…A valuable insight into the music of a truly original artist…
Elemental Music 5990443 (4 CD set)
Albert Ayler (tenor & soprano saxophones, vocals, bagpipes); Mary Maria Parks (soprano saxophone, vocals); Steve Tintweiss (bass, melodica); Allen Blairman (drums); Call Cobbs (piano – CDs 3 & 4)
Recorded July 25 & 27, 1970
More than fifty years after his death Albert Ayler’s music is still controversial. Admittedly much of his recorded output is anything other than easy listening, however he often divides opinion among the devout followers of free jazz. Easier for many to accept the outpourings of John Coltrane during his final years, than acknowledge Ayler’s work.
Ayler’s following has often more been made up of fellow musicians and he never enjoyed the public acclaim that Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp did. This is a shame as his work touched all of them.
It is therefore much to credit of Elemental Music that they have put their time and energy into this beautifully packaged 4 CD set that captures Ayler’s two concerts given at the Foundation Maeght, Saint-Paul-De-Venice in France.
The two concerts from July 25 and 27 are very different and provide a fascinating snapshot of the saxophonist’s work and includes material that would be a staple on his records and live performances throughout the sixties.
That the two concerts are very different from each other is down to the pianist, Call Cobbs. Firstly, because he missed his flight from JFK Airport and did not perform at the July 25 concert, and secondly because he did play on the second, and his presence was very much felt.
The opening concert featuring the quartet of Ayler, Parks and the rhythm section of Tintweiss on bass and drummer Blairman is very much freer. Without a harmony instrument the music seemed to have no restrictions, and the band was on fire.
Ayler’s fierce overblowing on tenor, reaching far into the altissimo register contrasting with his low register honks, but it what occurs between these two extremes that counts. The saxophonist pours out torrents of notes, yet the melodic and emotional content of his improvisations dominate proceedings.
These recordings documents not only the first meeting of all the musicians as a group, but the only recordings that they made together. Put in context, it is remarkable how the band coalesced so quickly producing not just memorable music but also of historical importance.
Disc 1 opens with music from the saxophonists most recent albums for Impulse! The title track from Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe begins proceedings, and this is followed by ‘Birth Of Mirth’ from the posthumously released The Last Album. Here more than anywhere the music sounds very much of its time. The vocals and lyrics sung by Parks and Ayler have a carefree abandon and stream of consciousness delivery that was prevalent at the time.
Carefully programmed within the set are a series of improvised pieces titled ‘Revelations’ and it is the first of these pieces that is the focal point of the first CD with Ayler’s tenor opening theme that seems as if it could be pre-composed before setting off into uncharted waters and joined in a free dialogue with Parks soprano.
The second disc begins with the familiar melody of ‘Ghosts’. Ayler’s tenor is almost reassuring in the stately reading of the tune before heading off into a most satisfying solo. Bassist, Tintweiss is all over this, and in total empathy with Ayler.
Just as satisfying is ‘Dessert Blood’. Parks’s vocal on this is sublime and passionate as is Ayler’s tenor solo that follows. Again, credit must be given to bass and drums for their playing on this deeply swinging composition. For those who have been previously unconvinced by Ayler’s playing in t, this is a great place to listen a new and maybe eat humble pie.
The remainder of the second disc is comprised of three improvisations in the individually separated ‘Revelations 2, 3 & 4’, each very different from the other, and showing how quickly the quartet have found common musical ground and a mutual trust and understanding.
The concert of July 27 is a completely different affair and the arrival of Call Cobbs on piano pretty much introduces us to a new group. The pianist’s playing is bound up in the tradition and wishing to adhere to a tonal centre and, wherever possible, a chord structure. Paradoxically, while this helps centre and ground the quintet it does so without impeding the flow of the music or Ayler’s wilful desire to take the music further out.
Cobbs presence is immediately felt on the opening ‘The Truth Is Marching In’, a composition by Ayler that was featured on the Live At The Village Vanguard album and that Albert also played at Coltrane’s funeral. His solo here is full of passion and anguish as if still in mourning for the loss of his friend.
‘Holy Family’ is another of the saxophonist’s compositions that draws it feeling and impetus from the music of the church, a spiritual and joyous outpouring that is driven and controlled with great restraint by the rhythm section.
The spiritual aspect to Ayler’s music is never far from the surface. This can be clearly heard in the uplifting ‘Spirits Rejoice’, and bubbles away beneath Albert’s extended tenor workout on ‘Spirits’. ‘Spirits Rejoice’ is another delightful and uplifting melody that Ayler conjures up out of his saxophone, and Cobbs’s playing is exemplary lifting the music to greater heights.
This second concert concludes with the piece that opened the first with a reading of ‘Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe’ and performed with a relaxed air that is more approachable than the performance on the concert of July 25 and is perhaps the only way to close a remarkable concert.
While some of the music from these two concerts have previously been made available, this is the first time that the concerts have been released in their entirety and in stereo and give a valuable insight into the music of a truly original artist.
Where Ayler would have taken his music from here is anyone’s guess as just a few months after these performances, on November 25, 1970, Albert Ayler’s body was found floating in the East River, at the foot of Congress Street Pier, in Brooklyn.
Reviewed by Nick Lea