Saturday, March 04, 2023

Albert Ayler - Summertime to Spiritual Unity, Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2023)

Ezz-thetics mission to rehabilitate and reissue the collected works of the late avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler continues apace with this release commemorating two of the most critical dates in the early portion of his career. The first two tracks of this collection are from some of Ayler's earliest recordings, Copenhagen 1963 with Nils Bronsted on piano (sitting out the second track), Nils-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass and Ronnie Gardiner on drums. Where you really get the sense of the Ayler to come is on the Gershwin standard "Summertime" where the band doggedly sticks to the straight ahead feel and Ayler leaves the world behind for a plethora of screams, shrieks and honks. Like an experiment in sound collage that is way ahead of its time, the juxtaposition between the soloist and the band is head-spinning. The producer of this disc and several people interviewed for Richard Koloda's recent Ayler biography have testified about the power of this track and the influence it has had in the development of free jazz in Europe. The original "C.T." taken as a trio piece with piano laying out allowing Ayler to work on some of the things he learned back when he was sitting in with the tunes dedicatee, Cecil Taylor. The extra room suits Ayler well and foreshadows the extraordinary trio work to come. Flash forward through a year and a half of extraordinary growth to July 10, 1964 in New York City and what many believe to be Albert Ayler's finest hour. The music that would make up the Spiritual Unity album (officially licensed from ESP Disk) is a landmark, one where 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. Summertime to Spiritual Unity, Revisited ezz-thetics Bandcamp

Send comments to Tim.