Thursday, January 22, 2009

Spiritual Unity

I’ll continue with the Albert Ayler theme that I started last time. “Love Cry” was my first real introduction to this crazy, life-affirming music. After a few weeks of having the disc on continuous rotation (much to my wife’s horror), I was ready to continue with my education. I read everything I could find about Albert Ayler, and quickly realized that “Spiritual Unity” was the album that many would consider his masterpiece. I ordered the disc directly from ESP, and waited patiently for its arrival.

Albert Ayler, Spiritual Unity
1964, ESP
Albert Ayler: Tenor saxophone
Gary Peacock: Bass
Sunny Murray: Percussion

On July 10th of 1964, Albert Ayler, Gary Peacock, and Sunny Murray walked into the tiny studio of the newly formed ESP label. The result was “Spiritual Unity” - a concise, confident, and beautifully crafted musical statement. Words can’t really do this album justice, the interaction among the musicians – Sunny Murray’s drumming and Gary Peacock’s bass in particular, is astounding. Murray doesn’t keep time in any traditional sense; his subtle drumming interacts and intertwines with Peacock’s bass and creates a subdued, undulating undercurrent for Ayler’s sax. Loose marching themes are played by Ayler, and you'd swear that you have heard these simple melodies before. The themes are stated and restated, then deconstructed, then torn to shreds, then left completely behind with screams of jagged improvisation... and then the themes are restated. The results are mesmerizing.

The recording engineer apparently fled the control booth during the recording to avoid the chaos. For reasons unknown, he also thought that the recording was a demo and recorded it in mono instead of stereo. I found this out after I had owned the album for several months, listening to the entire thing twice every day on my bus commute to work (it was exactly the right length), and I honestly never noticed that it wasn’t in stereo – which is amazing particularly since I was listening to it on headphones. The communication among the musicians is so spellbinding I didn't notice. Play it loud.

Click on the player below to hear a 5-minute long clip of Bernard Stollman, founder of the ESP label, speak about his first meeting with Albert Ayler and a description of the Spiritual Unity session. This clip is from a longer segment focused on Albert Ayler and his music that can be listened to at ESP's web site.

Buy it directly from ESP

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