Monday, January 26, 2009

Bells / Prophecy

My next Ayler acquisition was "Bells / Prophecy" a combination of the two similarly titled live ESP albums. The two albums don't really feel right on the same release, as the line-ups and music are radically different, and recorded about a year apart during a highly transitional period. I didn't have any reason to pick up this title as opposed to any other; in fact, to someone just entering this world I would likely reccommend a few others before this title. However, as with anything that Ayler did during the 1964-67 time period, this is challenging, captivating, and rewarding music. I bought this title in a little independent CD and record shop on State Street in Madison - for no other reason than because it was on the shelf and I had a little money burning a hole in my pocket. Ah, the days when the only real expense was the monthly rent. I'll review the original releases separately below (and I think you can still purchase these separately, although it certainly makes more economic sense to pick up this combined package).

Albert Ayler, Prophecy
1964, ESP
Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone
Gary Peacock: bass
Sunny Murray: drums

"Prophecy" was recorded on June 14th, 1964 at the Cellar Cafe in New York with the "Spiritual Unity" trio of Ayler, Murray, and Peacock. This was less than a month before they would enter the tiny ESP studio and record their groundbreaking album. The music on this date is very similar in feel to "Spiritual Unity," although the trio stretches things out a bit more. I've heard some folks describe it as less a less focused performance than what was captured on "Spiritual Unity," or even downright meandering, but I don't agree with either characterization. The trio is certainly exploring more territory here, whereas "Spiritual Unity" seems to represent more of a distillation of these live experiments, but the results are just as exciting, although the trio is perhaps not as startlingly telepathic as they are on the studio album. However, they seem to more thoroughly explore some musical territory in this live setting. The biggest drawback is the somewhat marginal sound quality (this was a tape recording of the show), and audience chatter and general background noise (clinking of glasses, etc) is a slight distraction from the music, although the album is not at all unlistenable. The sound quality is the primary reason for the 4 instead of 5 star rating. For fans of "Spiritual Unity" this required reading.

Below listen to a clip from Benard Stollman, founder of the ESP label, on how he received the audio tape.  The unreleased part of the tape was finally released on the Holy Ghost box set, which I will eventually discuss.  This clip is from a longer segment focused on Albert Ayler and his music that can be listened to at ESP's web site.

Albert Ayler, Bells
1965, ESP
Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone
Donald Ayler: trumpet
Charles Tyler: alto saxophone
Lewis Worrell: bass
Sunny Murray: drums

"Bells" finds Albert moving closer to the sound that is so magnificently captured on "Live in Greenwich Village," although without the defining violin foundation. This live show was one of the early live vettings of Albert's new direction and his brother Don's trumpet playing. Recorded on May 1st 1965 at New York's Town Hall, there are only 19 minutes of music here (hence the pairing with Prophecy), and this was originally released as a one-sided LP. The music is continuous for the 19 minutes, and this raucous medley of repetitive marches represents at least three songs: Holy Ghost, No Name, and Bells. The first five minutes are comprised mostly of very intense free improvisation and on my first listen I was admittedly a bit nervous that I would be able to make it through the entire piece, given the level of shronking chaos. Don's skittery trumpet leads the way intitially, and adds tremendously to the feel of this music thoughout. "Skittery" is the simplest and most accurate description of Don's playing that I have heard, and I borrow the term here from Val Wilmer, who recently used it in Don's obituary. The piece mellows a bit after the first five minutes and branches out to explore the more structured musical territory of repetitive, march-like themes - although spontaneous, free improvisation occurs throughout. If you need to clear a crowded room, the first thirty seconds of this album ought to do it.

Below listen to a clip from Benard Stollman, founder of the ESP label, on the "Bells" concert at Town Hall and the original LP release.  This clip is from a longer segment focused on Albert Ayler and his music that can be listened to at ESP's web site.

But it directly from ESP

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