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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.

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