By Ted Kane
Live on the Riviera is one of those CDs that is more interesting historically than compelling musically. It was recorded live in France less than four months prior to the saxophonist's death, and most of his devotees will want to hear it at least once, yet only a small segment of that group will want to do so much more than that. Ayler tries to do his best here and does play heartily at times; unfortunately, neither his accompanists nor the book (by and large) are worthy of his talents on this date.
Jazz is a collaborative art, especially free jazz. So, try as he might, Ayler really can only go as far as drummer Allen Blairman and bassist Steve Tintweiss can follow; naturally, that distance is not as far as it was when Ayler had players like Sunny Murray and Henry Grimes in tow. Also on hand is the singularly annoying Mary Maria on vocals and soprano saxophone. In fairness, she's a little better live than in the studio; where her lyrics on "Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe" were delivered in a histrionic warble on the LP of the same name, that's replaced here by a sing-song recital which would not sound out of place on Sesame Street.
Most of the songs performed in the set are taken from the aforementioned 1970 date, which I've always considered the worst of Ayler's releases by a wide margin. Though I do like the versions here better for the most part, the best tracks on the CD for me are the ones not taken from that album, like the whimsically baroque "Birth of Mirth" and the rousing encore of "Ghosts" that closes the set. Ayler completists will want to hear this and find a share of brilliant moment; the less devoted will probably get more out of spinning the Village Vanguard recordings another time or two.
Personnel: Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone, soprano, musette, vocals; Allen Blairman: drums; Steve
Tintweiss: bass; Mary Maria: vocals, soprano saxophone.