Albert Ayler Trio - "Spiritual Unity", ESP Disk

Albert Ayler - "Live on the Riviera", ESP Disk

Listening to these two new CD remasters, I went down memory lane. I thought a lot about the time when Paul Haines truly introduced me to the sonic beauty of Albert Ayler. I mean, I'd "known" Ayler before, but then once Paul and I talked on the phone and he somehow got wind that I didn't own a copy of "Spiritual Unity". Within a week of my admission, in my mailbox, I found a cassette tape containing that Ayler title. [Paul was infamous for sending out mixed tapes of music he loved, music he listened to at the moment. On a number of occasions, I even received copies of tapes with snippets of my own radio programme interspersed with some of the music he was listening to at a given moment. His musical tastes were always dead on!] I was moved, not only by Paul's gesture, but moreover by Ayler's power. If anyone should know Ayler's music, it was Paul Haines. He was there in NYC, front and centre, when this shit was going down, when Ayler was showing off his muscles to the world. He wrote the liner notes [titled "You and the Night and the Music"] for the original issue of "Spiritual Unity" [A booklet with these original liner notes is included with the recent and outstanding "Holy Ghost" Ayler box set out on Revenant.] Let's not forget, this was ESP's first recording session. They were the new kid on the block back then. There was no concept that this music could turn heads or change the world of music as we know it today. It was 1964 and Ayler, along with bassist Gary Peacock and percussionist Sunny Murray entered the Variety Arts Recording Studio in New York and in a matter of hours, "Spiritual Unity" was put down on tape. Recording contract was signed that same afternoon and we now had something that is considered both a classic and a masterpiece in one breath. To talk about the music 40 years down the road is either senseless or just silly. [An interesting fact is the session was mistakenly recorded in mono, and this is the way it has remained to this day.] I mean, for those uninitiated, this music is about passion, jubilation and the glory of life. Ayler blows hard and fast but he never overdoes any one single thing. He couldn't have asked for a better, more concise and articulate rhythm section than he had in Peacock and Murray. Whether the conservative faction wants to admit it or not, "Ghosts" and "Spirits" are as much mainstay anthems in the world of jazz as anything else. What is left to be said? Most know that "Spiritual Unity" should be in any serious record collection [no matter what musical preferences you may subscribe to]. Amen!

Recorded only a few months before his untimely death in 1970, "Live on the Riviera" is a different affair altogether. This is a different Ayler from a different phase. Compare the version of "Ghosts" [which closes off this live record] with the one found on "Spiritual Unity". Though the piece still retains some of its' original vitality, much of its' initial power and strength is sadly missing. It's almost as if Ayler was tired. The set was recorded at the legendary Fondation Maeght in France, where some of the most crucial names of jazz performed in the late 60's and early 70's Sun Ra, Don Cherry and Cecil Taylor. His partner at the time, Mary Maria adds some occasional vocals to a few of the tracks. Though she's no Linda Sharrock, she still manages to belch out some lighter fare in between Ayler's jubilant cries. I guess my biggest concern is with Ayler's rhythm section this time around. Bassist Steve Tintweiss and percussionist Allen Blairman simply can't measure up to the legendary Peacock Murray team. Though they try in places to keep up with Ayler's ferocious blows, most of the time, they simply appear to be chasing their leader. As this is one of the last sessions that Ayler did, one can't help but wonder what would have transpired musically had Albert been around just a few years more.

Tom Sekowski

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