The development of so-called free jazz in New York during the first half of the 1960s was topped and tailed by three landmark recordings: Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1961), John Coltrane's Ascension (Impulse, 1966) and Albert Ayler's New York Eye And Ear Control (ESP, 1966). Of the three discs, only New York Eye And Ear Control broke away completely from jazz's normative structure of theme/solos/theme. Commissioned as an art-film soundtrack, Ayler's recording was also the product of an altogether more radical creative process than earlier art-film jazz soundtracks such as Miles Davis' Ascenseur Pour L'Échafaud (Fontana, 1958) and Coltrane's Le Chat Dans Le Sac (recorded 1964, released on audio only as Blue World by Impulse in 2019).
Ayler recorded his album with his regular trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, augmented for the occasion by trumpeter and cornetist Don Cherry, alto saxophonist John Tchicai and trombonist Roswell Rudd. The location was the New York loft of the artist and film maker Michael Snow, the date July 17, 1964.
The music was intended to accompany the visuals in Snow's experimental 16mm film of the same name, but to coexist independently of them: Snow did not show the group any storyboard or film footage prior to or during the recording. In the liner notes of Swiss-based label ezz-thetics' vibrantly remastered edition of the album, Snow says: "As I was being involved with so-called free jazz, I was always surprised at how everybody was still bookending, as in all of previous jazz where you play a tune, play your variations, then play the tune again. I kept feeling that I didn't want that, and particularly what I had in mind for the film, I definitely didn't want it. I wanted it as pure free improvisation as I could get.... I asked for improvised ensemble playing with no solos and no prearranged lines." The recordingwhich comprises a brief introduction and two 20+ minute tracksendures as a transcendent success, in which the magic ingredient is the way Cherry's crystalline shards of melody perfectly complement Ayler and Rudd's visceral testifying.
New York Eye And Ear Control Revisited was released with Snow's blessing and the permission of the Ayler Estate on July 13, 2021, Ayler's 85th birthday. It is in effect a love letter from ezz-thetics' founder Werner X. Uehlinger to Ayler's memoryUehlinger's life was transformed in 1966 when he attended an Ayler Quintet concert in Lörrach, Germany, and since 1982 he has curated and reissued Ayler's recordings, first on his Hat Hut label and now on ezz-thetics.
Footnote: Canadian born Michael Snow is also a pianist with a lengthy discography which includes work with the Toronto-based improv group CCMC. In 1987, Snow released his vinyl chef d'oeuvre: The Last LP: Unique Last Recordings Of The Music Of Ancient Cultures (Art Metropole). This purported to be field recordings of near-extinct traditional music from African, Tibetan and South Asian cultures and was accompanied by sleeve notes of a mind-numbing faux-intellectual ethnomusicological nature, buried deep in which (in reverse spelling) was the admission that the whole thing was a put-on, recorded by Snow himself on a variety of overdubbed instruments.
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.