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.

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