Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Big box of Holy Ghost goodness.
I am really digging this box set. I put Disc two on yesterday and read the first essay from the included book of scholary writings on Ayler. This is a rich opportunity to really study this essential creative figure of Free Jazz.
Disc two picks up with the trio that the first disc ended with. Then moves into a quartet from that same year (1964) and concludes with a single track of his 1966 quintet (which disc three then picks up with). This is a satisfying progression and document of Ayler's confident voice as a leader of groups of like-minded improvisors. These early trio pieces are Spiritual Unity vintage performances that well represent the range of Ayler's improvisation. His ability to touch the extremes of quiet and loud while maintaining a consistent, scream-like intensity is what makes his music stand out. The Quartet recordings are from a 1964 concert in Copenhagen in front of a modest, but sympathetic audience that feeds on the energy of this edgy material. The final quintet track closes out the disc with a shot of high energy and enthusiasm and the promise of more great music to follow.
The Val Wilmer essay is a good biography of Albert Ayler. It certainly piqued my curiosity about Wilmer's other published writings about jazz. Ayler's life plays into the narrative of many of my personal music heroes. Ayler develops his talent early and then sets out on a personal journey of truth and development. After a stint in the U.S. Army he has become transformed by the discovery of his true voice. He returns to his home town and discovers he has developed well beyond the local environment. His innate vision and creativity has set him apart from common convention. Choosing to pursue his spiritual awakening and creative sensibility he sets off for Europe to find sympathetic players and audiences. He returns to the U.S. to perform and record his intoxicating and radical voice until he is prematurely silenced in 1970. His body is found in the Hudson at a time when too many leading voices of the African American community are dying of unnatural causes and questions remain to this day as to the details of his demise. There was no autopsy and speculation continues as to whether his was a suicide or murder.
Many elements of this narrative have strong paralells to the Joseph Smith/Harry Partch similarities I've discussed in a prior post. An uncompromising pursuit of "truth" leads to estrangement and persecution. And in the case of Ayler, we have the unfortunate martyrdom parallel as well. Another dimension that Ayler adds is the explicit reference to spiritual awakening and stubborn adherence to hard-fought spiritual principles even when these principles are at odds with the prevailing social order. It's a reinforcement of the theme that the truth can send one on a lonely path. The subsequent documentation of that journey, so reverently presented in this box set, achieves a great transcendent quality that makes Ayler the larger than life figure that he is for me. Not to mention the revelation of how intense and dynamic creative improvisation can be.