Thursday, August 14, 2014

Albert Ayler - Spiritual Unity 50th Anniversary Edition (ESP, 2014)

Saxophonist Albert Ayler was one of the most controversial musicians of the free jazz/new thing era. His strident and powerful tone and unique way of improvising divided fans, critics and musicians alike. although he wasn't there to see it (he died under mysterious circumstances in 1970) history has been much kinder to him, and this was the album that led the reappraisal of his work. On this album, Ayler was joined by like minded musicians Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. One of the things that is easy to miss when hearing about Alyer's fearsome reputation, is that he was a great composer of memorable melodies. Taking folk forms and developing them into launching pads to hair raising improvisations was a big part of his M.O. and you can definitely hear it on this album in the two versions of "Ghosts." Ayler's haunting tone on saxophone and the earworm melodies show that this wasn't some serendipitous blowout, but that he had premeditated ideas of what he wanted the music to sound like and used that blueprint to carve out a remarkable album. "The Wizard" and "Spirits" follow with the group blasting hard thought the former and leaving space in the latter for bowed bass and hypnotic percussion. The concluding version of "Ghosts" brings all of the threads that make up this album together, where a keening melody, sense of spatial dimensions and torrid improvisation come together with a sense of wondrous joy. There is a bonus track, "Vibrations" that was also recorded at the session - it's quite good and contains a theme that Ayler would return to throughout his career. But it seems like something of an interloper here, tacked on as an afterthought to 30 minutes of sublime music. Spiritual Unity - downtown music gallery

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