Saturday, July 02, 2005

Returning to the Holy Ghost - Chapter 6

I'm making that spiritual pilgrimage back to the Revenant Records Holy Ghost Box Set of Albert Ayler. This time landing on disc 6. This time the focus is on the period from 1967 - 1968. It's frightening to think how much time was ticking away from Ayler's much-too short life at this point.

Kicking off with an invocation of aggressive poise we hear the Albert Ayler Quintet from a 1967 summer set in Freebody Park: Newport, Rhode Island playing "Truth Is Marching In/Omega." This one is for a congregation that understands that expressions of the soul can have a hard edge. The addition of Milford Graves on drums for this set adds a welcome component to this sound. He would later record the incredible Love Cry (which is very much on my short list of great jazz listening experiences) with Ayler that same year. This quintet is confident and relentless.

Then we come to track 4: "Love Cry/Truth Is Marching In/Our Prayer" performed at the funeral of John Coltrane on July 21, 1967 at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, New York City. This was a grim loss in a period that was unusually full of such losses of forward-thinking individuals in music, politics and civil rights. Here Ayler's sound is somberly enclosed within the acoustically reflective space of the chapel. The sound of love and mourning are readily apparent as Ayler's compositions and sensibility are heard physically imposed and tempered within a house of worship for the first time (for my ears). The love and respect for this fallen colleague and hero is clearly audible. High praise is due to Revenant Records for releasing this six minute glimpse of one great spiritual journeyman paying homage to another.

In the wake of this tribute to "the father," we then turn to a 1968 set by the Pharoah Sanders Ensemble with Albert Ayler in New York City. Here the energy erupts at full intensity. The saxophone crosses over completely into a full human scream. Here Ayler's improvisation and intensity seems to overwhelm the ensemble sound as "Upper and Lower Egypt" recedes into the background. I suspect the microphone is simply too close to Ayler on this recording as the audience sounds enthusiastic and engaged with this performance.

Disc 6 then closes out with a series of recordings from late August of 1968. Some of them demo fragments. These tracks are a puzzle. The energy is different on these tracks as they take on self-consciously polished quality while losing much of the live energy from the Quintet takes from this and earlier discs in this box set. Though I am struck and just how different Ayler accompanied by piano sounds compared to Coltrane with piano. Ayler's improvisation style really does require a Cecil Taylor-esque presence behind the keys. The session players solidly supplying the blues changes underneath just don't seem to match or interact with Ayler's extreme range. I am genuinely perplexed by the brief sermon delivered by Ayler and the awkward vocals of "Thank God for Women" over a decidedly straight rock beat. Here I suspect his creative searching was teetering between the cul-de-sac of convention and exhaustion from the spiritual journey pursued thus far. Though hearing lyrics applied to the melodic line of "Ghosts" is an intriguing revelation.

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