Friday, November 30, 2018

Mars Williams Presents An Ayler Xmas vol. 2 (Soul What Records / ESP-Disk, 2018)

I abhor Christmas music with a vehemence usually saved only for climate change deniers and Cowboys fans. But yoke it to the indelible melodies of Albert Ayler and infuse is with the free jazz improvisations of some of the best musicians in Chicago and Vienna and I can be convinced to grant a reprieve. Band leader Mars Williams is a saxophonist who's work has ran the gamut from the AACM to rock and pop, but we're clearly in the free jazz realm here and he is right at home. "Xmas Medley" opens the album, with guest Jeb Bishop sitting in on trombone, the music has the ragged joy that Ayler drew from traditional tunes, but applied to seasonal fare, and then torn asunder with powerful muster. Cello saws mightily, aside threshing percussion and horns, and Williams leaps out with a very impressive saxophone solo, pushed hard by the surging band. Blustery brass and crushing drums take up the mantle and push the music even further forward in a very exciting interlude, before the music drops to a dynamic quiet for strings and bells. The horns gradually fill in, developing an excellent sounding texture with the strings, they embark up on another melody, with the horns taking point, regaining the volume and force, charging ahead and repeating the theme faster and faster to the conclusion. "O Tannenbaum/Spirits/12 Days of Christmas" has stoic bowing, bass and vocals leading the group into the performance, which then explodes into an Ayler like theme and takes off into a powerful collective free improvisation. The Vienna group is a tight five piece band and they absolutely soar with the bass and drums locked in and the horns flying overhead and subtle electronics adding heft. A sparkling trumpet solo leads the group into another powerful collective improvisation, incorporating snatches of the themes into their muscular playing as they power through a roaring performance. Williams picks apart the "12 Days" theme with a blustery upper register screech, then the band returns to slam the door on the performance. The short "Love Cry/Christmas Wrapping" is a blast, combining one of Ayler's most memorable themes with a hit by a rock band Williams played in, The Waitresses. The horns invoke Ayler's music and then tear it open, unleashing a performance that could rend space and time with the power of the horns, and the crushing rhythm. "Carol of the Drum/Bells/O Come Emanuel/Joy to the World" opens with fractured rhythm section playing, and the music gradually pulls together as the horns enter and state a theme and the full band falls in behind it, moving into Ayler's own martial like theme "Bells." The group weaves deft improvisation with the themes presented in this medley, creating a powerful group sound that resonates throughout this lengthy performance. Charging ahead and then slowing dramatically, the music is a dynamic force to be reckoned with, as raw scalding guitar rakes the ground along with rampaging horns, and a raucous conclusion. Finally "Universal Indians/We Wish You a Merry Christmas" has the band riffing on a bright Ayler theme to begin, led by Williams strident saxophone playing and some taut electronics and trumpet. They gracefully shift gears into the holiday song, even singing a greeting as the music leaves a genuine and pleasant farewell. An Ayler Xmas Volume 2 -

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