Albert Ayler: The Universe Gets Healed

Jeff Stockton By

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Zero Point
Plays Albert Ayler

Meditations on Albert Ayler
Live at Glenn Miller Cafe

Healing Force
The Songs of Albert Ayler

Albert Ayler Quartet
The Hilversum Session
ESP Disk

What would the Albert Ayler of 1970 — misunderstood, ultimately suicidal — think of the renewed appreciation for his body of recorded works, spanning a brief eight years (1962-1970)? Thanks to the massive Holy Ghost box set and the 2007 release of the documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler, an Ayler renaissance is in full bloom. He would have either been very proud, or would have considered it colossally ironic.

1964 was a watershed year for Ayler. He formed his seminal trio with drummer Sunny Murray and bassist Gary Peacock and recorded Spiritual Unity, an album whose influence and stature can be heard in the music of Zero Point, an obscure free jazz trio based in, of all places, Mexico City. Plays Albert Ayler is among the titles offered by Ayler Records exclusively as a digital download and the MP3s add to the feeling that this is a secret document, that you are among the privileged who've heard it. Saxophonist German Bringas doesn't attempt to match Ayler's unmatchable vibrato and his switching from alto to tenor mitigates a bit of the power one associates with Ayler's attack, but when Itzam Cano's bass resonates, it underscores Peacock's remarkably influential technique and Gabriel Lauber maintains a swirling continuous rhythm that flows from Murray's sui generis style. This band is a shining example of Ayler's global reach.

Meditations on Albert Ayler is what the trio of altoist Luther Thomas, bassist Jair-Rohm Parker Wells and drummer Tony Bianco calls themselves, but the liner notes to this digital download-only release emphasize the fact that they are not a cover band. The rhythm section wanted to explore the "Ayler approach and needed a saxophonist with the résumé to take the Ayler legend head on. Thomas, who had recorded the lost free jazz classic Funky Donkey in the early '70s, was living in Copenhagen and swung over to the Glenn Miller Café in Stockholm for the gig captured here. True to their word, the trio obliquely refers to a couple of Ayler's best known compositions, but they are barely recognizable inside the lengthy workouts. This group concentrates on tapping into Ayler's enduring holy spirit and continuing the soulfulness and heart it was Ayler's mission to convey.

Healing Force features a cover 'band', in that they perform Ayler's compositions. But their objective is better described as 'recovery' of the critically despised and listener-reviled later works found on New Grass and Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe. Those albums overflow with contradictions and betrayed the struggle Ayler was waging with his audience, his record company and himself. He electrified his band, his playing looked back to his R&B beginnings and his companion, Mary Maria Parks, supplied ersatz philosophical lyrics spoke-sung in her own untrained way. Ayler's own singing was simply unhinged. This septet gathers "all-star players from the art-punk, brutal-prog, free jazz, improv and modern jazz world in a program that reclaims and remakes late period Ayler in serious and weighty fashion. It's not entirely successful, but it is provocative, creative and essential for contemporary listeners.

Before ESP-Disk reissued The Hilversum Session, taken from a Dutch radio performance of the Ayler Quartet (Murray and Peacock with the addition of Don Cherry), it had been one of the more difficult titles in the catalogue to track down. By this point the group had been performing together for a good amount of time around Scandinavia and were comfortable with the music and each other. Ayler plays "Ghosts , "Spirits , Cherry's "Infant Happiness and a piece that would become the romantic coda to "Bells with complete command and confidence, dragging ever so slightly for added emotional resonance. The reissue offers pristine sound and demonstrates that with all the recent Ayler tributes, inspired-bys and meditations on, there's nothing like the real thing.

Tracks and Personnel

Plays Albert Ayler

Tracks: Vibrations; The Wizard; Tune Q; Infant Happiness; Saints; Children; Improv 1; Improv 2; Angels

Personnel: German Bringas: alto and tenor saxophones; Itzam Cano: bass; Gabriel Lauber: drums

Live at Glenn Miller Cafe

Tracks: Ghosts/Truth Is Marching In; O Store Gud (How Great Thou Art)

Personnel: Luther Thomas: alto sax, bells, whistles, hollers; Jair-Rohm Parker Wells: bass; Tony Bianco: drums, cymbals

The Songs of Albert Ayler

Tracks: 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 and double bass; Damon Smith: double bass; Weasel Walter: drums

The Hilversum Session

Tracks: Angels; The Wizard; Ghosts; Infant Happiness; Spirits; No Name

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


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