Albert Ayler was born July 13, 1936 in Cleveland Ohio. He was raised by his parents, Edward and Myrtle, in Shaker Heights, a racially mixed, upper middle class suburb. His brother Donald was born October 5, 1942 and their younger sister died, unnamed, at birth. The household was very religious and musical (Wilmer 1980: 96). These would be Albert's interests for the rest of his life.
Albert Ayler: My father played violin, and he also played tenor saxophone somewhat like Dexter Gordon. He played locally and travelled, but he never was where he wanted to be musically. He thought I might get to where he wanted to be; so when I was young, he insisted I practice, sometimes beating me to play when I'd rather be out on the street with the other kids.
Albert Ayler: I used to blow footstool when I was 2. My mother told me I'd hold it up to my mouth and blow, as if it were a horn (Hentoff. "Truth," 17)
Edward noticed his son's early musical interests. After seeing Albert mime to the recordings of Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman, he began to teach him the alto sax. Also, Albert's education included being taken to see live performances by Illinois Jacquet and Red Prysock, among others. Records featuring Lester Young, Wardell Gray, Freddie Webster, and Charlie Parker were often played in the Ayler home (Wilmer 1980: 96-97).
Albert Ayler: On Sundays I'd play duets with him [Edward] at church. I started on alto and gradually I began to work with various rhythm and blues combos, including Little Walter's. As for training, my father taught me until I was 10, and from 10 to 18, I studied at the Academy of Music with Benny Miller, who had played in Cleveland with Bird and Diz and who had also spent about 4 years in Africa. My technique grew to the point that in high school, I always played first chair (Hentoff, "Truth." 16).
Albert went to John Adams High School where, in addition to playing first alto in the orchestra, he doubled on the oboe, demonstrated a photographic memory for sheet music, and became a local celebrity, not for his musical talent, but as a champion golfer (Wilmer 1980: 97). In 1951, at 15, Albert joined his first group, Lloyd Pearson and his Counts of Rhythm, Lloyd being a friend of Albert's who played tenor sax. The two young reedmen hung out and participated in jam sessions at Gleason's Musical Bar, where they met Little Walter Jacobs, a blues singer and harmonica player who had become known accompanying Muddy Waters. He invited them to join his touring group and both did. Albert spent his next two summer vacations (1952 and 53) on the road.
Edward Ayler: When he got the job he was so excited he could hardly believe it. He came running home shouting about, "they're gonna take me with 'em, they're taking me!"
Albert Ayler: The manner of living was quite different for me, drinking real heavy and playing real hard. We'd travel all day and finally arrive, take out our horns and play (Wilmer 1980: 97-98).
Albert Ayler: But that wasn't for me. I had to think of a way out but it was all part of the development. It was important to my musical career to have been out there among those deep-rooted people (Wilmer 1966: 6)
While there is no saxophone on Little Walter's recordings from this time, it is easy to hear how standard blues riffs and honking solos would have enhanced the music. The recordings themselves (made for Chess Records, reissued on a variety of LP's) are interesting in that they document some outstanding musicians, such as Willie Dixon, Robert Lockwood, and Otis Spann, in transition from acoustic music to the fully electric Chicago blues style. Little Walter was among the first to exploit the expressive potential of amplified harmonica and his new sound forces his sidemen to adapt. Live, without his all-star studio band and the time limitations of the 78 record, it is likely that the band was rowdier, using electric guitars and bass, with the drums more up front than on the recordings and more extended improvisations, to excite the crowd.
In 1954, he graduated high school and began attending a local college (Wilmer 1980: 98). At the time, he was still working towards mastering the bebop style of Charlie Parker.
Albert Ayler: I met him [Parker] in 1955 in Cleveland, where they were calling me "Little Bird." I saw the spiritual quality in the man. He looked at me, smiled, and shook my hand. I was impressed by the way he--and later Trane--played the changes (Hentoff, "Truth." 18).
Lloyd Pearson: Al played like Charlie Parker and all them cats because he would play a lot of tunes, ballads and so on. Later on, some people would say he couldn't play, but I remember him from when he first started, and he could play all of them standard tunes like they weren't nothing. Before he went away, he was more advanced then anyone. He had went through a lot of things that horn players play after they've been playing for fifteen years (Wilmer 1980: 99).
He was playing this bop style, which was essentially imitative, with Norman Howard, a trumpet player who had grown up on the same block as Albert, and Earle Henderson, a pianist (Wilmer 1980: 102).
In 1956 Ayler left school to join the army. He was stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky where he jammed with Stanley Turrentine (tenor sax), Chuck Lampkin (who would go on to drum for Dizzy Gillespie, among others), Lewis Worrell (bass), and Beaver Harris (drums), the last two of whom were later important members of Albert's own groups. Albert gigged in Louisville with a band including Harris during this period (Wilmer 1980: 98-99). Another bassist who worked with Ayler at this time is Edmund Coombe. He claims that Albert would warm up before rehearsals by playing Charlie Parker's solos backwards (Robinson 1990). Apparently, he had mastered the rapid tempos and complex substitute harmonies of bebop.
Albert Ayler: For me, it [bop] was like humming along with Mitch Miller. It was too simple. I'm an artist. I've lived more than I can express in bop terms. Why should I hold back the feeling of my life, of being raised in the ghetto of America? It's a new truth now. And there have to be new ways of expressing that truth. And as I said, I believe music can change people. When bop came, people acted differently than they had before. Our music should be able to remove frustration, to enable people to act more freely, to think more freely (Wilmer 1980: 99).
It was at this time [in the army] that I switched to tenor. It seemed to me that on the tenor you could get out all the feelings of the ghetto. On that horn you can shout and tell the truth (Wilmer 1980: 17).
In the Army, we'd have to play concert music six and seven hours a day. But after that, we'd practice to find new forms. The commanding officer in the band would say about my playing during these times, "He's insane. Don't talk to him. Stay away from him." But all the guys-and Lewis Worrell was one of them-were just as interested as I was in getting deeper into ourselves musically (Wilmer 1980: 17).
There is a photograph of Albert Ayler from this time. It is dated November 9, 1958, and shows him, in uniform, playing tenor in the T.N.G. 3rd regiment big band. He is the only African-American in the picture (Wilmer 1980: photo insert). In 1959, shortly after this photo was taken, Albert was transferred to France. He often sat in at Paris clubs, attempting to absorb the discoveries of John Coltrane, who was recording with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and on his own at this time (Jost 121).
Albert Ayler: I would say when I was in the Army, in 1960 and '61, when I spent two years in training, I had a thing that was free at the time, you know? But when he [Coltrane] started playing, I had to listen to his tone, you understand. To listen to him play was just like he was talking to me, saying "Brother, get yourself together spiritually." Just one sound, that's how profound this man was... (Kofsky 1968).
Beaver Harris: Albert and I were in the Army together from 1957-59. We used to hang out and play together. He was more or less a honky-tonk player. He always had super chops. He was in the Army band along with Stanley Turrentine and Spanky DeBrest. I wasn't in the band. He had that big sound even then. I could always hear his saxophone marching around the post. We'd play at the N.C.O. club now and then. Then he reached a point where he was shipped out to Europe and that was it. He changed his music and everything.
. . . at the time he said there was something missing in music and he wanted to find whatever that was. I'm sure it was the spiritual thing he was talking about because he was a honky-tonk player (Hazell 51-2).
Another important influence Albert experienced during his time in France was the French National Anthem. From this unlikely source, which he nicknamed "La Mayonnaise," he would construct the songs "Infinite Spirit," "Spirits Rejoice," and "Light in Darkness," in addition to blending its simple, catchy theme into other pieces (Wilmer 1980: 100). At every performance by Albert Ayler in 1965, '66, and '67, "La Marseileise" would appear at least once.
Ayler was giving as well as receiving influence at this time. In 1959 or '60, Roscoe Mitchell played with Ayler in Paris, neither one realizing that they would become two of the greatest saxophonists in jazz history (Davis 181).
In 1961, Albert's term of service ended. He chose not to re-enlist, and was discharged in California. Attempting to live in the Los Angeles area, he found himself shut out of the local music scene for his unorthodox style, much as Ornette Coleman had been a few years before. He was encouraged however, by meeting a struggling comic named Redd Foxx, who told him to "play what you believe in" (Wilmer 1980: 100). Of his experience of the L.A. scene, which was still mostly concerned with cool and hard bop sounds, both of which were incompatible with his new style, Ayler said "The music was not quite formulated in my head. I played it, but it came slowly..." (Litweiler 1984: 153).
Albert then returned to Cleveland where he was more confident that he would have opportunities to perform. At this time, as for much of the rest of his life, he was being financially supported by his parents.
Albert Ayler: Our [Albert is speaking for his brother and himself] parents are very understanding. When the economics get to be too much, we've always been able to go back home, work out new tunes, and keep the music going (Hentoff, "Truth." 18).
Lloyd Pearson: I just said "Damn, the cat sure got weird!" At that time everybody was into the changes. If you didn't play the changes, cats said you couldn't play. He was rejected by the audience, the musicians, and all of them for a minute. Everybody was laughing at that style because they hadn't heard it.
He used to come to me and tell me he had found the real music and the real religion, and it had a lot to do with God-which sounded strange to me at the time. But then he sounded like a lot of noise, like someone just beginning. When he played a ballad, he didn't play the melody line People would say, "Goddamn! Play the melody line!" But he wouldn't give in. In other words, would say "To hell with them." He used to walk in with his horn and they'd say "Uh-uuuuh, here he comes!" But he had a helluva-technically-big tone. It takes a long time to get a tone of that quality. He played the lows and the highs, he did everything, but I didn't look at him like that. He used to play so pretty on all the ballads, then to come back and he didn't touch none of that... (Wilmer 1980:100-101)
The new concept Ayler had developed in Europe seems to have been a fusion of Coltrane's harmonic and rhythmic complexity with the vocalized effects of his rhythm and blues/gospel background. Lloyd Pearson was also disturbed that spirituals joined standards in Ayler's performances, in which elements of the most traditional and most experimental African-American musics were mixed to create a new sound (Wilmer 1980: 100-101).
Albert Ayler: I had always thought of free music, even when I was still small. I'd be playing a ballad and my father would say "get back to the melody, stop playing that nonsense." But I knew there was something there. I'd be standing in a corner playing and trying to communicate with a spirit that I knew nothing about at that particular age (Wilmer 1966: 6)
William O. McLarney: I first met Albert Ayler while I was in college [John Carroll U.] in Cleveland...I spent a great deal of time listening to local jazz groups, which were mostly of the organ-and-tenor persuasion. Some of the leading lights there at that time were saxophonists Joe Alexander, Weasel Parker, and Dave O'Rourke, organist Eddie Baccus, and drummers Fats Heard, Jacktown and Charles Crosby. There were clubs in various parts of the East Side ghetto and in some white neighborhoods, too, but the only concentration of clubs was on Euclid Avenue in the 105th St. area ("the Five"). These were clubs that served mainly for prostitution and drug dealing but there was a small nucleus of music people who would cluster around the bandstand. There was usually music Tuesday through Saturday nights, plus a Sunday matinee. The latter in particular was given over to jamming. (Bandstand in the front window, mirror behind the keyboard, that sort of thing).
Albert never had a gig that I knew about in Cleveland, but would show up for sessions at the Club 100, the Esquire, and maybe the Larue Lounge which unlike the other clubs had pianists (Ace Carter, Bill Gidney, Bolden Bey). Albert was playing only soprano at that time and claimed to have been studying "Arabian Music." With the occasional exception of Roland Kirk, who was something of a "local band" at that time, though based in Columbus, nobody wanted to play with him, and he'd usually get to play with whatever organist and drummer were at the bottom of the peck order. The musicians called him "Bicycle Horn."
As I recall, he looked much as he did later-beard with a white patch and usually an expensive leather suit. He had a scar on his throat that I was told was inflicted with a knife, but could just have well been gotten in an accident. [Val Wilmer insists that Ayler had no such scar and that the white patch of hair grew from a naturally unpigmented patch of skin (Wilmer 1997). Most other accounts support this.] He was usually in the company of a friend I knew only as James, and sometimes with his brother Donald...
James went around in Bermuda shorts even in winter and did occasional bizarre things like lighting a $10 bill to get the waitress' attention. I forget just how I met Albert and James, but it had to do with my need for rides. (John Carroll was in the east suburbs, and I usually stayed until after the buses had stopped running.) I would not normally have hit on them for a ride, since mostly only white people were headed my way. I often wound up riding with them. James would drop Albert off in front of a huge home in a very exclusive section of Shaker Heights and take me on to John Carroll. Our conversations were mostly about philosophical stuff which seemed very significant at the time, but which I am at a loss to remember now. I do remember asking for an explanation of what he was playing and not understanding it (not surprising since I am a non-musician). I also remember Albert telling me once that he was going to "go to Europe, spend a year, make a record or two and snow all the critics." Which is pretty much what he did (McLarney)
Albert left the Cleveland scene in January or February of 1962 (Kernfield et al 1988: 4). He made good on his promise to Bill McLarney and relocated to Sweden. Albert was able to support himself by playing commercial music during the day and his own style in sessions at night (Carr et al: 18). One of these profitable gigs was playing two shows daily in a small restaurant with Candy Green, a professional gambler and pianist from Houston Texas who had recorded in a band backing the blues singer and guitarist Gatemouth Brown (Wilmer 1980: 101-102). Though Albert gladly took these jobs, he was far from satisfied as an artist.
Albert Ayler: I remember one night in Stockholm, I tried to play what was in my soul. The promoter pulled me off the stage. So I went to play for little Swedish kids in the subway. They heard my cry (Hentoff, "Truth." 17).
October 25, 1962, Main Hall of the Academy of Music, Stockholm.
Albert Ayler (tenor saxophone, piano)
Torbjorn Hultcrantz (bass)
Sune Spangberg (drumset)
1.I'll Remember April (AA plays piano-for 8 bars)
7.I Didn't Know What Time It Was
8.Softly As In A Morning Sunrise
9.Softly As In A Morning Sunrise (alternate take)
10.Softly As In A Morning Sunrise (second alternate take)
12.Everything Happens To Me
1-4 released as The First Recordings or Something Different on Bird Notes (Sweden) BNLP1, Sonet (UK) SNTF604, SNTCD604, (Japan) ULS1635, Stateside (France) C.062-90012, Gene Norman Presents (USA) GNP9022.
5-8 Volume 2 released on DIW (Japan) 349 (compact disc)
9-12 Volume 3 unreleased
All discographical information is from Raben 1989.
All the recordings made at this session were intended for private distribution only. Ayler later approved the 1969 public release of the first four tunes. Respecting Ayler's wishes, Bengt Nordstrom, the producer of this session, intended to keep the remainder of the recordings in the can permanently (Hennessy 1990). However, in the summer of 1989, DIW Records issued Volume 2. The relationship of this release to Mr. Nordstrom or to the Ayler estate is unknown to me.
Albert Ayler: You know, that first record I made, on Sonet? I had been playing music like that a long time ago... A Swedish guy, he gave me the break to make a record. I said, `Maybe I shouldn't make it.' He said, `Come on, it won't hurt you,' and then I made that record...Spacing sound, just trying to work with sound, spacing that sound, you know? And that was even more different than the rhythm, playing the actual rhythm at that time,but I developed a rhythmic type of free-form which was very important. I developed a space type of rhythmic music that was, um, it really added another, um, uh, uh, what could I say? (Koyama)
The players at this session had been Albert's working band for eight months prior to this date, on those rare occasions when he was able to present his own musical ideas publicly (Kernfield et al 1988: 46). It is odd then, that their interaction with Ayler on these recordings is so poor. On the other hand, it is easy to forget just how radical this music was for 1962, especially in Sweden. There were only a handful of players anywhere in the world at the time who could have kept up with Albert Ayler's conception of form and fury of improvisational invention.
What was it that these three men did, in an almost empty auditorium, in front of 25 invited guests (Wilmer 1980: 101), that was so different? The songs are "standards," tunes known to most jazz musicians and often played. John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Sonny Rollins, most prominently amongst others, had made the piano-less group fairly commonplace. It is the way that Ayler plays these songs that is revolutionary, not the selection of songs or the style of the accompaniment.
Of the four songs from this session issued in the United States, three are songs associated strongly with certain players. "I'll Remember April," though a popular song, especially for bop and cool players because of its interesting chord progression, is linked with pianist Bud Powell. "Rollins' Tune" is, of course, a composition (actually titled "No Moe") by Sonny Rollins, and "Tune Up" is by Miles Davis, though much more frequently performed by other groups. Like "I'll Remember April," "Tune Up" is a song noted for its chord progression, and the harmonies of both songs have been used by admiring musicians with their own composed melodies. All three songs were also played at very rapid tempos, in order to challenge and exhibit the players' ability to navigate the complex chord changes at high speed, a common bebop performance practice.
Albert Ayler (and his group, in that they respond somewhat to his playing) totally rejects the aesthetic criteria of bebop. All these performances are at medium tempos. They deny harmony, not in the manner of the modal reductions that John Coltrane was making from popular songs like "My Favorite Things" and "Out of This World" at this time, where a drone is established by the rhythm section, but by Albert's insistence on following his improvisations wherever they might lead, regardless of the form of the song. He never plays the themes "straight", but the theme is always present in his soloing. His main improvisational strategy is to find the "hook" of the song, the melodic phrase that is the catchiest, or most intriguing, and elaborate on it by free association. This owes something to the methods of the groups Ornette Coleman had been leading since 1958, where the solo sections would be free from harmonic or structural patterns, unless they were introduced by the improvisor. However, Ayler creates excitement on these recordings by the opposition of his totally stream-of-consciousness playing to the conventional work of his sidemen. The bassist "walks" the chord changes in 4/4 most of the time, and it is unintentionally hilarious to hear Ayler play phrases constructed from pure noise, only to be answered by heavy-handed bop-style "bomb dropping" on the drumset.
Something that this recording establishes conclusively is Ayler's total mastery of the saxophone. Later, when he was working on his own pieces, Albert's technique was unique to (and one with) the idiom that he alone inhabited. Here, phrases in the styles of Parker, Rollins, and Coltrane slip into Albert's not yet fully defined world, showing his command of the past history of his horn. Where he transcends, however, is in the sound he is finding in the saxophone for himself. Albert used a wide bore metal mouthpiece with an incredibly hard Fibercane #4 plastic reed (Wilmer 1980: 94) in order to produce the loudest, fullest, and most malleable sound ever to emerge from a saxophone. Because he was moving such a large mass of air through his horn, Albert Ayler was able to shape the harmonic content of each note he played. Like a guitarist using feedback, he was able to produce notes far beyond the normal range of the tenor sax simply by exaggerating the higher partials in the tone of a normal pitch. Also, there are moments in his second solo in "I'll Remember April" when Albert Ayler executes multiphonics, groups of four and five notes at the same time, with a richness and evenness that far exceeds even Coltrane's work in that area. This second solo also contains phrases in which all the sounds are produced in unconventional ways, displaying a fluidity of technique that Coltrane would struggle for the last two years of his life to try to make his own. In "Tune Up," Ayler's duck-like slap-tonguing and vocalizing of his improvised horn lines anticipate Anthony Braxton's work on, say, his Solo Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979 album.
The song "Free" is the only other piece from this session available in America and it shows the failings of this session more than any other. Because it is a themeless free improvisation, the tension generated in the other pieces by the expectation of harmony is absent. Ayler provides another display of his timbral virtuosity, but the rhythm section flounders. In hindsight, this piece is a false clue, Ayler's future work was to be as deeply involved with composition as improvisation.
While this session has many faults, it is an auspicious beginning. Despite his obvious inexperience, drifting off mike on several occasions, Ayler was able to rise above his circumstances and create.
Sonny Rollins toured Europe in the fall of 1962 with a group including Don Cherry (trumpet) and Billy Higgins (drumset), both fresh from Ornette Coleman's band, which was the first group to publicly play "free jazz," as well as bassist Henry Grimes (Bruyninckx 1985 v.2: 1811). The band's methods of assembling lengthy, loose suites from standard compositions were similar to Ayler's. This is not surprising, since Rollins and Coleman were both strong influences on Ayler at the time. Albert met this group in Stockholm and jammed with them in private several times. He developed a particularly good friendship with Don Cherry, who would later be a member of possibly Ayler's best group.
One evening Ayler and Cherry sat in with Dexter Gordon and Don Byas at the Montmarte, in Copenhagen. They performed a ballad medley, where each soloist, in turn, offered a rendition of a slow standard. Ayler presented "Moon River" so intensely that it stunned all those present (Wilmer 1980: 101).
It was on one of these occasions that the great pianist Errol Garner, a self-taught player of unorthodox technique who could not read music, saw Ayler and encouraged him to persist (Wilmer 1980: 100). Don Byas, a mainstream tenor saxophonist, later told Ayler's drummer Sunny Murray that he had always wanted to play the way Ayler was (Wilmer 1980: 95).
In December, Albert met Cecil Taylor in Stockholm (Wilmer 1980: 57). The avant-garde pianist was on a European tour with his trio, including Jimmy Lyons (alto sax) and Sunny Murray (drumset).
Sunny Murray: No one would give him [Ayler] a job and he was getting depressed. When he came to hear Cecil's band, he started screaming "I finally found someone I could play with! Please let me play!" (Wilmer 1980: 102).
Albert joined the group and travelled to Denmark, where he played with them during their engagement at the Montmarte, though unfortunately not on the night when a live album was recorded (Wilmer 1980: 57). Also during December, this band recorded a show for Danish television (Wilmer 1980: 161). Ayler made plans to return to the U.S. with the Taylor group. A few days before he left Europe, (Wiedmann) Albert recorded for the Danish "Jazz '63" radio show (Cuscuna 1975).
January 14, 1963, Studios of Danish National Radio, Copenhagen.
Albert Ayler (soprano and tenor saxophones)
Niels Brondsted (piano)
Niels-Henning 0rsted Pedersen (bass)
Ronnie Gardner (drumset)
1.Introduction (spoken word by Albert Ayler)
2.Bye Bye Blackbird (AA plays soprano)
5.On Green Dolphin Street
6.C.T. (NB does not play)
released as My Name is Albert Ayler or Free Jazz on Debut (Denmark) DEB140, Fontana (UK) SFJ927, (Europe) 688.603ZL, (Japan) SFON7053, America (France) AM6100, Freedom (Japan) PA9709, Vogue (France) VG405.511016
2-6 released on Fantasy (USA) 86016 and "Introduction" may have been left off some of the international versions as well.
Albert was unable, due to scheduling conflicts, to record with Taylor, Murray, and Lyons as he had hoped (Cuscuna 1975). He instead found a pick-up group of Danish players and Gardner, a fellow expatriate (Baraka 1969: 117), most remarkable of whom was Niels Pedersen, only 16 at the time of this session and already an internationally known player (Mathieu 1965).
This session recapitulates most of the faults and virtues of the first one, but in a more advanced way. Probably due to his use of the pick-up group, an arbitrary assemblage of musicians known on the local scene, Ayler once again played a set of standard tunes, except for "C.T.," a themeless group improvisation, like "Free" from the first album, dedicated to Cecil Taylor. An important unifying element of the compositions, except for Charlie Parker's song "Billie's Bounce," is that they were all associated with the Miles Davis groups of this period. Davis's sidemen: bassist Paul Chambers, drummers Philly Joe Jones and Jimmy Cobb, and pianists Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, and Red Garland, are the main influences on Ayler's accompanists on this date.
The crucial differences between this session and the first are four. First, a pianist is present, and his constant statement of the chord progressions seems to prevent Ayler from breaking free of them to follow his imagination. Often, especially in "On Green Dolphin Street," which alternates 16 bar sections of Latin and swing rhythms, Ayler will be forced to abandon an idea he is developing in order to fit the form of the song.
Second, Albert appears on soprano saxophone. "Bye Bye Blackbird" is a rare example of his work on the straight horn. It is easy to see why he described his soprano work to William McLarney as "Arabian Music" because Albert Ayler has taken the Indian influence latent in Coltrane's soprano playing to an extreme. To say that the soprano sax playing on "Bye Bye Blackbird" is out of tune is to ignore its purposes. Ayler's lines leap free from the conventions of pitch and rhythm to suggest an Islamic priest calling his people to pray, thick with the painful wisdom of the ages. The piano's insistent chording accentuates how far Albert has gone into his own world of sound. The Coltrane and Parker influences of the first recordings are gone, absorbed into his new style.
This is the third key point: that, on this date, probably due to his work with the Taylor group, Albert Ayler has developed a consistent, unique musical style. In his playing on this session, he presents most of the elements that his later work would be built from. Every tune except "Billie's Bounce," which is so imbued with the spirit of Charlie Parker in its harmony and theme that it demands idiomatic treatment, is treated with what can only be called hysteria. On "Billie's Bounce," Ayler alternates between pointing out the funky blues roots of the piece (which the harmonic substitutions and rhythmic fragmentation of bebop try to conceal), and parodying bebop soloing, which often consisted of long lines of quick, even notes of only harmonic (not rhythmic or melodic) interest, by playing the rhythms of bop in a harmonically unsophisticated way, as in the transcribed excerpt, showing them to be corny and inexpressive, or at least no longer relevant in his new world.
In the other pieces, as in most, if not all, of Ayler's future work, his hysteria is expressed in either frenzied blowing at the highest velocity possible, or in melodramatic balladry. "Summertime" is the best example of the latter on this album. The pain and grief expressed in this performance defy description. Constantly in risk of drowning in sentiment, but never succumbing, the saxophone solo on this piece is like psychotherapy; one feels like a voyeur hearing it, peeking into Ayler's most private thoughts.
Finally, this session differs from the first in that Albert Ayler is, for the first time on record, backed by musicians who can communicate with him. Ronnie Gardner is quite a sensitive drummer, considering the extreme challenge which he is faced with in Ayler's vision. Pedersen, on bass, displays prodigious technique, and, hearing him here, one can only wish that he had gone on to work with more avant-garde players. (His 1980 album with Archie Shepp, Looking at Bird and two In the Tradition albums with Anthony Braxton are his only other non-straight ahead works and show much of the quality of this session, including an amazing version of "Billie's Bounce" with Shepp.) There are sections at the end of each tune on this album where, using extremes of register and bowing, he duets with Ayler, predicting the crucial role that strings, especially the bass, would have in later Ayler works. His solo on "C.T." shows close study of the work Jimmy Garrison was doing with Coltrane at this time, as it is a wholly convincing evocation of Garrison's "flamenco" style. This solo ends when Pedersen improvises a melody that impresses Ayler so much that he begins playing it on his horn.
"C.T.," while not the most successful or intense piece on this album, is especially interesting. It displays both the skills of the rhythm section and the power of Ayler's conception. Also, the pianist is conveniently absent.
It begins with tenor and bass declaiming slow, strong phrases in call and response form. Ayler finally selects a motif from the assortment he and Pedersen have introduced and proceeds to leisurely explore it. Meanwhile, the bass and drums offer a series of rhythmic grooves, in different styles and tempos, hoping that he will join them in one. Albert barely notices them, continuing to improvise at a relaxed speed, but with intense emotion in his timbre and note choice. One groove that the bass and drums keep presenting is an extremely rapid swing feel, which, after Albert has finished his saxophone solo, and the other players have each had short unaccompanied turns, he consents to briefly dash through, tossing off an inspired glossolalic bit that is his most advanced statement on the album, provides perfect closure to what would have otherwise been a shapeless piece, and anticipates most of the free jazz saxophone playing of the 1960's.
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