When Albert Ayler went down into the East River, he simply wouldn't have believed that after 35 years he would be held in the highest esteem and the subject of a genuine revival. He always wanted us to focus on the sound rather than the notes, but we weren't quite ready to receive his message: musical vibrations mark the path to transcendence.
Led by guitarist Marc Ribot on this self-titled debut, Spiritual Unity searches for the essence of Ayler through the unique individual and collective tone of the instruments, rather than through a note-for-note exploration of Ayler's signature themes. Those themes are here, briefly: sometimes in passing, occasionally only implied. But the real charge comes from the commitment the band makes to Ayler's passion and the sympathy they have for his solitary quest.
Of course, Ribot has never been avant-garde solely for avant-garde's sake. His avant-garde-ism is traceable to an inability to accept the conventional role of the guitar in jazz as a comping, accenting, and (usually tasteful) part-time solo instrument. He'll play anything from standards to skronk, was primarily responsible for defining Tom Waits' post-piano bar phase on Rain Dogs, and on his own solo projects has focused on Cuban and Jewish music and Ayler.
Like Ayler, Ribot finds universality in melodies we seem to share subconsciously. His guitar is Theremin-like on the introspective, impressionistic, and alluring version of "Saints, while Spiritual Unity's take on "Bells, the lone live track on the CD, conjures snatches of "Dixie, "Oh Susanna, and Mozart. You may hear three, or thirteen, other references. Trumpeter Roy Campbell plays meditatively as the track begins and bassist Henry Grimes (an Ayler band mate) bubbles up to the top. The prodigal Grimes seems to be particularly invested in this music, with his relentless bowing and furiously claustrophobic plucking strengthening each performance. Music just might be the healing force of the universe.
Personnel: Marc Ribot: guitar; Roy Campbell: trumpet; Henry Grimes: bass; Chad Taylor: drums/