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Albert Ayler: Quartets 1964: Spirits To Ghosts Revisited

Chris May By

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Before considering the music on this disc, something else has to be celebrated—the resurrection of Werner X. Uehlinger's Hat Hut label (see past profiles). Founded in 1975, the Swiss-based company's hatOLOGY series championed European and American outer-limits jazz, producing a large catalogue of newly recorded and legacy material. Sadly, in 2016, financial pressures obliged Uehlinger to sell the back catalogue and the hatOLOGY name to Outhere Music. But just three years later, Uehlinger and Hat Hut are back, with hatOLOGY replaced by ezz-thetics, and a second series, Revisited, dedicated to reissues from the 1960s. You can't keep a good man down.

Quartets 1964: Spirits To Ghosts Revisited is the first in ezz-thetics' Revisited strand. It is a great place to re-start—a blast from the past which can still shave the hair off your scalp fifty-five years after it was recorded. After hearing Albert Ayler for the first time, Beat poet Ted Joans wrote, "The sound was so different, so rare and raw, like screaming the word 'FUCK' in Saint Patrick's Cathedral on Easter Sunday." Charlie Parker and John Coltrane also caused outrage during their lifetimes, but are accepted as part of the jazz continuum today. Ayler is another thing. So extreme was his aesthetic that it continues to divide opinion.

This album is actually not one, but two blasts from the past. Tracks 1 to 4 were first released on Debut as Spirits in 1964. Some later reissues were titled Vibrations. It was recorded in Copenhagen in September 1964. Tracks 5 to 10 were also first released by Debut, as Ghosts in 1965. Some later reissues were titled Witches And Devils. It was recorded in New York in December 1964.

Uehlinger has brought members of his original Hat Hut team back with him, notably Chicago-based jazz scholar Art Lange, whose sleeve-note here nails contemporary critical responses to Ayler with characteristic aplomb. Because of his stunningly powerful projection, unorthodox technique and unique vision, says Lange, Ayler resisted standard methods of description and analysis, and most critics sought (and still seek) to illuminate, or discredit, his extraordinarily original creations largely through speculation and metaphor. Thus, Ayler's unfettered vocalisations were associated with field hollers; his bands' exhortations became New Orleans-style polyphony; his broad vibrato found a link with Sidney Bechet; passages of intense abandon signified political unrest; wailing ballads were heard as hymns and invocations to spiritual transcendence; and so on.

Some of these responses have objective merit. But they miss the greater truth, which is that Ayler, drawing on who-knows-what inner impulses, created a musical paradigm which was singular and unprecedented. It continues to fire up new generations of musicians and listeners. It is great to have Spirits and Ghosts back in circulation—the world needs shaking up in 2019 every bit as much as it did in 1964.

Track Listing: Spirits; Prophecy; Holy Holy; Witches And Devils; Ghosts; Mothers; Vibrations; Holy Spirit; Ghosts (short version); Children.

Personnel: Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone; Norman Howard: trumpet (1-4); Don Cherry: trumpet (5-10); Henry Grimes: double bass (1 , 2, 4); Earle Henderson: double bass (1, 3); Gary Peacock: double bass (5-10); Sunny Murray: drums.

Title: Quartets 1964: Spirits To Ghosts Revisited | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: ezz-thetics

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