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Albert Ayler: Copenhagen Live 1964

John Sharpe By

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Even more than 50 years on, there's still never been anyone quite like Albert Ayler. Or for that matter like this 1964 Quartet, which was one of the few ensembles during his career to match the tenor saxophonist against equally forward thinking peers. Bassist Gary Peacock was fresh from pianist Bill Evans' Trio, cornetist Don Cherry was based in Europe having worked with both Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins, while Sunny Murray had held the drum stool in pianist Cecil Taylor's groundbreaking Trio.

This 43-minute set comes from an engagement at Copenhagen's Cafe Montmartre, no stranger to the American New Thing, having been the scene for Taylor's seminal Live At The Cafe Montmartre (Debut) back in 1962. Eleven days later in the studio Ayler waxed Ghosts (Debut, 1965) containing much of the same repertoire, as the quartet toured Europe. It was a short-lived group, so any chance to hear how they developed over this period is welcome. As typical at this time, simple folkish songs, like the introductory "Spirits," bookend outbreaks of unfettered freedom.

Ayler's undeniably emotive tenor cry combines raw power and a daring fragility in a burnished falsetto executed with huge vibrato. What Peacock and Murray play is correspondingly unprecedented. As pioneers they are discovering what works with this sort of free jazz and what doesn't. Their innovations, while not quite as influential as Ayler's tonal license, provided a model which could be adapted and refined to perfect how this music might function.

A virtuoso bassist, Peacock essays a continuous contrapuntal flow. His high fingerboard flurries and bowed figures seem connected to Ayler's lines only in the loosest sense, through dynamics rather than harmony. Murray meanwhile delivers pulsing arhythmic momentum, particularly through his cymbals. The great benefit they brought was that their playing complimented but in no way limited what Ayler might do. While Cherry often embroiders the faster themes with upper register squiggles, he nonetheless draws on the material to inform his solos.

"Saints" illustrates the point as both Cherry and Ayler reference the sudden uptick which terminates the lilting head in their solos, showing that the ensuing improvisations are not totally divorced from what precedes them. After the theme, "Vibrations" incorporates a mournful intermingling of the horns in ballad territory as well as a fine outing for Peacock's pizzicato. The contrast between Ayler's whickering tenor bursts and the trumpeter's slow counterpoint on "Children" constitutes another of the highlights. Similarly engaging interplay also features after the solos on the achingly spiritual "Mothers."

This session has been available before as part of The Copenhagen Tapes (Ayler Records, 2002), and was also subsequently included in the Holy Ghost box set (Revenant Records, 2004), but it is gratifying that it is once again widely accessible to keep the saxophonist's legacy alive.

Track Listing: Spirits; Vibrations; Saints; Mothers; Children; Spirits.

Personnel: Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone; Don Cherry: cornet; Gary Peacock: bass; Sunny Murray: drums.

Title: Copenhagen Live 1964 | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Hatology

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