Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Albert Ayler: Live in Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Recordings

The first Albert Ayler this blogger purchased back around 1990 was the original single-disc Live in Greenwich Village, released in 1967.  Admittedly, the album proved to be a hard-sell at the time with its freeing of time and rhythm, simple march-like melodies, and powerful intense soloing by the tenorist and others in his band all but overwhelming.

Years passed, though, and the gradual recalibration of listening to other so-called "free jazz," including the great Cecil Taylor (it took some time to get acclimated there, too), the post-1964 work of the sublime John Coltrane, such albums as the remarkable Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, and others finally took root.  Allowing preconceptions to be broken down and new ways of hearing to come to the fore led to a greater appreciation for Ayler's work, especially when the tremendous Spiritual Unity (previously spotlighted here) was heard.

For a while, every Ayler recording that could be obtained was purchased and listened to with eagerness to enjoy his relentless pursuit of the joy of sound.  Eventually, the mammoth 10-disc box set, Holy Ghost, was acquired and it will also be given due attention here (under the occasional, half-humorous moniker of "For Fanatics Only.)

It's amazing, then, that Ayler only recorded for about seven years, with the period from 1964-67 being that in which his most fruitful work was made.  One of the great documents of his live work is the double-disc Live in Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Recordings, which augments the original live album with other performances.

The opening track, "Holy Ghost", is the sole offering from a March 1965 set at The Village Gate and features a quintet with Ayler's brother Don on trumpet, Lewis Worrrell on bass, cellist Joel Freedman, and the great drummer Sunny Murray, one of those most responsible for the titanic shift away from regular timekeeping and rhythm to a more open conception.  Freedman's cello playing also provides a startling type of color and tone when heard against Ayler's impassioned playing and Donald Ayler's rough, but intense contributions.

The sessions that were used in the original album were recorded in December 1966 at The Village Vanguard and at The Village Theater about two months later.  At the Vanguard, violinist Michel Sampson, bassists Bill Folwell and Henry Grimes, and drummer Beaver Harris joined the Ayler brothers and the presence of two bass players and Sampson's work gave a notably difference in atmosphere and rhythm.  On one track, "Angels," a pianist performed with Ayler and it is assumed it was Call Cobbs, Jr., an older man who played occasionally with Ayler over the years.

The Village Theater's set had a trombonist, George Steele, on the incomplete tune "Universal Thoughts" and this time both Sampson and Freedman appeared, upping the ante further in terms of what the stringed instruments brought to the larger format of the band.  Folwell was joined on bass by Alan Silva, exclusively using the bow evidently.  Harris did the drumming, except on the tribute "For John Coltrane" that opens disc two.

A couple of pieces are in mono sound and another did not have a master tape version, but those who appreciate the idealism, power, passion and yearning that is evident in Ayler's music will have no problem hearing songs that are low-fi or suddenly trail off.  Ayler was completely sincere in his belief that his music was inspired by divine ideas and his desire to elevate his work into a spiritual plane is obvious.  Ultimately, he tried more commercial work after 1967 and struggled to find an audience before his mysterious and untimely death in September 1970.

Undoubtedly, listening to the work of this remarkable saxophonist is challenging and, as has been stated here before, the advice offered by him and his brother is about the best that can be given for those willing to try.  In other words, try to follow the sound, not the notes.  Being open-minded and then geared towards the sound rather than the structure is the way to go with the work of Albert Ayler.  It took this listener some time to adapt, but the results have been rewarding and uplifting.

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