Thursday, November 11, 2010

ALBERT AYLER - 1936-1970

I think I may have read this somewhere, or else I just made it up a few minutes ago because I'm too stupid to work out a decent intro, but if one were to analogize avant garde jazz to a human being it would go something like this: Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy would be the heart, Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton would chess battle it out in the brain, Sun Ra would undoubtedly be the mojo. Or maybe that's some mashed up misarrangement of the plot and the subspace surrounding the issue. I don't know. But one thing I can say for sure: Albert Ayler was the soul of the jazz underground. In the 1960s there was no artist more "free" than Ayler, no artist that pushed the boundries of where art would end and real life would begin and why those two things are supposedly mutually exclusive than Ayler. John Coltrane said that Ayler's work "seemed to have reached a place we have not been able to get yet." Critics have said a great deal about the "naked aggression" and "artistic freedom" in his work, and have spoken of his "mission to raze jazz to the ground and reinvent the music on his own terms." Others claim that his music is "largely about channeling freedom and life energy."

He played the saxophone (tenor and soprano to be exact) and used thick plastic reeds to produce a distinctively bold sound. He is known to have compared his own artistic importance to that of Pablo Picasso, and referred to his music as "the new truth", famously insisting that music is "not about the notes". He was mainly influenced by traditional music, like gospel and the early jazz of New Orleans, but somehow Ayler's translation ended up sounding like "the screaming from a black hole".

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Ayler's death. No one is sure exactly when he died, or, really, how he died. It was probably a suicide but more probably the mafia killed him or even more probably the FBI did it. He disappeared on November 5, 1970 and was found floating in the East River on November 25, 1970.
I'll try to post a few more Ayler related things in the next two weeks but if I don't you can find more info here: has more information than I can provide, and has some free songs available.
Here is a long dead blog that explores Ayler's work in detail and has several Ayler releases available for your listening pleasure, including a good chunk of the 9 disc Holy Ghost box set and many of his early releases.


The Thing That Should Not Be said...

The Holy Ghost boxset is WELL worth picking up, and I've seen it around fairly reasonably priced of late too. There really was, well, still IS, something otherworldly and literally soulful about Ayler's music. One of the first jazz artists I clicked with, musically.

Peter said...

Hell yes, Albert Ayler! Keep the free jazz coming!

Roger Camden said...

Ayler's skronky stuff is pretty good
kind of what you'd expect if you're familar with free jazz
(and somehow not familar with Ayler)
but what about the marches and stuff from late in his recording career?
that's the stuff that weirds me out
who the fuck writes marches anymore?

"the mafia killed him or even more probably the FBI"

Steven said...

Interesting! Thank you, sir.