Diving back into the Holy Ghost box set of Albert Ayler today I focus on disc 7, which is some of the most challenging listening yet from a production quality standpoint. But it's also some sonically untethered improvising as well as the cavernous interiors of these live venues augments the "out there" quality of this music.
The first two tracks are from January, 1969 as the Don Ayler Sextet plays at Town Hall, New York City. Don Ayler plays trumpet and much of the time his sound overwhelms the ensemble balance as the entire group sounds as if they're in a far corner of an empty gymnasium. After some acclimation to the poor recording quality one can feel the spirit of the playing and detect the burning energy Albert Ayler pours through his horn. This is more "evidence" of great playing and ideas than a polished, faithful replication of it. I am curious to learn more about the Don Ayler compositions of "Prophet John" and "Judge Ye Not."
The remainder of the disc focuses on some Albert Ayler Quintet material from La Colle sur Loup, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France. The liner notes indicate that the date was "probably" July 1970. The sound quality is rough, but much better than the earlier portions of this disc. Though here the free improvisation feels a bit "lost" to my ears. In between solid, confident forceful bursts of energy Ayler seems to lapse into a bewildered searching sound. The drumming is excellent and the "barely there" piano feels wildly out of place. Ayler seems to layer a wailing scream over the top. Knowing now that time was running out on Ayler's mortality lends an unsettling quality to this material. What kind of figure would he become if allowed to continue on longer? What aesthetic directions would he have pursued if he had followed his spiritual quest toward new degrees of understanding or was he running right up to the edge of sanity? Ayler's music has not been forgotten as questions about what might have been add several layers as succeeding generations of creative improvisers attempt to learn from this radical forbearer.
With a box set that pulls together previously unreleased and rare recordings of a subject like Albert Ayler one has to expect at least one disc of rough material like this one. This is material strictly for those who can hear beyond production and hear the music lurking within this unique soul. The first five or so discs of Holy Ghost are a treat to hear while this late disc tells a story of Ayler's struggles late in his short life and present a brilliant artist struggling to push forward through severely uncharted territory.