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A French "Exposé Sur" Albert Ayler

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At the end of the year 1970, the man who was considered the strongest personality in Free Jazz by his fans would die in mysterious circumstances.

Albert Ayler had been missing from his New York home since the 5th of November and it was only three weeks later that his body was recovered from the East River. His funeral was held discretely in Cleveland (his home-town) on the 4th of December, in attendance were members of the family and several friends. He was thirty-four years old.

After having won his first grand prize several months prior at Nuits de la Fondation Maeght he was to return to France at the start of 1971 where he was eagerly awaited.

Several years ago Leroi Jones said "Albert Ayler is a master of staggering dimensions, now, and it disturbs me to think that it might take a long time for a lot of people to find out about it." Indeed, over the years our numbers were too few in exposing the importance of this exceptional innovator; who before was considered a bizarre musician, listened to only out of curiosity and seen as a scandalous imposture. Yet, we must ask ourselves has there ever been a purer artist in Jazz, one more sincerely profound than Albert Ayler. It is true that his style of playing was a feature of this rarity, being at once very simple and subtly complex, which could disconcert listeners for it required the questioning of their usual criteria.

Albert Ayler's music was also far removed from the intellectual ghetto in which one has, over the years, tried to enclose Free Jazz; as entertainment with no lasting value, which they have reduced it to in fitting their narrow scope, while pretending to ignore it's more "disturbing" aspects. It's a simplicity that doesn't want to speak simplistically and not a hopeless demagogy that enters into the equation of Monsieur Ayler when he speaks of a music of the people, for the people. "I want to play songs like I used to sing when I was real small. Folk melodies that all the people will understand. I'd use those melodies as a start and have different simple melodies going in and out of a piece. From simple melody to complicated textures to simplicity again and then back to the more dense..."

One wishes to see in the triumphant joy expressed thoroughly in Ayler's music and in the tongue-in-cheek critique it is often given, a willingness in the face of destructive derision. This appears as a word of caution to us and is also singularly limiting. Albert Ayler has continued to reiterate that the reoccurring themes he played were essentially cries of love and we take his word on that. A universal love expressed with an almost frightening conviction that reconciles, in the same stride, the multiple contradictions that commonly split the human being. Love, i.e. joy, supreme happiness but also, inevitably, an endangered happiness. This being from where the ineffable emotion comes forth, never absent in his music, a music which to us is one of the most deeply articulate.


Written by Daniel Caux, 1971. Translated from the French by Nicolas Large.

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