Monday, March 2, 2009

Music is the healing force of the universe

I picked up “Lorrach, Paris 1966” in a local CD shop during the spring of 2006 (which I now realize was lucky given that it is apparently out-of-print).  By early summer I was getting anxious to explore more of the man’s music.  I was particularly excited to sink my ears into some of the work he did with Don Cherry.  I had picked up a copy of Don Cherry’s “Symphony for Improvisers” when I lived in Madison, but after a few listens it just didn’t hold my interest; however, early that summer I gave it another try.  Perhaps my brain chemistry had been permanently altered by all the free jazz I had been listening to for the past couple years, but this time the album really resonated with me.  The disc remained in the player for much of the summer, oftentimes in rotation with "Lorrach, Paris," and even made several road trips with me.

But Don Cherry would have to wait.  My wife and I went to Borders bookstore one weekend, and I checked to see whether they happened to be carrying any Ayler.  Expecting to find nothing in such a mainstream place, I was surprised to find that they had a copy of “Music is the healing force of the universe.”   Given that I was holding this in my hands, I figured Albert's work with Don Cherry could wait.  I had some idea what I was getting into (I did own the Holy Ghost box set which contains several late-period Ayler selections).

Albert Ayler, Music is the Healing Force of the Universe

Impulse!, 1969

Albert Ayler:  tenor saxophone, vocals, bagpipes

Bobby Few:  piano

Stafford James:  bass

Bill Folwell:  bass, bass guitar

Muhammad Ali:  drums

Mary Maria Parks:  vocals

Henry Vestine:  electric guitar

Recorded in late August of 1969, “Music is the healing force of the universe” is quite a mixed bag.  Gone are the march-like themes and the oscillating energy of “Love Cry” and the staggering live work of 1966-67.  The first song on the album is the title track, and the music itself is fantastic.  Bobby Few’s distinctive style provides waves of tinkling piano and Albert’s playing is emotionally moving and at times raw.  He takes several trips into the upper register.  Muhammad Ali provides a spectacular underpinning for the music.  However, that said, Mary Maria’s vocals nearly ruin the piece.  What was Albert thinking?  Blinded by love?  I just can’t find anything enjoyable about her singing.

Some singers are really good at taking relatively shallow lyrics and make them sound important.  Take for example, the somewhat vacuous lyrics of “Tupelo Honey” by Van Morrison: “You can take all the tea in China.  Put it in a big brown bag for me.  Sail it right around the seven oceans.  Drop it smack dab in the middle of the deep blue sea.  Because she's as sweet as Tupelo honey.  She's an angel of the first degree.  She's as sweet as Tupelo honey.  Just like honey from the bee.”  Just like honey from the bee?  Seriously?  Yet when Van Morrison sings this stuff, he somehow makes it seem profound.  Mary Maria on the other hand, manages to take relatively shallow lyrics and make them even more empty.

Of the songs where Mary Maria sings, the title track is actually the most appealing; in fact, I can enjoy it if I tune her out (which is hard at first, but gets easier after repeated listening).  The two other tracks she sings on, “A man is like a tree,” and “Island Harvest” are downright awful.  On “Oh! Love of Life” Albert himself provides the vocals, and although I don’t find his undulating, wide vibrato, saxophone-like vocals offensive, I don’t find this song interesting or compelling either. 

The second track, “Masonic Inborn Part 1” is perhaps the reason that this album is worth owning.  “Masonic Inborn” finds Albert Ayler on bagpipe (!) (actually two bagpipes, overdubbed) with the ethereal accompaniment of Bobby Few’s piano and the free drumming of Muhammad Ali.  This is fantastic stuff – I would have been happy with a whole album of free-jazz bagpipe songs!!

The final track on the album, “Drudgery” features a straight-ahead blues chord progression and a steady rock beat.   Although it is fun to hear Albert play in this context, and he is quite competent in this setting and even stretches it out a bit toward the end of piece, I can’t get very excited about the music.  Coming after three miserable tracks, the piece doesn’t have to be very good to exceed expectations – and it does manage this.  However, after repeated listening it becomes increasingly tiresome.

Buy it at amazon

No comments:

Post a Comment