There are lovingly curated box sets and there is Albert Ayler's Revelations: The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings
. The 5 x LP / 4 x CD set documents in full the two concerts Ayler gave at the high-end performance and visual arts facility in Provence, France in July 1970, just four months before he passed, so tragically and prematurely. Everything about the release is near perfect, from the sonics through to the hundred-page booklet which project producer Zev Feldman has put together. The LP edition is released on April 23, 2022, which is Record Store Day, the CD edition a week later.
Less than half of the two concerts, given on July 25 and 27 (Fondation Maeght had the class to give the band a rest day between performances) has been released before, officially and on bootleg. But going through the archives at the French Institut National de l'Audiovisuel, Zeldman discovered that there were other, superior recordings made by radio station ORTF from a different audio source, capturing both concerts in their entirety using professional equipment. Zeldman worked with the surviving musicians from the eventbassist Steve Tintweiss
and drummer Allen Blairman
to assemble everything in performance order, before passing the tapes on to sound restoration and mastering wizard Sheldon Zaharko to weave his magic, which he has done with stunning effect. Revelations
has the blessing of the Albert Ayler estate and Ayler's daughter, Desiree Ayler-Fellows, has written a touching introduction to the booklet.
Before addressing the music, a few words about the booklet. In addition to facts 'n' info about the concerts, including interviews with Steve Tintweiss and Allen Blairman, and many great photos of the band in action at the gigs, there are brief essays about Ayler from seventeen associates and aficionados, excerpted from interviews Zeldman conducted during July and August 2021. Of particular interest, and quite moving, are the thoughts of his near contemporaries Sonny Rollins
and Archie Shepp
, both admirers of Ayler, the man and the music. Other contributors of note include David Murray
, Patty Waters
, Joe Lovano
, Reggie Workman
and Annette Peacock
Rollins, whose essay opens this section of the booklet, is of special relevance. Ayler's saxophone sound is most frequently compared with John Coltrane
's. The two players knew and liked each other and attended each other's gigs, and there are indeed sonic similarities at the extremities. But here is the thing: have you ever seen Ayler's sound compared with Rollins'? Probably not. Yet listening to Revelations
one is struck once again by the ringing similarity between Ayler and Rollins, as regards both their sound and their approach to improvisation. Like Rollins, Ayler had a huge, rich, joyous, woody sound, and also like Rollins his improvisations were intensely motivic, akin to the description "thematic improvisation" which the musicologist Gunther Schuller
coined for Rollins' solos on Saxophone Colossus
(Prestige, 1957). Obviously, neither of these comparisons apply when Ayler is in full-pelt altissimo energy mode, but this aspect of his playing increasingly ceased to define him after the early years.
The full range of Ayler's aesthetic is on display on Revelations
, with early-phase material from Spirits
(Debut, 1964), Spiritual Unity
(ESP, 1965) and Spirits Rejoice
(ESP, 1965) through to the late-period Impulse albums Love Cry
(1968), New Grass
(1969), Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe
(1970) and the posthumously released The Last Album
(1971). There is also a considerable amount of material (including the six, mostly extended "Revelations" which were spontaneously created onstage at Fondation Maeght) that was never recorded elsewhere.
CDs 1 and 2 take in the July 25 concert, where Ayler is accompanied by Mary Parks
on voice and soprano saxophone, Tintweiss and Blairman. CDs 3 and 4 take in July 27, when the quartet was joined by pianist Call Cobbs
, who did not make it from New York in time for the first concert. Parks is a much maligned figure, unfairly (and probably misogynistically) so. Certainly her soprano playing was entry level and she had an ego the size of a water melon, but she made Ayler happy, stimulated him creatively, and took care of business. In addition, some of her voice worksuch as "Speaking In Tongues," a four-minute wordless-vocals duet with Ayler which closes the first concertis of interest. (And endearingly, she greeted an audience at New York's Village Theater in 1967 with the words, "Good evening, space friends.")
The audiences at Fondation Maeght, particularly and from the start on July 27, go absolutely wild. As well they might. This was a blinder of a gig and Revelations
is an important addition to Ayler's discography.
CD 1: Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe; Birth of Mirth; Masonic Inborn; Revelations 1; Oh Love of Life; Island Harvest; Heart Love. CD 2: Ghosts; Love Cry; Desert Blood; Revelations 2; Revelations 3; Revelations 4; Speaking in Tongues. CD 3: Truth Is Marching In: Zion Hill (Universal Message); Again Comes the Rising of the Sun; Holy Family; Revelations 5; In Heart Only; Revelations 6; A Man Is Like a Tree. CD 4: Holy Holy; Spirits Rejoice; Spirits; Thank God for Women; Spiritual Reunion; Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe; vocal announcement / curtain call.
Albert Ayler: tenor and soprano saxophone, musette, bagpipes, vocals;
Mary Parks: soprano saxophone, vocals:
Call Cobbs: piano (CDs 3 & 4);
Steve Tintweiss: double bass, melodica;
Allen Blairman; drums.