A page for Ayler fans to express their own feelings about Albert and Don Ayler and their music. The Ayler Remembered page in the Archives is for those who knew Albert and Don, or who were lucky enough to see them play. ‘Appreciations of Ayler’ is for those who just want to share their own thoughts, feelings and memories about the music. No limits on size or content and scholarly dissertations on the use of flattened fifths are as welcome as brief personal statements about buying your first Ayler record from Dobell’s. Just send me an email with your ‘appreciation’ and, if you have no objection, include a few details about yourself.
1. Dave Solomon
I first discovered Ayler in the spring of 1970 when I was aged 16, living at home with my parents in North London studying for my A levels. I’d followed my peers away from Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons, Stax and Motown (don’t knock it, I still love that stuff) to the kind of “progressive” rock John Peel was playing on the radio. I particularly liked rock groups whose guitarists used feedback in clever, wildly harmonic ways (mind blowing, man). As I was learning drums, I was listening to some jazz but found even early Coltrane, Ornette and Dolphy to be too sober and older generation for me. One rock album that I listened to was “Trout Mask Replica” by Captain Beefheart and on one track, “Dachau Blues” somebody (it might have been Beefheart himself) was doing some pretty mind blowing things on a bass clarinet which sounded to me better than the electric guitars. I was told that this was similar to the style of a certain Albert Ayler and took a chance by going out and buying “Spiritual Unity”.
I’m ashamed to say that my first impression of “Unity” was the “normal” one, a guy making noises for half an hour and having the gall to expect people to buy it. But as I persevered, I realised that I was learning a new musical language which had a logic to it that I might call “super-melodic”. I realised Peacock and Murray don’t accompany Albert, they play the song with him and they interact with Albert. The music doesn’t rely on repetition, every single phrase is different, there’s no 2 and 4, no AABA songform, a series of singular events like a continuously flowing conversation, and Albert’s sound which always makes me go all funny. Those shrieks, those foghorn farts, that love cry, that understandable righteous indignation felt by the Afro-American at that time striking a chord with all thinking compassionate people, nobody did it like Ayler. If he WAS crazy, then vive les foux! It was that understanding of Ayler’s group music that sent me back to explore that “square” jazz of Coltrane, Ornette, Dolphy and ultimately Bird to realise that their music worked the same way but was just more constricted by metre and chord sequence.
“My Name is Albert Ayler” could be seen as a bit of a joke with it’s so called “unsympathetic” (though excellent) rhythm section but that version of “Summertime” is gorgeous (interesting, though, to compare it with the Sonny Rollins/Coleman Hawkins version - “Sonny Meets Hawk” 1963) and “Green Dolphin Street” is the blueprint for me of Ayler’s 1964 triumphs.
I personally find the preoccupation with hymns and marches that we get when brother Don joins the band a bit on the tedious side at times but that version of “Truth Is Marching In” on the Village Concerts could my no. 1 fave Ayler track. One reason is, although I have great respect for Sunny Murray in the way he made lots of space for the quieter instruments, (and Milford works beautifully with Alan Silva), my preference is for Beaver Harris who swung like crazy, in fact, he rocked. On “Truth”, I have a cartoon image of a slow ascent up a roller coaster and then down we dive with Ayler and Harris going completely berserk. It sounds like some men in white coats had to restrain Harris during the Michel Sampson violin solo but halfway through, Beaver gets free of his captors and runs amock only to be restrained again while Sampson finishes his solo. For me, this music is perhaps the most exciting I’ve ever heard and just listening to it has me sweating by the time it’s finished.
“Love Cry” was nice but I thought the choice of alto wasn’t as exciting a sound as the tenor, (though it does sound beautiful on the ballads like “For John Coltrane” on the Village set). Graves and Silva are brilliant together with Call Cobbs just plodding on regardless. How I love counterpoint in free music.
Then “New Grass”.
Ayler’s fans could be forgiven for thinking that ABC had accidentally pressed a pop album onto his latest. Just as Bob Dylan’s fans were justifiably annoyed to find themselves paying to hear “pop music” when he went “electric”, Ayler fans found themselves forced to listen to the kind of junk Ayler had helped them to escape from in the past. Apart from, of course, the prospect of greater financial security, the only artistic motivation might have been to take Mohammed to the mountain as it were and play in a more generally understandable style. I don’t know how much of this was an attempt to reach a larger afro-American audience in possibly one of the worst years for the civil rights movement (the King murder etc.) to keep the King message alive and to maintain spiritual unity within the Afro-American community. The record is, like most American junk, excellently played with a high standard of musicianship and great singing, in my view, from Albert and the Soul Sisters and I think “Free at Last” is a great R and B track. Albert still plays fantastically and shows himself favourably comparable to Junior Walker and King Curtis, the big sax guns on the R and B scene at that time. In fact, as has been suggested, a remix with just Ayler and minimum junk would be far more palatable. I think what is irksome to Ayler fans, is that “New Grass” was presented as the latest stage in Albert’s artistic evolution rather than a sideshow. I’d have been happy if it would have been as a Mary Maria album with special guest Albert Ayler who (I’m being ironic) proves that he can sock it to ’em like the best of ’em and he’s not just a crazy screamer. I certainly wouldn’t blame dedicated Ayler fans for not including this in their collection. It is junk - “sock” it to ABC Impulse, I think (where the sun don’t shine!)
“Healing Force” was a bit more like old Albert but I think the Melody Maker review that said he was sounding like a pale Pharoah Sanders copy was completely unfair. Pharoah was doing “The Creator Has A Master Plan” and Sun Ra “Outer Spaceways Incorporated” all good clean American fun, I guess.
I read about Ayler’s death in the Melody Maker. No speculation. I just hope it was an accident. A sleep deprived Ayler perhaps being blown into the water by one of those sudden gushes of wind you get in wintertime New York. For me, Albert’s having been taken to heaven by the holy spirit just seems psychologically easier to bear.
R.I.P Albert Ayler.
Dave Solomon - a biographical note (14/8/08)
Born 10/6/53. With schoolfriend bassist Marc Meggido, got drawn into improvised music through association with John Stevens and Terry Day and started gigging at the Little Theatre Club in 1973. Got to know Evan Parker and Derek Bailey who, with Stevens, were a source of encouragement and I eventually recorded an album called "Teatime" for Incus with Steve Beresford, John Russell ,Gary Todd, Nigel Coombes and Herman Hague (though unfortunately, Herman's contribution didn't make it on to the record). From 1975, I got fed up and sought my own "New Grass" by joining American (an Ohian like Ayler but from Cincinnati - remember Cincinnati Fatback? Thought not.) guitarist, singer, songwriter Danny Adler in an R'n'B revival band called Roogalator. Still did some free stuff in the late '70's - and was invited to do a few sessions with The Flying Lizards including TOTP (No, I'm not on "Money"). The stuff I did with the Lizards flopped and it was back to square one by the early 80's. I got fed up with the whole thing , completed my education and got a "proper" job in a library. I did some more work with Danny Adler producing 2 albums "Mackinaw City" and "Home Stretch" (with Dick Heckstall-Smith, no less) but like everything I'm on, the stuff sells like overcoats in a heat wave. Danny returned to the States in 1990 and I was immersed in my private domestic life until recently I've picked up again with my old improvising buddies (I was flattered that they'd noticed my absence). I help out at the third Sunday of every month Mopomoso evenings now at the Vortex (formerly the Red Rose) in North London and I've done the odd gig with George Khan, Terry Day, Veryan Weston. and Garry Todd.
2. An Unchronological Approach to Albert Ayler - the Jessamine Vine Blog
Offsite but I feel it’s worth recording the link here. As I wrote in the News page when I first came across it in February, 2009:
“To understand the music of Albert Ayler - or to get to some point where you think you may have an understanding of the music of Albert Ayler - you have to take a chronological approach. You need to buy the Holy Ghost box and start with the U.S. Army band and go through the Finnish sessions and the early experiments in Scandinavia and so on until you end up in France. Throw in some biographical information and you should have an inkling as to what the ten year journey was all about. But, of course, no one ever does that. We come to Ayler at different times, our first encounters usually accidental. So, I heard Love Cry first, then In Greenwich Village, then Ghosts. By the time I got to Spiritual Unity I felt it lacked something (a trumpet maybe) and I've never been as enthusiastric about the classic Ayler Trio as I feel I ought to be. I'm not sure whether Ayler is unique in this respect, given the relatively short period of his recorded output combined with the radical changes in his music. So, it's interesting to read an unchronological response to Ayler, which is what the Jessamine Vine blog is doing.”
The link above will take you to the latest entry, this one should take you to the start, then scroll down to the foot of the page and begin with Love Cry.
3. Anthony Osborne
I first came to Ayler's music when I was 17 or 18, around the dawn of the 1980s - I was coming from an obsession with The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and No Wave and looking for something that moved me in a similar way. Free jazz, fire music, seemed to offer exactly that and my first encounter with Albert was hearing In Greenwich Village. It was love at first listen - I was a fledgling saxophonist at the time and Albert's playing, his tone, everything about him, was like discovering the Holy Grail. I loved the noise, the tunes, the energy ... it all appealed to me.
I was soon busy tracking down everything I could find by this remarkable artist and am happy to say that initial thrill has never faded. From the magnificent trio of Spiritual Unity to the later pop-infected albums, it all sounds like the music of the spheres to me.
I'm now in my fifties, still playing saxophone and still finding new beauty and new inspiration in the music. It never grows stale.
I am a free music saxophonist, improviser and composer.
If I have to choose labels, I would place my work within free jazz, experimental, drone and noise - although I prefer to just think of it as music.
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