Spiritual Unity [ESP Disk/Mono]

Moving on from a short-lived stint with the Bill Evans Trio in 1964, bassist Gary Peacock found himself with the Albert Ayler Trio in 1965. The Spiritual Unity album was the first recording for Bernard Stollman's ESP-Disk label. The contrast that Peacock must have found himself in couldn't be more startling. With Evans, the music was introverted and mental, and with Ayler, it was passionate and uninhibited. It was also primal, transcendental and revolutionary. It was completely the other extreme of what Evans was doing with the trio. If Evans music spoke to you, Ayler's spirit was screaming at you. Yet its centre was quiet. It had to be because all three players had to listen intently to each other to communicate as a unit. It was their spiritual unity. As Ayler said: "We weren't playing, we were listening to each other."

After the leaders of the new music such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor, Ayler belonged to the second wave and was influential on even Coltrane. Coltrane considered Ayler's Spiritual Unity as an influence on his album, Ascension (1965).

Ayler was at heart a melodic player and if you hear enough free jazz, you wonder why Ghosts (the opening and closing track of the album) isn't a Top 40 hit. Its marching melody is instantly recognisable and immediately infectious. Ayler played a hard plastic tenor saxophone and constantly stretched its sonic possibilities. On Spirits, it sounds like a violin. But what informs the fury of the music is Ayler's feeling for the blues and spirituals. Ayler used to say that his music was a cry of truth or a cry to God. Forty years on, it still is. (10 and more) - Philip Cheah

Holy Ghost [Revenant]

Already a rarity, this nine-CD box set kept slipping out of my grasp as I travelled across Europe late last year in search of it. And yes, it is that definitive. Saxophonist Albert Ayler is one of the legends and leaders of free jazz. This box is bookended by his never-before-heard first and last recordings. Rare and unissued recordings from 1962 till his mysterious drowning in 1970 fill this set. Fans will weep just to hear the recording of Ayler playing at John Coltrane's funeral in 1967. There are many versions of Truth Is Marching In and Our Prayer included in this set but the funeral performance defines just why Free Jazz is so powerful. It's about the spirit and the feeling, lifting technique to an unimaginable plane. Free Jazz is about why technique fails when there is no spirit. It's why even Coltrane had his socks knocked off when he heard Ayler walk impromptu onstage at HIS concert and blow the roof off. It's why Ayler's song titles keep referring to spirits, prayer, truth and saints.

This is one guy who walks with the holy ghost. Inspired by spirituals, bugle calls, New Orleans marching bands, blues, swing and bebop, Ayler fused all these voices into a frantic cry for spiritual truth. Some would call that God. The final two CDs has Ayler interviewed by various magazines and radio programmes. In one, he defines jazz improvising as the cry of the oppressed, the sound of the suffering. He also recounted how audiences would flee from clubs after the band started playing. The truth always hurts. Albert Ayler had a lot of it. (9) - Philip Cheah

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