Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Albert Ayler Quartet ‎– European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (HatOLOGY, 2016)

This is a nicely remastered version of some of free jazz legend Albert Ayler’s finest live recordings, with perhaps his best working group consisting of Ayler on tenor saxophone, Don Cherry on trumpet, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums and percussion. The first six tracks were recorded on Hilversum, The Netherlands, while he final three were recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark. He develops the short folk like themes on this album, and they allow the group to take these short motifs and use them to lift off into unbridled exploration of the nature of the avant-garde stream of jazz that were being codified by the likes of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. Unlike the caricature, Ayler’s improvisations were often thematic, and developed a narrative that the group can follow. Some of Ayler’s most well-known themes are present on this album,  like “Ghosts” which has a quavering, vulnerable melody that is less about freaking out than developing form from chaos, often over short concentrated bursts. It’s this vulnerability that sets Ayler apart from John Coltrane, Coleman and Taylor and the other free jazz pioneers of the era. While their relentless and herculean improvisations are thrilling and innovative, Ayler’s were focused around all too human themes and his egalitarian bandleading style really cut to the core of what not only jazz but freedom really means. Two versions of “Spirits,” one from each session look at the impact of spirituals on jazz, which would come to be called “Spiritual Jazz” and give birth to hundreds of compilation albums in the digital age. Ayler was able to distill the essence of spirituals, anthems and folk songs and use them to ground his music in simple, memorable themes that were the sugar that helped the medicine of free improvisation go down. The only non-Ayler composition on this album is Cherry’s “Infant Happiness” where the music isn’t about infantilism, but rather that childlike wonder of tabula rasa freedom. Cherry came up with Ornette Coleman in one of the most (in)famous bands of the era, and he knew that a lot of Coleman’s appeal came from his pithy and memorable themes he wrote like “Lonely Woman” “Peace” and “Focus On Sanity.” This allowed Cherry to fit right in with Ayler and bring his hard won experience to Ayler’s music. Now, they can put the pedal down and wail too, if necessary. “Vibrations” is a bracing performance with Sunny Murray’s percussion, freed from its traditional role, develops cascading pulsation along with Peacock’s beating heart bass to carry the music through in a thrilling headlong rush. This is an excellent and important re-issue of genuinely valuable music, that fits in with Ayler’s acknowledged classic Spiritual Unity and another recent Hatology re-issue Copenhagen Live 1964 to give a comprehensive view of Albert Ayler’s contribution to jazz at its most creative. European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 - amazon.com

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