In the last years of his life Albert Ayler confounded the jazz audience in a way every bit as profound as he had in his previous guise as the most radical figure of the avant-garde. The fact that he did it with a mixture of spirituality quite in keeping with the predominant social climate of the late 1960s and a brand of soul that was similar in its relation to the pop music of the time is remarkable, though arguably not for positive reasons. The music he and his cohorts produced was often messy and sprawling and it could be argued that it failed to catch anything entirely successfully even as he cast its figurative nets wide.
That music is revisited here and the fact that it's so compelling in this guise is extraordinary; the results are intensely alive. Vinny Golia is cast in the Ayler role and he brings his customary raft of reeds to bear in putting to rest any thoughts of the likes of Charles Gayle or David Ware as a more obvious choice. On "Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe" the sheer fractiousness of his lines is entirely at odds with Aurora Josephson's vocal, and the gulf between the two oddly makes up the very heart of the performance; Josephson's incantatory work serves notice of her abilities as a vocalist who knows how to inhabit words rather than merely read them.
Her ability to transform Mary Maria Parks' trite-sounding lyrics is also exemplified by "Oh! Love Of Life" where she mines a seam of cool that's anything but detached from the material. Kudos also has to go to Weasel Walter on drums for his ability to bring new life to music that could be anything but compelling. On the same title his mastery of broken time lifts the performance from the very place it should be lifted and lends proceedings an air of agitated swing.
The free dialogue between Golia and Josephson which ushers in "Thank God For Women" is arguably no small distance from what Ayler might have intended. But as such, it shows just how much the music can withstand scrutiny even when the end of the dialogue signals something a whole lot closer to the man's heart, complete with Golia tellingly preaching on soprano sax.
Henry Kaiser and Joe Morris's guitars make a whole lot of something out of "A Man Is Like A Tree" and the dichotomy between them and the voices of Josephson and Mike Keneally makes for the kind of tension that only enhances the listening experience.
In keeping perhaps with the spirit, Ayler tried to imbue this music with a new realization, and whilst in times such as these, the tone of its message seems only like so much doggerel, the input of these musicians is a manifesto for the value of human creativity; especially when brought to fruition on The Songs Of Albert Ayler.
Track Listing: New New Grass/Message From Albert; Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe; Japan/Universal Indians; A Man Is Like A Tree; Oh! Love Of Life; Thank God For Women; Heart Love; New Generation; New Ghosts/New Message.
Personnel: Vinny Golia: reeds; Aurora Josephson: voice; Henry Kaiser: guitar; Mike Keneally: piano; guitar, voice; Joe Morris: guitar, bass; Damon Smith: bass; Weasel Walter: drums.