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Albert Ayler: Live on the Riviera

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Albert Ayler's saxophone sound was raw and unfettered. Ayler's life, like his sound, was the personification of the blues. Sorrowful and excitable, both mournful and full of life, Ayler's sound was the sound of the human voice set free. That's why critics are afraid of him—like all revolutionaries, Ayler said things people don't like to hear.

As part of ESP's recent relaunching and reissue campaign, Live on the Riviera is a testament to the underappreciated brilliance of Ayler's music. The 1970 set captured here comes from Ayler and his band's two-night stay with the Maeght Foundation in St. Paul de Vence, France. While the second night featured the full quintet Ayler was touring Europe with at the time, the band here is a quartet of Ayler and Mary Maria on saxophones and vocals, Allen Blairman on drums, and Steve Tintweiss on bass (pianist Call Cobbs would join the others for the following night's set).

Ayler's Dixieland call opens the set. With a welcoming, soulful shout Ayler invites his audience to listen in on an inspired performance of "Music is the Healing Force of the Universe. These notes are emotional and soulful, capturing Ayler's playing in top form.

The controversial Maria contributes vocals throughout this set, most prominently on the songs she had a hand in crafting (the title track to Music, "Masonic Inborn, and "Oh! Love of Life ). The spoken word on "Music is her finest contribution, despite its laughably dated day-tripper lyricism—it's her constant desire to yodel, yelp, and scat on this and other tracks that grows tiresome.

The rhythm section's playing on this set is at the least satisfactory, though Tintweiss and Blairman are not Sunny Murray, Gary Peacock, or Henry Grimes. Ayler sounds good backed by this lineup, but not as good as years earlier, backed by the aforementioned players.

"Birth of Mirth is one of the sets more interesting compositions, with its playful head and wandering sections of improvisation; the track also features some of Blair's best drumming in support of Maria and Ayler's sopranos. On the whole, Maria's playing isn't all that interesting, and it often stands too far in front when matched with Ayler's tenor.

Perhaps some listeners are turned off by the way his sound so closely resembles the sound of the human voice, but in Ayler's playing there is pain and sadness as well as joy and playfulness. His tenor plunges the depths of human emotions. And that's not being overdramatic—there are plenty of superb recordings that capture this. Live on the Riviera is merely the latest to do so.

Track Listing: Music is the Healing Force of the Universe; Birth of Mirth; Masonic Inborn; Oh! Love of Life; Island Harvest; Heart Love; Ghosts.

Personnel: Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone, soprano, museme, vocal; Steve Tintweiss: double bass; Allen Blairman: drums; Mary Maria: vocal, soprano saxophone.

Title: Live on the Riviera | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: ESP Disk

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