Being that 2020 is more than half a century since Albert Ayler
(1936-70) recorded this music, the best way to approach might be through what the Zen Buddhists call Shoshin. Roughly translated as "beginner's mind," or the ability to experience things as if for the first time. Since we cannot transport ourselves back to 1965, taking a posture of readiness and being open to experience the revelatory nature of this music might be the best plan of attack.
Ayler's brief recording career spanned just eight years, from 1962 to 1970, the year of his tragic death. In that short career he, along with Cecil Taylor
, Pharoah Sanders
, and Ornette Coleman
, changed the direction of modern jazz. Ayler's music had an immediate effect on the music and trajectory of John Coltrane
's career, evidenced by his post-1964 Impulse! Records output. Looking back now with Shoshin gives the listener the ability to experience the shock of the new that was Ayler's music.
Hat Hut Records and its subsidiary labels Hatology and ezz-thetics have dutifully preserved and most importantly, remastered Ayler's output from multiple labels and radio broadcasts. Released with permission from the Ayler Estate, the music is saved from pirated labels and poor sound, thus given its proper place in jazz history. Alongside the 9CD boxset Holy Ghost
(Revenent, 2004), which incidentally has no recordings from 1965, this Hat Hut Records series gives a nearly complete picture of Ayler. Albert Ayler 1965: Spirits Rejoice & Bells Revisited
zooms in on two influential records where the saxophonist introduces his brother, trumpeter Donald Ayler
into his group. The first date (and the last track heard here) is "Bells," taken from the album of the same name. Bells
(ESP Disk, 1965) was a curious release, in that it was a one sided clear vinyl LP recorded live May 1, 1965 at Town Hall in New York. Although listed as one track, it is a medley of three compositions "Holy Ghost," "No Name," and "Bells." Summoning that beginner's mind, the fury heard as the track begins rocks you back on your heels. Sunny Murray
's echoed bounce on his drum kit plus the spooky ghost voice behind the clamor might raise the hairs on the back of one's neck. The shredded and splinted sounds from Albert and Donald Ayler and Charles Tyler
flow into the saxophonist's vibratofull solo in part two and bassist Lewis Worrell's deep pulse before the march of "Bells" enters with its braided horns which give way to incendiary sounds. The music is simultaneously childlike and avant-garde.
Historically speaking, we can draw direct lines from Ayler's music to that of David Murray
, Mats Gustafsson
, Jeff Lederer
, and John Dikeman
. But let's stay with Shoshin. When this music was first heard, it angered many 'experts' who couldn't connect the dots between New Orleans and European military bands, spirituals and the naive nature of Ayler's art. Spirits Rejoice
, reproduced here, was recorded at Judson Hall without an audience. The title track borrows from "La Marseillaise," accelerating from zero to sixty with two bassists, Henry Grimes
, and Gary Peacock
, Donald Ayler and CharlesTyler once again, with Sunny Murray playing the bouncing ball drum kit with busy cymbals. The music has a revival feel with "Holy Family," a catch me if you can tone, "D.C." and "Prophet," and the medieval churchiness of "Angels" with Cal Cobbs sitting in on harpsichord. While Ayler's tenor saxophone could have drown Cobbs out, he negotiates a blues and delicate path forward.
It is well worth the effort to listen to this music for the first time, literally and, well, figuratively.
Spirits Rejoice; Holy Family; D.C.; Angels; Prophet; Bells.