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Friday, 28 August 2009

Albert Ayler - 'Live in Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Recordings' (Impulse!)

The other piece of the puzzle is here - longer, unedited and more orchestrated material from the 1966 band heard on the Lörrach/Paris 1966 LP. This time the recordings come from Albert's side of the big pond, though the Dutch violinist Michael Sampson is still present. Also present on some tracks are Joel Freedman (cello), Henry Grimes, Alan Silva, George Steele and Sunny Murray; the personnel changes across the two long compact discs but the energy and resonance never drops a beat. This is the great celebratory music of the American experience, here allowed to extend to 10, 12, even 16 minute pieces. The Ayler brothers remain front and center - I would even go as far to say that Don has near-equal footing with Albert on these discs - though there's some incredible string work and the drumming is the most full-on and upfront of any Murray or Harris recordings we've heard so far in this blog. The second track of the first disc, 'Truth is Marching In', is one of those bold, masterful cuts that I would rank among the best in Ayler's entire discography (though we still haven't really digested the Holy Ghost box, which is exempt from this blog). Every single superlative you can lay on what makes this music great - the incorporation of folk/spiritual forms, bold melodic gestures, exuberant energy, amazing interactions, a heavy focus on timbre and resonance, a lockstep understanding of drama and tempo - can be heard in the 12:42 of 'Truth is Marching In'. To be fair, all of disc 1 is energetic and explosive, with long tracks that stretch out the melodic motifs and repeat them ad infinitum, but also extend and meditate upon them. Oh yeah, there's also a nice -- pardon me, breathtaking -- ballad at the end of disc 1 with nice Fats Waller-style piano runs ("probably" by Cal Cobbs, Jr. who I think was the dude that played harpsichord on Love Cry?) and Ayler showing just how deep the wavering tone can dip (it's enough to touch your soul). It's called 'Angels'. So disc two starts with 'For John Coltrane' who had died shortly before this improvisation. It's somber, as expected, with the cello and double basses (meaning two of them) somewhat indistinguishable from another but working perfectly with Sampson's classical background. Albert is on alto and the track is quite a bit different from anything else he ever recorded because of this. Now because I've listened to these so many times, the digipak is pretty battered and disc 2 skips quite a bit, rendering 'Spiritual Rebirth' and 'Infinite Spirit' near-unlistenable. But the skips work out for 'Omega is the Alpha' , by which point John Philip Sousa's been thrown into a blender with Robert Johnson, Stephen Foster, and Bessie Smith; what comes out is chopped up even further. Repetition, repetition, repetition - 'Light in Darkness' features every musician playing the same lines (or thereabouts), falling in and out of sync with each other and sketching 100 years of celebration and sadness in the space between the notes. Timbres shift, adjustments are made. The beat goes on and on, the strings and plucked and bowed, and the brass continues to bleat. This music is eternal.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Albert Ayler and Don Cherry - 'Vibrations' (Freedom)

This is one of those questionably packaged CDs that gives equal creedence to Don Cherry though he's not really there the whole time, and the cover art is just Ayler anyway. But in 1964 Cherry was much more established than young upstart Albert so I understand the need to bill things this way. This is the Spiritual Unity trio with Cherry coming in on his cornet or trumpet or whatever it was; so I've always taken this as a live document of the group in 1964, with some hints at the great trumpet/sax interplay to later come with Albert started playing with his brother. We get 'Ghosts' twice, sounding like an increasingly darker part of the yard where these musicians are chassing an errant whiffleball. But 'Holy Spirit', coming at the end of the first half, is a real scorcher. Opening with an atonal convergence of brass birds, it develops into an open yet passionate piece that swerves towards chaos but is continually pulled back into check by it's melodies. Gary Peacock kicks out some deep, thick bowing near the end; the piece grinds to statis after this. The second half has the title track and 'Mothers'; Cherry is fast and wispy but Albert steals the show. This is a live recording so it's hard to know what sort of room they played in, but Ayler sounds like he's playing through a SpaceEcho pedal or something. I guess this is just his magic vibrato occasionally repeating itself to the furthest horizons.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist - 'Danse Manatee' (Catsup Plate)

This is the one that blew it open, for me at least. The sound of a New York-cum-Maryland underground circa 2001: psychedelia, contemporary electronic aeffects, and spazzy freakout stuff minus the traditions of West coast composition, free jazz, minimalism, post-punk, etc. Yeah, it's a new breed that's certainly paid dividends in terms of followers, eight years later (not to mention surely some rich rewards monetarily). But here's something different indeed; a songcraft exposed but melted, finding the point at which it's something more than just deconstructing "normal" songs. The compositions themselves are damaged, so these arrangements flow naturally. Listen to 'Meet the Light Child' - or any of the songs here, really. They hadn't embraced the Sung tones yet, cause this is as cold as it gets. And it's also one of the tinniest records I've ever heard. Even when there is some low end it has a metallic shimmer, or some warbling birdcalls layered on top to cut through the thickness. The percussion here, by Mr. Panda Bear, is insanely fluid and free, reminding me at the time of Lightning Bolt (really! cause they were a big deal in 2001) but more open and less aggressive, of course. They never had such flutering cymbal work on any other record and there is an improvised feel to this despite the fleeting harmonies. And what a blast of bright white light this was. Music could be relentlessly experimental and direct at the same time! A pop hook can be an even more wonderful thing if it's the balancing beam between two avant-garde textures. And while this all sounds commonplace now, and this album has been actually kind of forgotten among their more popular works to follow, I can't help but turn back to this with the same wide-eyed wonder during which I first heard it, in a car, in late 2001. I remember the car was fairly loud - an old clunker, can't remember where I was going or who played it for me, but the finer nuances of the higher registers were completely lost to my ears thanks to the sound of wind and road noise. I was still struck by the rhythms, the singing, and the general messy structures that were still structures. When I heard it properly, while stationary, it was like a bucket of sticky glitter that I hadn't heard before was caked over most surfaces. It's easy to say that an artist was more "innocent" on their earlier work, especially if their breakthrough records found a larger audience, but I don't think that's the case here. The vocals are surely less present, so maybe you could argue for a timidity that disappeared later on, but there's nothing innocent about this music. It was made with the firmest of intentions, and lit a flame that later became a spotlight.