Saturday, May 29, 2004


Albert Ayler was one of the more, er, esoteric of the freedom jazz guys to permeate this writer's psyche during my "I wanna be avant garde too!" days in the late seventies. Esoteric enough that I never could find any of his albums, not that I was looking that hard, and when I finally heard him in the early-eighties (after returning to active avant garde status after a few years of punk dereliction of duty), I must admit that I was surprised. I mean, Coltrane was avant jazz popularized, Coleman was avant jazz scronked, Shepp was avant jazz politicized, Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman were avant jazz taken beyond its furthest reaches and running around wildly on the other side, but where did Ayler fit? Here's a guy who leaped back into the past and grasped the future taking all sorts of "Great Black Music" and fitting it all into his schizoid style that sounded like a deep, guttural moan from the deepest chasms of a diseased-if-brilliant mind. At times it even could be embarrassing, the same way that AN EVENING WITH WILD MAN FISHER made me cringe because it seemed like Zappa, although professing to be a "friend" (at least until the time Fisher broke his kids' toys giving Frank an excuse to drop him pronto!), more or less was exploiting Fisher's mental instability for his (and our) own voyeuristic pleasure. Almost as bad as if there was a TV show on where retarded people acted bizarre and we were supposed to laugh at it! Listening to Ayler was almost like listening to a mental breakdown, the music of a man about one step away from the sanitarium and even if I didn't know about his alledged schitzoid behavior I could tell he was suffering from SOMETHING. Just like I could tell that Coltrane was filled with the same Spirit as Bach, Coleman an earthy pulse, and Shepp the red brigade, Ayler was filled with angels and demons battling it out, and the demons were winning!

But then there were the moments of pure adrenal euphoria, when Ayler and his band would play on an entirely higher plane, what Wayne McGuire would call "yoga music," which resembled an entirely new genre of sound taking elements of baroque, marches, old Irish reels etc., going for the higher reaches into a free play that seemed to epitomize a never-before-heard spiritual music that would sooner or later envelop the jazz world. Of course it wouldn't (leave that to Chick Corea), but it stood for plenty as far as the direction the jazz avant garde would go in once the mad flash of the sixties would give way to the cacophany of the seventies AACM/BAG/loft scene (jazz gets sore!).

Anyway there's going to be a new nine-CD set put out by Revenant, the same label that gave us the Charley Patton box set a year back that was the "hippest" underground/chic totem of a "new culture" person's collection the same way the MUSIC OF BULGARIA album was on every cool cats' lips back in 1965, and this one looks like it's gonna be the proverbial doozy. Like I said, nine count 'em nine CDs, and they're gonna be crammed with previously-unreleased wonders spanning Ayler's free jazz career starting with the early sixties up until the final days before Ayler's fateful swim. One disc is going to consist of nothing but interviews with not only Ayler but Don Cherry, and besides that there'll be a hardcover 208-page book, rare photos, essays and who knows, maybe even one of his flying saucer tracts telling of third encounters of an Albert and Donald Ayler kind!

I got the promotional CD collecting some highlights from the set, or at least what SOUND like highlights since they're all wild, high-energy jazz tracks that one might think CAN'T get any better. Most is from Ayler's "classic" period which gave us those albums on Freedom and ESP, and there're other little nice thingies like a bit of a sermon (!) and interview extracts to give us an idea of what is in store (including a set with Cecil Taylor, none of which is on this CD!). Describing the music can get redundant...hey, don't you just know it's more of that fine Ayler playing, that totally freestyle beauty that seemed to make up the best of what the sixties had to offer us which made the backbone of the best of what the seventies stood for.

I dunno if I will be forking over the big bucks for the actual box set...after all, I can't have everything that my li'l ol' heart desires and besides, where am I gonna store all these box sets anyway, but if you're game for the cream of the sixties avant jazz scene this item just might be the ticket to an experience that'll probably be the highlight of this so-far lukewarm year. Release date is October 5th, so start your plasma sellin' now! or

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