Albert Ayler is often quoted as saying "Trane was the Father, Pharoah was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost," referring to John Coltrane, "Pharoah Sanders," and himself. It might be better said that Ayler was John The Baptist, the musical prophet that proclaimed the coming of free jazz. Like many a prophet, his end was agonizing. Ayler drowned in the East River in 1970, after a very brief eight year recording career.
Coltrane knew then what many of us discovered laterthat Ayler's music was prophetic, even divinatory. Sure, you can dissect it a half a century later and identify the parts. Ayler's roots in the African-American church, his background in military brass bands, and his love of anthems combined with a kind of speaking-in-tongues delivery. Ayler's music can also be viewed in the same vein as Roger Bannister, the first athlete to break the 4-minute barrier for the mile. Once Bannister accomplished his feat, the floodgates opened for other runners. For free jazz, after Ayler other musicians were able to follow his lead and set the music world ablaze.
1964: Prophecy Revisited returns us to a very magical time for Ayler. His trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray performed these compositions on June 14, 1964 at New York's Cellar Cafe. The music though wasn't released until after the saxophonist's death with Albert Smiles with Sunny (inRespect, 1996) and Prophecy (ESP Disk, 1975). The two releases used two different recording sources. Ezz-thetics has taken the better of the two recordings and remastered it to preserve this historic artifact. Maybe artifact isn't the correct description. The three versions of "Ghosts" can still send shivers down the spine. Part anthem and part sermon, Ayler's delivery is ferocious. Peacock, who we know today as the pulse behind Keith Jarrett's trio, maintains a drone sound that fuels the saxophonist's flight. Same support comes from Murray, except he favors a ringing clatter, and I suspect his is the voice of the moaning ghost behind "Spirits." Fans of today's free jazz can (and should) return to one of the source documents with this recording.