Albert Ayler
(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use)
Krentz Ratings:
Holy Ghost (1962), 5/10
Something Different (1962), 6/10
My Name is Albert Ayler (1963), 5/10
Spirits/Witches and Devils (1964), 7.5/10
Swing Low Sweet Spiritual (1964), 5/10
Prophecy (1964), 6/10
Spiritual Unity (1964), 9/10
New York Eye and Ear Control (1946), 7.5/10
Vibrations (1964), 7.5/10
The Hilversum Session (1964), 6/10
Bells (1965), 6/10
Spirits Rejoice (1965), 6/10
In Greenwich Village (1966), 4/10
Holy Ghost (1967), 5/10
Love Cry (1967), 4/10
Music is the Healing Force of the Universe (1969), 5.5/10

Of all the protagonists of free jazz, Ohio-born tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler (1936) had the shortest career (he first recorded in 1962 and committed suicide in 1970 at 34), but he nonetheless managed to articulate one of the most radical aesthetics, second only to Cecil Taylor's. He often sounded like someone who wanted to create a virtuoso art out of anti-virtuoso playing.

As a teenager, Ayler toured with electric blues pioneer Little Walter. Then in 1957 he joined the army and it was in the army barracks in France that he discovered his idiosyncratic style at the saxophone and where he had his first mystical visions. After four years of service, he tried to start a career in Sweden. There he met and jammed with Cecil Taylor (documented on Holy Ghost - Rare And Unissued Recordings) and in particular Sunny Murray, his first mentor when he arrived in New York in 1963 and his guide into the community of free jazz. However, Ayler's "free" jazz was perhaps more similar to Jackson Pollock's abstract expressionism in painting than to Coleman's open-ended improvisation.

In Something Different (october 1962), also known as The First Recordings, Ayler performed three covers: Pat Johnson's I'll Remember April, presented in a 18-minute version, Rollins' Tune, by Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis' Tune Up, plus his own Free, backed by a Swedish rhythm section. The same session yielded The First Recordings Vol. 2, containing more covers.

After the tentative My Name Is Albert Ayler (january 1963), a quartet with trumpeter Norman Howard, drummer Sunny Murray and bassist Henry Grimes recorded Spirits/Witches and Devils (february 1964), that contains four lengthy pieces: Spirits, the twelve-minute Witches and Devils, the eleven-minute Holy Holy and Saints. Each of them sounded like it was coming from a distant past, from a remembered childhood, as it incorporated simple, naive, catchy melodies. The performance was ferocious, though, as if Ayler wanted to contrast innocence and experience, or European order and African disorder. Leftover of those sessions surfaced on Swing Low Sweet Spiritual (february 1964, released only in 1981).

The live Prophecy (june 1964) introduced his trio with double bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, and added Ghosts (his most famous theme), Wizard and Prophecy to his exoteric canon. That trio was responsible for one of the most revolutionary recordings of the era, Spiritual Unity (july 1964), the (brief) album that explicited how Ayler was not interested in creating music out of notes but out of timbres, how his music was not a harmonic construction but a "soundscape". These new versions of Ghosts, Spirits and Wizard were delivered according to an apparently demented logic that mixed melodies inspired by folk tunes and nursery rhymes with emotional bursts of saxophone noises simulating the human voice. Murray's percussions (more cymbals than drums) had little to do with keeping the time: they produced a flow of disorienting noises that intersected and amplified Ayler's saxophone noises. And Peacok's lyrical bass lines were a contradiction in terms when coupled with Ayler's blustering impetus. By now, Ayler had refined his melodramatic vibrato.

The "free" approach permeated the two side-long improvisations of New York Eye And Ear Control (july 1964), AY and ITT, with the trio augmented with trumpeter Don Cherry on cornet, Roswell Rudd on trombone and John Tchicai on alto, although the result was far less tight than on Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (1960), proving that Ayler was a different spirit from the free-jazz crowd.

The trio and Don Cherry returned to a humbler format with Vibrations/Ghosts (september 1964), that added Children (actually just a fast variant of Holy Holy), the moving ballad Holy Spirit (with a spectacular Cherry solo), Vibrations and Mothers to the canon, and The Hilversum Session (november 1964), that introduced Angels in a tense mid-tempo version.

Donald Ayler replaced Don Cherry for the one-sided LP Bells (may 1965), containing just one 20-minute track (fundamentally a madcap medley of marches and nursery rhymes) also featuring altoist Charles Tyler and bassist Lewis Worrell besides Sunny Murray.

Spirits Rejoice (september 1965), particularly its title-track (performed by Donald Ayler, Sunny Murray, altoist Charles Tyler, bassists Henry Grimes and Gary Peacock), marked a transition towards a more religious mood and a regression towards the collective improvisation of New Orleans' brass bands. Spirits Rejoice basically revisited the format of Bells in a more organic and structured way, picking up along the way an impressive amount of debris of musical stereotypes.

The double-disc Berlin, Lörrach, Paris & Stockholm. Revisited (november 1966) collects live performances by the Albert Aylerís Quintet: his brother Donald (trumpet), Michel Samson (violin), William Folwell and Beaver Harris.

The double-disc La Cave Cleveland 1966 (april 1966) documents concerts at the La Cave Club in Cleveland along with his brother Donald (trumpet), Frank Wright (tenor sax), Michel Samson (violin), Clyde Shy (double bass) and Ronald Shannon Jackson.

At Slugsí Saloon 1966 (may 1966) documents a live performance by the quintet with Donald Ayler (trumpet), Michel Samson (violin), Lewis Worrell (acoustic bass) and Ronald Shannon Jackson (drums).

Holy Ghost (july 1967) documents a live performance with Don Ayler on trumpet, Michel Sampson on violin, Bill Folwell on bass and Milford Graves on drums (particularly Truth Is Marching In/Omega and Our Prayer).

Ayler considerably toned down his music on In Greenwich Village (december 1966) and Love Cry (august 1967), that featured Donald Ayler on trumpet, Call Cobbs on harpsichord, Alan Silva on bass and Milford Graves on drums, and eventually returned to his rhythm'n'blues roots. After some kind of hippie-like spiritual crisis, Ayler turned to jazz-rock, soul and funk music, adding lyrics by a vocal singer, notably on Music Is The Healing Force of the Universe (august 1969).

Ayler had distanced himself from the avantguarde on New Grass After two years of no concerts, he was invited to play in France. The five-LP boxset Revelations (july 1970) collects Aylerís full live performance at the Fondation Maeght, some of which appeared previously on the albums Nuits De La Fondation Maeght and Live On The Riviera. The four-disc set The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings (july 1970), released in 2023, documents the French session with pianist Call Cobbs, bassist Steve Tintweiss, drummer Allen Blairman, and sopranoist and vocalist Mary Maria.

There were signs he was losing his mind and he had been depressed for a while by the lack of recognition. In November 1970 he disappeared from his apartment and his body was found twenty days later in the waters near the Statue of Liberty.

By employing a virtually unlimited repertory of tricks and a rich vibrato, Ayler expanded the vocabulary of the saxophone, but, most importantly, he did so while staging a multi-dimensional regression to a simpler age of music (whether the catchy folkish melodies or the military tempos or the collective improvisation of the marching bands). Ayler seemed to fuse the musical background of the pre-industrial society with an impulse towards the expressionistic cacophony of the industrial society. At the same time, his saxophone often seemed to intone shamanic invocations except to derail into frenzied explosions of vitality. Underlying all these contradictions was Ayler's exploration of sound for the sake of sound, that accounted for a completely new idea of music, away from the pillars of harmony, melody and rhythm. That was, ultimately, an exploration of the human psyche. Thus, at several levels of introspection and metaphor, Ayler's art was a mirror of society. Ayler's was the music of the collective unconscious.

Suggested book: Richard Koloda's "Holy Ghost" (2022).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Alessandro Taccari e corretta da Davide Carrozza)

Di tutti i protagonisti della scena free jazz, il sassofonista nativo dell'Ohio Albert Ayler (1936) ebbe la carriera più breve (effettuò la prima incisione nel 1962 e si suicidò nel 1970 a 34 anni), ma riuscì, tuttavia, ad articolare una delle estetiche musicali più radicali, seconda solo a quella di Cecil Taylor. Spesso suonava come qualcuno che volesse creare del virtuosismo da un modo di suonare anti-virtuoso.
Ayler iniziò la carriera suonando rhythm'n'blues. All'epoca del suo arrivo a New York, aveva già sviluppato il suo caratteristico stile idiosincratico (principalmente grazie all'esperienza accumulata in Europa prendendo parte a una tournée con Cecil Taylor nel 1962, documetata su Holy Ghost - Rare And Unissued Recordings).

In Something Different (ottobre 1962), noto anche come The First Recordings, Ayler eseguì tre cover: una versione di 18 minuti di I'll Remember April di Pat Johnson, i 7 minuti di Rollins' Tune di Sonny Rollins, i 5 minuti e mezzo di Tune Up di Miles Davis, e infine la sua Free, accompagnato da una sezione ritmica svedese.

Dopo l'acerbo tentativo fatto con l'album My Name Is Albert Ayler (gennaio 1963), in quartetto con il trombettista Norman Howard, il batterista Sunny Murray e il bassista Henry Grimes, Ayler registrò Spirits/Witches and Devils (febbraio 1964), che contiene quattro estese tracce: Spirits, Witches and Devils (20 minuti di durata), Holy Holy (11 minuti) e Saints. Ognuna di queste composizioni suona come se provenisse da un passato lontano, da un qualche ricordo d'infanzia, incorporando melodie semplici, ingenue ed accattivanti. L'esecuzione è però feroce, dura, come se Ayler avesse voluto contrastare l'innocenza con l'esperienza, o contrapporre l'ordine Europeo al disordine Africano. Avanzi di queste session apparvero in seguito su Swing Low Sweet Spiritual (febbraio 1964).
L'album dal vivo Prophecy (giugno 1964) introdusse il trio con il contrabbassita Gary Peacock e il batterista Sunny Murray, e aggiunse Ghosts (la sua composizione più nota), Wizard e Prophecy al suo esoterico repertorio.
Il trio si rese responsabile di una delle più rivoluzionarie incisioni dell'epoca, Spiritual Unity (luglio 1964), un (breve) album che rese esplicito come l'interesse di Ayler non fosse nel creare musica dalle note ma dai timbri musicali, e di come la sua musica non fosse una costruzione armonica ma piuttosto un "paesaggio sonoro". Queste nuove versioni di Ghosts, Spirits e Wizard furono incise secondo una logica apparentemente demenziale che mischiava insieme melodie ispirate a brani folk e ninna nanne con esplosioni rumoristiche emozionali del sassofono a simulare la voce umana. Lo stile percussivo di Murray (più piatti che batteria) aveva poco a che fare con il semplice mantenere il tempo: esso produceva un flusso disorientante di rumore che si intersecava e amplificava il rumore prodotto dal sassofono di Ayler. A questo punto, Ayler aveva ormai affinato il suo vibrato melodrammatico.
L'approccio "free" permea le improvvisazioni lunghe due facciate dell'LP New York Eye And Ear Control (luglio 1964), AY e ITT, con il trio che vide ingrossare le proprie fila con il trombettista Don Cherry alla cornetta, Roswell Rudd al trombone e John Tchicai al sax alto, anche se il risultato finale fu meno controllato rispetto a quello su Free Jazz (1960) di Ornette Coleman, a riprova del fatto che Ayler era uno spirito differente dalla gran massa dei musicisti free-jazz.
Il trio (più Don Cherry) tornò ad un formato meno ambizioso con Vibrations/Ghosts (settembre 1964), che aggiunse Children (in realtà una lieve variazione del brano Holy Holy), la movimentata ballad Holy Spirit (con un assolo spettacolare da parte di Cherry), Vibrations e Mothers al repertorio, e The Hilversum Session (novembre 1964), che introdusse Angels in una tesa versione in mid-tempo.
Donald Ayler sostituì Don Cherry per l'LP a una sola facciata Bells (maggio 1965), contenente un'unica traccia lunga 20 minuti (fondamentalmente uno strambo medley di marcette e filastrocche) che vedeva la partecipazione di Charles Tyler al sax alto e del bassista Lewis Worrell oltre a quella di Sunny Murray.
Spirits Rejoice (settembre 1965), e in particolare la title-track (eseguita da Donald Ayler, Sunny Murray, Charles Tyler, Henry Grimes e Gary Peacock), marchiò la transizione verso uno stato d'animo più religioso e una regressione alle improvvisazioni collettive delle brass band di New Orleans. Spirits Rejoice sostanzialmente rivisita il formato di Bells in modo più organico e strutturato, raccogliendo lungo la strada una quantità impressionante di detriti di stereotipi musicali.
Holy Ghost (luglio 1967) documenta una performance live con Don Ayler alla tromba, Michel Sampson al violino, Bill Folwell al contrabbasso e Milford Graves alla batteria (in particolare in Truth Is Marching In/Omega e Our Prayer).
Ayler attenuò considerevolmente la ferocia della sua musica in In Greenwich Village (dicembre 1966) e Love Cry (agosto 1967), che vedono Donald Ayler alla tromba, Call Cobbs al clavicembalo, Alan Silva al basso e Milford Graves alla batteria, facendo così ritorno alle sue radici rhythm'n'blues. Dopo una sorta di crisi mistico-spirituale in stile hippie, Ayler tornò al jazz-rock, al soul e al funk, aggiungendo parti vocali cantate eseguite da un cantante solista, principalmente in Music Is The Healing Force of the Universe (agosto 1969).
Con l'ausilio di un repertorio pressoché illimitato di trucchi e di un vibrato ricco, Ayler ampliò il vocabolario del sassofono, ma, soprattutto, lo fece mentre metteva in atto una regressione multi-dimensionale ad una età più semplice della musica (fossero le melodie popolari orecchiabili, le marcette militari o l'improvvisazione collettiva delle bande musicali). Ayler sembrò fondere il sottofondo musicale della società pre-industriale, con uno slancio verso la cacofonia espressionista della società industriale. Allo stesso tempo, il suo sassofono spesso sembrava intonare invocazioni sciamaniche salvo poi deragliare in esplosioni frenetiche di vitalità. Alla base di tutte queste contraddizioni ci fu l'esplorazione da parte di Ayler del suono per il gusto del suono, che rappresentava un'idea completamente nuova della musica, lontano dai pilastri dell'armonia, della melodia e del ritmo. Questa era, in ultima analisi, un'esplorazione della psiche umana. Così, a diversi livelli di introspezione e di metafora, l'arte di Ayler era uno specchio della società. Ayler era la musica dell'inconscio collettivo.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso)
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