When you speak of the giants of free jazzthe signatories of its constitution, so to speakyou are obliged to include saxophonist Albert Ayler. But curiously enough, his immediately recognizable music, although revered, had no direct followers. His compositions have been covered, but not like those of John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman. Maybe he was too much of an iconoclast to be copied.
Ayler died in 1970; his body was found floating in the East River. It was never established whether he was murdered or it was a suicide. The recent revival of his music, with two new remastered ESP editions and last year's ten-CD Revenant box set, shines a light on his genius. Guitarist Marc Ribot has included a little of Ayler in his music for many years. Ribot's solo recordings Saints (Atlantic 2001) and Don't Blame Me (DIW 1995) had Ayler covers, and his band Shrek was built upon an Aylerish sound.
His latest project, Spiritual Unity, is a cover band that honors the Ayler soul and the Ayler sound. The disc opens with Ribot's "Invocation. Bassist Henry Grimes, a former Ayler sideman, conjures the saxophonist with a swirling bowed approach. Ribot and trumpeter Roy Campbell jack into the ceremonial energy with churning and sizzling front-line sound.
Spirits follows the signature Ayler tune; its follow-the-leader pace bustles with energy. Ribot rips through a roguish solo that, like Ayler's playing, chooses primitive emotion over style. Both Grimes and Campbell follow with some raw playing, supported by drummer Chad Taylor's multi-rhythmic backing.
The formal and stately Truth Is Marching In captures the moment and intent of this project perfectly. While rooted in a march, the tune displays a certain kind of freedom that evokes the possibilities of the "new thing" while connecting it to jazz's birth in New Orleans.
The closing track, recorded live at Tonic, is a fifteen-plus minute cover of "Bells. The spirit is here. Campbell does his best Don Ayler while the energy crackles. You can even forget this is a guitarist's tribute to a saxophonist. The band takes you through a reflection before the march begins. You know their aim is true. The crowd certainly affected this piece. Slowly the dance (march) begins and the energy pours from this band. Resolution is simple and sweet. Ayler would be proud.
Personnel: Marc Ribot - Guitar; Roy Campbell - Trumpets; Henry Grimes - Double Bass; Chad
Taylor - Drums.