ALBERT AYLER: Opening the door to the future

 |   |  2 min read

Albert Ayler: Our Prayer
ALBERT AYLER: Opening the door to the future

Albert Ayler -- the inspired, heroic, driven and sometimes difficult saxophonist who committed suicide in 1970 at age 34 -- still stands at a crossroads in jazz.

By the late Nineties – when an exceptional, expanded edition of Ayler live surfaced -- even the music's most ardent advocates were having to concede that jazz was almost an historical artifact.

“Contemporary jazz” in the age post-Wynton Marsalis' neo-con movement sounded increasingly like an oxymoron as various styles, just as in rock, were recycled and remodeled in imitation of earlier eras.

It was almost as if every avenue had been explored and now slavish replication had become the acceptable substitute for innovation.

The question remains; why would you buy an album by trumpeter Roy Hargrove, good though he may be, when you could get Miles Davis doing something better 30 years ago.

If the only way ahead is by looking at where you’ve been, then jazz – at that time and even today – could do no better than look at the time it hit crucial crossroads , the late Sixties.

At that junction artists such as Ayler took the contract of jazz quite literally and extended hard bop into free jazz, a style in which many would say the music reached its purest expression. It was collective improvisation by individuals who may, or may not, choose to draw on any preceding era and style.

Free jazz is difficult (sometimes it’s awful and the name used as an excuse to just noodle around) but often it catches the performers at the peak of inspired, unedited inspiration. It didn’t take an audience with it, but today the parameters are different.

Popular culture today now accepts artists with magpie tendencies. (Will the real Beck please stand up? Oh, you are.)

And pure noise has become part of the available musical palette (Yoko Ono, Sonic Youth, the Dead C).

All that might make Ayler a more accessible proposition today. Although I doubt it.

Experience tells me he’s more accepted by a rock audience (which often only hears the parent-baiting aspects) than jazz listeners.ayler_2

Ayler was no sideshow freak: his pure, unfiltered improvisation was grounded in various traditions and the double disc Albert Ayler Live in Greenwich Village of '99 captured him at his best as he incorporated peculiar marches and New Orleans ballads, quotes from show tunes, and traditional American melodies into a swirling personal journey. These recordings were pulled together from performances in Village clubs between March '65 and February '67.

Those who doubt Ayler’s serious intentions and just hear untutored noise and squawking need only look at the titles here: Holy Ghost, Truth is Marching In, Our Prayer, Spirits Rejoice, Divine Peacemaker . . .

With bands consisting of bass (sometimes two), drums, cello, sometimes violin and his brother Don on trumpet (but only one track with piano), Ayler stripped his sound back to its elemental essences.

He heard music in interlocking melodic instruments but kept the rhythmic undercarriage as wide-spectrum and open to equal invention.

After Ayler there seemed nowhere else for jazz to go, which is why he is so important and could be such a source of inspiration today. He opened a door through which few entered.

Some of the tracks on this double disc appeared as the single album Live in Greenwich Village about which the formidable Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD trumpeted, “if his reputation hangs on any single recording, it's this one”. And now there is more of it.

'Nuff said.

Enter at your peril – pleasure.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Jazz articles index

Stefano Bollani: Stone in the Water (ECM/Ode)

Stefano Bollani: Stone in the Water (ECM/Ode)

After the superb duet album The Third Man with trumpeter Enrico Rava, this one by pianist Bollani (with bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morten Lund) was always going to attract the attention of... > Read more

Kevin Field, Ron Samsom, Olivier Holland: Irony (Rattle)

Kevin Field, Ron Samsom, Olivier Holland: Irony (Rattle)

There's an old joke: if you want to make a million dollars out of jazz, start with two million. Jazz is notoriously unprofitable for its performers and record companies (a decent selling jazz... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

The Beach Boys: In the Back of My Mind (1965)

The Beach Boys: In the Back of My Mind (1965)

In the very interesting DVD doco Brian Wilson; Songwriter 1962 - 1969,  Bruce Johnston -- who replaced Brian in the touring line-up of the Beach Boys in the mid Sixties -- identifies this song... > Read more

Radiohead: The Bends (1995)

Radiohead: The Bends (1995)

There is an easy and convincing case to be made for Radiohead's more obvious OK Computer of '97 -- or the even more edgy Kid A of 2000 -- as an Essential Elsewhere album. But The Bends was... > Read more