Thursday, May 16, 2013
Albert Ayler - In Greenwich Village (1967)
The Village Vanguard, New York City, 1966. We was sittin’ there watchin’ the stage. Waitin’ for the man they called Ayler to come out and do his thing. It was me and my four droogs. Them bein’ Sanic, Finn, and Dim; Dim being really Dim.
‘Round an hour’d passed and the place was packed straight through to the back. I’d just dropped some dollars for Ayler's Spirit's Rejoice six months back. Now was the time, this was the place. The Village Vanguard. New York City. 1966.
Albert Ayler was a saxophonist active during the entirety of the 1960's. A prominent figure in the avant/free/spiritual jazz movement that was already being spearheaded by artists such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, Ayler got his professional career started in parts of Scandinavia. After recording a few albums with the Fontana label in Europe, he moved back to the USA where he would sign with ESP-Disk, a label that gave absolute artistic freedom without any interference from the label itself. It was on this label he recorded Spiritual Unity, an album now regarded as essential and highly influential in the avant-jazz community, giving praise to Ayler's rich sax tone and for the first time focused on an artist's timbre rather than an artist's ability to compose. Later into the 1960's, at John Coltrane's request, Ayler was signed onto the Impulse! label which was known as the forerunner of the jazz community along with Blue Note. It was here where Albert recorded his final records, before his body would be found in New York's East River, the result of an apparent suicide.
One of these final Impulse! recordings was Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village. This album is a selection of four cuts from separate recording dates at The Village Theatre and The Village Vanguard in Manhattan's Greenwich Village neighborhood, where many artists before him had recorded landmark albums including Coltrane and Bill Evans. This album is generally regarded as one of his finest efforts during this period and I have to agree with the praise.
This album is unlike most albums I have ever heard and I believe it has to do with it's spiritual overtones. Ayler's dear friend. colleague and mentor, John Coltrane had recently passed away. This left Ayler stricken with grief and needed a call from above to help him through it all. Two of the songs on this album, Truth is Marching In and Our Prayer, incidentally were two songs that he and his band performed at Coltrane's funeral (a recording of this exists in various places),although the renditions on this album were recorded before his death. For John Coltrane and Change Has Come were recorded after Coltrane's death, and it is completely evident that these compositions were inspired by Ayler's lament for the passing of 'Trane. It is the aurora that these recordings give off by nature that makes them sound unlike any other.
In terms of sound, this album is a grandiose, monolithic display of the power of Ayler's group. Many parts of this album take notable influence from the New Orleans dixieland funeral marching band style of what is known as "breaking with the body", where as the funeral procession is led toward the graveyard, the band's tempo is slow and solemn while playing a typical spiritual such as "Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and as the casket approaches the graveyard the band picks up speed and the music builds up into a highly energetic, uptempo, seemingly joyful rendition of the spiritual while it breaks away from the funeral procession. (For reference, see George Lewis' album Jazz Funeral in New Orleans). Ayler's timbre is crystal clear, adding in his overblowing, screeching and wailing techniques. Also in the mix is violinist Michael Sampson, a disciple of Ayler from his early days in Copenhagen, who completes the wall of sound of Ayler's team by creating a droning, atmospheric wail that amplifies the complete (controlled) chaos of the group.
This record is an extremely powerful free jazz record, although some sounds in it may be a little too much for the uninitiated into the world of free jazz. I would suggest listening to a few of John Coltrane's and Ornette Coleman's recordings if one is unfamiliar with this type of music, just to understand to understand the context. Or you could just listen to it and be blown away by the sheer chaos and spirituality. Shit cat, that's cool too.
In Greenwich Village