs together. The first album Bells is the actually the latter recording chronologically, recorded at Town Hall in New York City on May 1, 1965. In this concert, Ayler was accompanied by his brother Donald Ayler on trumpet, Charles Tyler on alto saxophone, Lewis Worrell on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. The only track, “Bells” is a nearly twenty minute free improvisation that was originally released as a one-sided LP, one side of a clear vinyl LP where the other side was empty of music. Although it is a complete improvisation, there are themes that surface during the course of their playing and even a moment of dead air where people start clapping before the musicians re-adjust and dive back in. The group sounds excellent, and once they get into the flow of the music they are in step with each other throughout. Ayler’s groups often open operated by collective improvisation, but there are solos that develop with both saxophonists making bold statements and some powerful and punchy trumpet from Donald Ayler. Sunny Murray is the perfect drummer for this music, he is wide open and free and was experienced enough with Ayler to allow things to flow beautifully. Prophecy was recorded a year earlier, near the time of Ayler’s masterpiece Spiritual Unity was recorded, and this version is expanded to two CD’s with the addition of further material from the date that appeared on the Holy Ghost boxed set. This is the lineup that cut the epic Spiritual Unity, Albert Ayler on tenor saxophone, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums, recorded at The Cellar Cafe in New York City on June 14, 1964. They stick close to the themes that they would record less than a month hence, with three versions of the extraordinary “Ghosts” where Ayler takes the legitimately spooky theme and whips it like dead leaves on a dark night and the trio proves that it isn’t just power that drives a free jazz band but empathy and coordination as well. Ayler took short melodies, from folk music and rhyme and used them as jumping off points for the band and their improvisations like on their versions of “The Wizard” and “Spirits.” Like many musicians on the burgeoning free jazz scene of the he was drawn to spiritual themes, and you can hear him reaching an almost ecstatic state of grace, speaking on saxophonic tongues and developing a new language of jazz on these two very important albums. Bells / Prophecy: Expanded Edition - amazon.com

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