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June 1 2021
Where Rivers Meet
Last month I mentioned an upcoming event in Scotland melding 60’s free jazz with the visual arts in a performance in Edinburgh’s St. Giles’ Cathedral - The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Maria Rud: Where Rivers Meet: The Music of Dewey Redman and Albert Ayler .
‘Ancient stones in Edinburgh have been resounding to very 21st century music and pandemic-age technology. Earlier this month saw the magnificent interior of St Giles’ Cathedral host an extraordinary exercise in spontaneous creation when the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra collaborated with the Edinburgh-based Russian painter Maria Rud. While the big band, under the direction of saxophonist Tommy Smith, tapped into the free jazz revolution of the 1960s, Rud, in her multi-media “Animotion” live-painting mode, responded directly to the music, her ever-evolving images being projected on to the darkened cathedral’s west window and the whole performance being live-streamed.
Among other repertoire Smith had chosen an Albert Ayler piece called Ghosts – appropriately enough for a venue so steeped in history, the music coursing from free-form sturm und drang, through – somewhat unexpectedly – the largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, to a jubilant climax involving When the Saints Go Marching In. During a prolonged drum solo from Alyn Cosker, Rud’s brush strokes sometimes seemed as syncopated as the music to which she was reacting and, yes, the image that took shape was of a huge, decidedly Gabriel-esque horn, curving across the window.’
There’s another review on the London Jazz News site, more information at The Courier, and the SNJO site has details of how to access the full concert, and this preview of ‘Ghosts’ on youtube:
Wadada Leo Smith
New releases from trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith have prompted an article and interview by Dave Cantor on the Downbeat site which includes the following exchange about the Ayler brothers:
‘You open that set with a song dedicated to saxophonist Albert Ayler, and in the liner notes you talk about the ceremonial nature of his playing. Is there a connection between your perception of his work and performing at St. Mary’s?
He was a spiritual person. And he looked to use and elevate his music, so that it would offer an environment for people to either have a spiritual experience or some kind of reflective or meditative awareness. We would call an artist like him a spiritual artist. He and his brother Don, those guys were brought up in a very unique family. … They believed in the Holy Ghost and the touching of the Spirit. And those things, if you’ve ever been in that kind of environment, around those kinds of people, they are real. They are not artificial. It’s not something that people pretend.
They go into these states, and these states have been recorded all throughout history, by all kinds of religions — from Judaism to Islam to Christianity to Buddhism, all across the spectrum. So, what they were doing and what he was doing — I use the word ritualistic, because I’m referring to the fact that it was not ordinary. The stage, for him, was not an ordinary space. It was a really profound space, where he conducted rituals. It’s this idea of spiritual transformation.’
TUM Records have released the two box sets, each containing 3 CDs: Trumpet (the initial track called ‘Albert Ayler’) and Sacred Ceremonies (which also features Milford Graves and Bill Laswell and has a track entitled ‘Donald Ayler’s Rainbow Summit’).
Steve Tintweiss sent me this extract from a piece by Allan Evans (a musicologist / researcher who specializes in rare and historical recordings of blues, composer transcriptions and International folk music) from the Arbiter Records site. It’s entitled ‘Spreading The Gospel’ and contains the following about Albert Ayler (the original has audio examples of the music under discussion).
‘Eager to share what went down at our World of Music class comprised of first year students this morning at Mannes / New School University. After exploring African genres last week and how some elements survive in traditional American Blues & Gospel, we went deeper into the regions of Spiritual music.
. . .
One individual who used Gospel themes and marches was the saxophonist and composer Albert Ayler (1936-1970). How would the students react to hearing free jazz, from almost half a century ago, accustomed as they are to melody and its base for improvisations as composed variation? At one of his last concerts, held at the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence in 1970, a photo taken at the concert shows him with bass player Steve Tintweiss who has always been active in music since then and earlier. The entire concert was filmed but remained inaccessible due to uncertain reasons . . .
The Truth is Marching In has a floating opening that leads into the march, flits back into a different space and then is propelled into a spiritual ecstasy.
Some class members stated that the melodic parts were fine with them but the solo was too much! One composer liked it. But how to show that it was quite the contrary to being an excursion away from Gospel traditions? We drew on the Rev. Frank Cotton’s sermon on Lazarus and Christ in The Pool of Siloam. As Ayler cannot be limited to standard pitches and has to transcend his instrument to enter into another dimension we hear it as a continuity of the Rev. Cotton lapsing from song and crescendos into a screaming that goes beyond words!’
Mars Williams: The Albums That Shaped My Career
Chooses In Greenwich Village as one of the above - as I’ve mentioned before my favourite Ayler album - in an item on the Something Else! site:
‘ALBERT AYLER - LIVE IN GREENWICH VILLAGE (1967): It's tough [to choose just one inspirational record, because] there's so many of them. There are a lot of compositions and themes. Any of his records, his big giant sound. It's so soulful and spiritual. It goes deep into my soul. It's so different. I first heard Spiritual Unity when I was 19. It definitely shaped my career. The live approach - it's great. On vinyl it was four or five tracks, but it was a double CD. I grew up seeing these groups on the south side of Chicago. Anthony Braxton, Kenny Wheeler - it was a whole new approach.'
A couple of versions of ‘Ghosts’ (what else?) this month. One for guitar by Colin Smith and this (warning, contains scenes of vinyl abuse):
And this is an interpretation of the phrase from My Name Is Albert Ayler which has always been on the top of this page:
And finally . . .
A selection of the latest fashions in the haute-couture world of Albert Ayler, compiled by Dirk Goedeking:
This I don’t get:
And I think this bloke’s just asking for trouble:
May 1 2021
Bernard Stepien (1947 - 14/3/2021)
Sad to report the death of Bernard Stepien from prostate cancer at the age of 74. For fans of Albert Ayler, Bernard will always be remembered for his mash-ups of Christmas carols with Ayler tunes. I first became aware of his Christmas concerts back in 2010 and he also produced a CD, A Very Ayler Christmas! There’s an obituary on the Ottawa Citizen site and two tribute programmes on CKCU. And this is Bernard playing ‘Ghosts’ mixed with ‘The Red Flag’.
Margaret Grimes let me know about this article by Mitch Myers, ‘Spirits, Ghosts, Witches & Devils: The Life And Death Of Albert Ayler’, which originally appeared in the October/November 2004 issue of Magnet. It came out around the time of the release of the Holy Ghost box set and I did buy a copy of the magazine and always intended to transcribe it for the site when a decent interval had passed. Now I don’t have to - it’s available online.
Richard Koloda sent me a couple of items from the Antioch College Record which appeared on page 8 of the issue of 3rd February, 1967. There’s a list of upcoming events, and this preview of a concert by the Albert Ayler Quintet at Kelly Hall (Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio) on that date:
Note the replacement of Bill Folwell by Clyde Shy (Mutawaf Shaheed) on bass, otherwise this is the ‘66 European Tour line-up.
[A sidenote: Last month I posted a programme for the Paris leg of the ‘66 tour and forgot to draw attention to the error in the Ayler band’s line-up - Ronald Jackson is listed as the drummer, instead of Beaver Harris. Luckily Dikko Faust spotted the same thing and reminded me.]
Richard also followed up on the Yellow Springs trail, unfortunately not finding a recording of Albert’s concert, but he did turn up this recording by the Cecil Taylor Unit featuring Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille. The Taylor concert took place in Kelly Hall, Antioch College, on 18th January, 1969.
And (finally) Richard also let me know that Tom Orange, who presided over the Albert Ayler tribute show from 2016 (mentioned last month), which Richard came across on the Internet Archive, got back to him and pointed out that there are other radio shows of his in the Archive, including some which may be of interest to Ayler fans, such as this one from 11th June, 2015 featuring the Rent Romus Rustbelt Ensemble and the aforementioned Mutawaf Shaheed. Also featured is Hasan Abdur-Razzaq, who, sad to report, recently passed away. The full list of Tom Orange’s shows is available here.
This is from youtube, a radio advert for ESP from 1968:
Following on from last month’s test pressing of Spirits, Dirk Goedeking sent me links to a few more. He wondered what the appeal of them is to collectors, but did point out that ‘Of course there are important test pressings. In Albert's discography it is "Something Different!!!!! Vol. 2", as it only existed as a test pressing for a long time.’ I get it in a a way, even though I’ve never been a collector in the true sense (more of a hoarder), but I do wonder what the appeal is of this ‘Test Pressing’ of Spiritual Unity:
Which is described on Bandcamp as “Test Pressing from Pirates Press. Generic jacket with identifying factory sticker. Only 5 made. 2019 repress.”
This one makes a bit more sense, but even so it’s only for a UK reissue:
“ALBERT AYLER In Greenwich Village (Rare white label test pressing for the 1983 UK 4-track LP, originally released on Impulse in 1967. The A-side has a studio label with custom 'Test Pressing' and 'Approval Required Before Bulk Run Can Be Made' text, a date stamp of '9 Mar 1983' and hand annotated catalogue info. The second side is a plain white label. The vinyl looks barely played, tested only briefly for its sound quality. Not many of these escaped into the hands of the general public, making this one very scarce indeed! JAS70).”
This test pressing of Spirits Rejoice fetched $89 last November:
And we end with this test pressing of Swing Low Sweet Spiritual on Osmosis:
Perhaps more to the point, Dirk also told me about a new release from the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, which is available from Bandcamp.
Sonny Simmons (4/8/1933 - 6/4/2021)
Another death to report, that of Sonny Simmons, a close contemporary of Albert Ayler, although their paths apparently never crossed. Pierre Crépon let me know that there is an obituary by Marc Chaloin (who wrote the essay on Ayler’s early years in Europe for the Holy Ghost book) on TheWire site.
I should also mention that Pierre has an article on the American jazz invasion of France in the 1960s - ‘Collision Course: American Avant-Garde Jazz in Paris, 1969’ in the South African journalChimurenga Chronic (not available online).
Steve Tintweiss and a neat coincidence
Steve Tintweiss has a ‘new’ CD out, MarksTown by ‘Steve Tintweiss and The Purple Why’, recorded in 1968.
More information here. And the coincidence? Trevor Koehler plays baritone sax for The Purple Why, as he did for The Insect Trust, a band which also featured an ex-Ayler bassist, Bill Folwell.
Scotland the Brave but not as brave as Burslem
I came across this on The Scotsman site in an article entitled ‘Tradfest promises Shetland strings, blazing banjos and rebellious truth-telling’:
‘Another ancient Edinburgh landmark taking to the wired world in spectacular fashion is St Giles Cathedral, which becomes the venue for a collaboration between the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and the Edinburgh-based Russian multimedia artist Maria Rud, renowned for her heady combination of live painting, music, architecture and state-of-the-art technology through her AniMotion shows in such iconic spaces as the National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh University Old College Quad.
Running online from 12-15 May, her collaboration with the SNJO, titled Where Rivers Meet, promises to be the orchestra’s “most ambitious, multi-dimensional event to date,” according to its director, saxophonist Tommy Smith.
As Rud paints, her vivid, ever-evolving images will be projected directly on to the unique “canvas” provided by the breathtaking Gothic interior of the High Kirk, while the SNJO, featuring Smith and fellow-saxophonists Paul Towndrow, Konrad Wiszniewski and Martin Kershaw, evoke the simmering creative spirit of the Sixties free jazz movement, playing music by such notable exponents as Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Dewy Redman and Anthony Braxton.
For Rud, the essentially improvisatory nature of the music will inspire new imagery. For Smith, the performance will be “all about expression, the deepest emotion of our inner voice. The soloists must bare their souls – that was the challenge and the achievement of much of the best of the free jazz of the 1960s and beyond. And that's what we're after here.”’
I was reminded of a similar event in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, back in my playing days. The band was in an alcove at one end of the room, and a massive plastic sheet was hung between it and the painters, who threw paint at the sheet while we merrily played. The end result was a sort of brown.
This month’s ‘Ghosts’
Only the first four minutes, after which, Mr. Fukushima shows two copies, one in English, one in Japanese, of J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories, and proceeds to talk about the same, in Japanese. The subtitles are also in Japanese. I do not understand Japanese. In the youtube description, ‘Ghosts’ by Albert Ayler is accompanied by ‘A Perfect Day For Bananafish’. I did not get the reference, to my shame, but, looking it up this is the title of one of J. D. Salinger’s short stories in the collection, so I presume Mr. Fukushima is discussing this story and perhaps making some connection with Albert Ayler - maybe, I don’t know. At the end of the video Mr. Fukushima holds up what I presume is a flyer for a concert, but, again, it’s in Japanese. I did look up ‘A Perfect Day For Bananafish’ on wikipedia. And then I thought I’d better leave it at that, before I found myself in a Jacques Rivette film searching for the connections to The Thirteen.
And finally ... the return of an old favourite ...
Back on solid ground. Looking through last month’s Ayler additions to youtube, a number of those digital albums with stupid titles cropped up - jazz compilations featuring ‘Truth Is Marching In’ or ‘Spirits Rejoice’. I checked amazon and they’re there too. What I would like to know is what programme they use to generate the stupid titles. Sometimes they come close to something reasonable, like European Jazz Time, but mainly they degenerate into these:
April 1 2021
Old Radio Tributes
Richard Koloda let me know about an Ayler tribute show from 2016, originally broadcast on WCSB, which has now turned up at the Internet Archive, described thus:
‘This Albert Ayler tribute was part of the June 16, 2016 broadcast of "The Brewing Luminous" on WCSB Cleveland 89.3 FM. It features the groups Witches & Devils, Universal Indians, Lisle Ellis and Joe McPhee. The show was hosted weekly by Tom Orange during the years 2010-2016. This low fidelity (64 kbps mp3) edition is intended for educational purposes only.’
And Dirk Goedeking sent me a link to a Milford Graves interview (on the subject of Albert Ayler) which was broadcast on WKCR in 1987. This was listed in the Interviews section, but the link had died, so this is the new one and here’s a poster for it:
Following on ...
John Fordham’s obituary of Milford Graves is now available at The Guardian.
Here’s another of those 60th anniversary of Impulse! reissues from Japan:
Thanks to Bertrand Gastaut for posting this on the Albert Ayler facebook group page:
Something Old Something New
Thought I’d mention that on ebay there was a test pressing of the Polydor version of Spirits, aka Witches And Devils, which went for £64. I’ve put the pictures on the relevant covers page, but here are the labels:
Angels is a new album from the trio of Mark Solberg (guitar), Anders Banke (tenor sax and bass clarinet) and Bjørn Heebøll (drums and percussion).
Here’s the title track:
The Quick And The Dead
Dirk Goedeking sent me some links to the current activities of “Free Jazz Superstars from the 60s - alive, recording and releasing new material” and I thought it appropriate amidst our commemorations of the dead that we should also take some time to celebrate the living.
Pharoah Sanders has a new album out - Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra. There’s more information in the NPR site.
Back to 2019 and there was the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, We Are On The Edge, and last year saw the release of Duo (Bologna) 2018, a collaboration between Anthony Braxton and the harpist, Jaqueline Kerrod.
Archie Shepp follows up last year’s Ocean Bridges with Let My People Go which was released in February this year. Dirk adds this note on the latter: ‘His singing on the saxless radio edit "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" is heartbreaking.’
There’s an interview with Shepp about Let My People Go in La Jornada. Translated from the Spanish, here are his remarks about Albert Ayler:
“What role did Albert Ayler play in jazz music?”
“Ayler was new and different for his time, not only because of the structural form of his compositions, but also because of his sentimental approach to music.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ayler did not say ‘we are going to play this or that piece’. Rather, he said things like ‘Let’s play: sadness. Let’s play: hunger.’”
“The evolution of jazz was very fast at that time with Coltrane, Ornette and Ayler.”
“It may sound like that, but Ellington had already done it 30 years ago.”
A Little Bit Of Sunshine
Going back a bit again, to last November, but I picked up this item from the Chicago Reader’s ‘Best of Chicago 2020’. A review of an outdoor concert by the trio of Tyler Damon, Dave Rempis and Bill Harris in Margate Park, included the following:
‘You’ll get sun and breeze anywhere outside, but in Margate Park on Saturday, November 7—just hours after the major news networks called the election for Biden—Rempis, Damon, and drummer Bill Harris opened with Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts” as a burst of wind carried a flickering swirl of golden honey locust leaves around their heads.’
Here’s ‘Ghosts’ on a variety of instruments, starting with flute: