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Albert Ayler’s recorded legacy remains woefully scant, especially for a figure of his musical stature and reach. Coupled to this comparative paucity is the fact that the bulk of his recordings from live concert settings where the acoustics and engineering were often suspect. Prime culprits arose out of his iconoclastic reputation and the general stigma levied toward free jazz in the Sixties. 21st century listeners are the worse off for it. Fortunately further documents of his artistry do exist and it’s only fitting that the label bearing his surname should serve as the conduit for their circulation to the masses.
Historically compelling recordings that register weakly on the listenability scale occur all too often in jazz. It’s an art form where fans are willing to overlook musical and audio shortcomings simply because of the rarity of what’s at hand. These tapes from 1964 are welcome exceptions. Before transfer to CD, careful attention was paid to cleaning them up. Peacock is particularly well preserved in the sonic strata, his strings sounding full and rotund through the spidery lattices of notes loosed by his flurried fingers. His adroit solo statement during the closing minutes of the first “Vibrations” is remarkably well captured, a nuanced study in precisely plucked strings and throbbing tone clusters. Ayler’s zigzagging phrases slice across the porous harmonic blanket supplied by bass and drums, while Cherry’s punchy brass soars tartly above. Murray carves out oblique pulse-driven beats that resolutely resist strict meter and refuse to be nailed down. The drummer’s moans accompany the scurrilous horns on the ecstatically charged “Saints” and craft a ghostly vocal counterpoint. On “Mothers” Ayler pulls out his vibrato stops from the start, drenching the audience in a warm current of matriarchal pathos. Dropouts and slight hiss do arise, but they’re relatively minor throughout the concert date.
The final three tracks offer a studio quality snapshot of the quartet, prefaced by illuminating spoken introductions from Ayler himself and a Danish radio announcer (translation available at the Ayler website). The trio of pieces is less raw than their live brethren, but the improvisatory energy on hand remains at a premium. All in all they’re a perfect capstone to a package destined to be deemed one of the finest releases of the year. Hell, make that the decade.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.