1964 proved to be a watershed year for Albert Ayler, who recorded enough material for ten albums, three for ESP alone. With drummer Sunny Murray a lone constant, Ayler exchanged Henry Grimes for Gary Peacock on bass midyear, briefly adding Don Cherry for some of the most memorable excursions he would commit to tape, including the expanded group that scorched through New York Eye and Ear Control. Almost a month to the day after capturing the Ayler/Peacock/Murray trio live at the Cellar Cafe in New York, ESP recorded them performing nearly the same program in the studio as Spiritual Unity.
As part of ESP owner Bernard Stollman's better-late-than-never remaster/reissue series, Spiritual Unity still weighs in at under thirty minutes with no bonus tracks. But the four original tracks pack more power and punch 41 years after the fact than most dreck-filled full length releases. In glorious mono (on the opening track; the rest are stereo), Ayler invents "ancient to the future with his unmatched mixture of old time spiritual theme snippets played with maudlin vibrato launching into unfathomable dimensions of sound. The shivering shriek and wavering wail return with a freshness that knows no expiration date.
The first of two versions of "Ghosts barely states the theme before the fun begins. Murray steams the cymbals as Ayler finds every manner of variation, fingers working the keys as primal nerve impulse. When he rests, Peacock briefly runs the baton over unexpected intervals. It's amazing to reflect that he came into his tenure with Ayler after his historic pensive, empathic association with Bill Evans, a polar opposite if ever there was one. Ayler returns for a more complete stating of the theme. The second "Ghosts has Peacock more aggressive in the opening, and during nearly double the length of the first version, Ayler wastes no time reaching for the stars. There must have been a good deal of body English involved as he moved up and back off the mic, blowing the brass off the sax.
The enigmatic theme of "The Wizard sets a roiling improv in motion where the ideal of three playing as one finds realization. Ayler breaks out with jagged-edged multiphonics, taking the tenor on a runaway train ride few would dare attempt. Spirits slows it down as Ayler sings, slides, and slurs the sax through the land of strange beauty that only he inhabited, though others visited. Murray and Peacock relax, working off space, silence, and the beauty of freedom.
The Ayler ESP recordings remain some of the most breathtakingly remarkable music ever captured: original, alien, and as seductively familiar as one's own pulse.
Ghosts: First Variation; The Wizard; Spirits; Ghosts: Second Variation.
Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone; Gary Peacock: bass; Sunny Murray: percussion.