Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lorrach, Paris 1966

“Red-dee…settt….go,” shouts my daughter as she leaps off the headboard above our bed and face-plants on the bed.  Good parenting, eh?  Watching her do this repeatedly, I am in awe of her fearlessness.  She could easily keep doing this for an hour, or at least until she makes a less-than-soft landing and needs kisses.  Each time she climbs back up on the headboard I tell her to be careful, and she repeats “ca-fulll” several times.  I can only assume she is mocking me, because she is anything but careful. 

It has been a very busy and stressful month, and the next few months don’t look like they will be much better.  It is only March (in a few hours) and my summer schedule is already rapidly filling up with commitments as well, which is rather depressing.  

Even though it has been busy,  I have managed to listen to some music over the past few weeks and this next album has been a real highlight.  “Lorrach, Paris” beautifully captures “the dynamite sound” of 1966, a time when Albert and his companions were literally exploding with creativity and passion.

Albert Ayler, Lorrach,Paris 1966
Hat Hut, 1966 
Albert Ayler:  tenor saxophone
Donald Ayler :  trumpet
Michel Sampson:  violin
Bill Folwell:  bass
Beaver Harris:  drums

"Lorrach, Paris 1966" represents selections from two concerts in November 1966 (Lorrach, Germany and Paris, France).  The music is similar to "Slug's" and "Greenwich Village."  It is oscillating, screaming, melodious, and fearless.  I really like the percussion of Beaver Harris; in my opinion he successfully drives this music forward in a very different way than Sunny Murray.  There are even some nice drum solos on this album, something I don't recall on the other 1966-67 releases.  I can't really say much more about this; the music speaks for itself.  This is a must-have disc for Ayler fans, and as good a place as any for an introduction.  

As I listen to this, I can't help but wonder what it would have been like to witness these shows in person, and particularly how I would have reacted if I had no experience with this sort of music (and I imagine that at least some in the audience were completely unaware of what they were getting into).  I like to to think I would have been like my daughter, jumping off the headboard and hoping for a soft landing.  More likely I would have been like her father, shocked by the craziness.  "Ca-full."     

I guess this might be out of print, which if true is a real travesty.  Looks like a few very pricey used CDs are available through amazon.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Slugs' Saloon

Most of my “deep” music listening occurs in the evening or during the few days a week that I work from home.  Although I often play music in my office at work, I am rarely brave enough to expose my colleagues to the energy-rich goodness of free jazz sensu Ayler.   Typically I don’t push things much past Eric Dolphy, mid-period Coltrane, early Cecil Taylor, etc.  For my more energy-intensive material I have a room in the finished basement of our very tiny house where these activities can take place.  However, given the thin walls and my wife’s sensitive ears, listening to any music loud is typically not good for overall family morale, so if I want to really listen to something at high volume I typically use headphones.  This next album benefits greatly from headphones, primarily because the sound quality is rather sub par, likely because it was essentially a bootleg recording.

I listened to “Slug’s Saloon” several times after I first downloaded it from emusic, but a couple weeks later I stumbled into a copy of Lörrach, Paris 1966, and it soon replaced this one in the player primarily because of the better sound quality.  So although this album has regularly rotated through my listening queue I honestly didn’t listen to it very deeply until this past week.  However, I have listened to this album at least a dozen times this week; in fact, it is essentially the only music I have listened to, except for a Pete Seeger album that my wife and 19 month old daughter have been playing upstairs.   I am traveling today, and the frantic preparation for this trip and lack of sleep during the past few nights have left me feeling rather exhausted and a bit down.  I just listened to this album again on the airplane, and as I sit here awash with the lingering jubilance it has created, staring out on the awe-inspiring mountains of Colorado, I am feeling incredibly uplifted.  

Albert Ayler, Slugs' Saloon
1966, ESP
Albert Ayler:  tenor saxophone
Don Ayler:  trumpet
Michel Sampson:  violin
Lewis Worrell: bass
Ronald Shannon Jackson: drums

Recorded live at Slugs' Saloon on May 1st, 1966 the album is similar in feel and delivery to "Greenwich Village" as well as "Lörrach" which I will discuss more in my next entry.  In my opinion, it is a little more frenetic in feel than these other two releases, and the most striking difference is that imparted by Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums.  Stylistically his drumming is quite a contrast to Sunny Murray’s and somewhat different from Beaver Harris’s as well.  Often Jackson seems to drum “with” the melody, and his drumming is in some ways more “march-like” which obviously suits these pieces well.  He doesn’t really keep a strong beat per se but the drums are certainly more aggressive.  I think I prefer the sorts of things that Sunny Murray brought to the mix, as well as the template that Beaver Harris would provide later in 1966, but this is still a very enjoyable album.  Albert and company were really at the height of their powers during this time period.  If you can get past the sound quality, which really isn't hard, this is wonderful stuff.   

Below is a relevant audio clip, again taken from the radio show that ESP put together.  Bernard Stollman talks about the album and how he acquired the tape of the show.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

New York Eye and Ear Control

The next of my three emusic downloads was "New York Eye and Ear Control," a raucous collective improvisation that is notable for its lack of recurring march-like themes.  For me this album has been a bit difficult to sink my ears into, and I fully anticipated that it would again be difficult to engage with it. Without the occasional structure imposed by the recurrent themes, I have felt a bit like I'm in the middle of Lake Superior, without a raft on an overcast day, trying to figure out which  direction to swim.  However, this week I jumped in, told myself I didn't need a raft or my compass (and yes sometimes I still use a compass), and forced myself to intensively tread water with this thing.  

Albert Ayler, New York Eye and Ear Control
1964, ESP
Albert Ayler:  tenor saxophone
Don Cherry:  trumpet
John Tchicai:  alto saxophone
Roswell Rudd:  trombone
Gary Peacock:  bass
Sunny Murray:  drums

I have been pleasantly surprised by my enjoyment of this album; in fact, it has become increasingly enjoyable with each listen.  Prior to this week, I would have described the album as unstructured cacophony, with little apparent interaction among the musicians, filing it away with other less-than-successful efforts at collective improvisation.  However, upon repeated listening the album has really started to grow on me, and I can't believe that I overlooked how strikingly successful the group interaction really is.  Once I allowed myself to float along, and really become a part of this spontaneous musical landscape, I found myself in awe at how downright amazing these guys really were.  I have discovered this recording for the first time this week.

"New York Eye and Ear Control" was recorded on July 17th, 1964 by Paul Haines for Michael Snow's avant-garde film of the same name.  The gathering took place only a week after "Spiritual Unity" was recorded,  and the same trio is supplemented here by three top-notch and highly creative musicians: Don Cherry, John Tchicai, and Roswell Rudd.  The first track, entitled "Don's Dawn" is only a minute long and features Cherry playing especially smoothly on trumpet with very sparse accompaniment, most prominently Gary Peacock on bass.  A lyrical, short piece, it is quite a contrast to the subsequent two tracks, which are each over 20 minutes long and are comprised of mostly unstructured collective improvisation.  These two longer tracks ebb and flow in intensity, at times are quite spacious, and for the most part Ayler dominants the proceedings.  There are moments when Ayler states what sounds like the fragment or the beginning of a march theme, but each time it is quickly disposed of.  The interaction among the musicians is at times awe inspiring, and this is truly a collective effort.  

Disorienting? Yes.  
Cacophonous? Yes. 
Unstructured?  Yes.  
Spontaneous?  Absolutely. 
Beautiful? At times strikingly so.
Inspiring? Tremendously. 
Do I care which direction I should swim anymore? No.

Below are a couple of relevant audio clips, again taken from the radio show that ESP put together.  The first is Bernard Stollman talking about the album and the participants, and the second is Sunny Murray talking about the album and Albert.