That's how the poet Ted Joans described listening to Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity album. Ayler's jazz was so raw that it occupied another dimension outside of what was expected from jazz in 1964, the year Spiritual Unity was released. It was like abuse hurled at a sacred institution. Ayler reinvented jazz as a cry for truth at a time when black people were fighting for justice. This was the album where Ayler performed his classic Ghost, a piece so haunting yet cursed. The engineer at the session thought the band was just warming up and did not record in stereo.

Unlike the black spirituals that influenced Ayler, his music sought no audience. It was devoid of melody, abstract to the extreme and concerned with sound, texture, and a private quest for, as Ayler stated, "a silent scream". 

Tee-ing Off
Before you could say Tiger Woods, here's Albert Ayler, who was an avid golfer - he captained his school team, with Mary Maria "between tees" in Brooklyn in the late '60s.

The end also came as suddenly as the beginning. By 1970, Ayler's free jazz had yet to find an appreciative audience outside of a small circle of jazz aficionados. His brother Donald, who followed Ayler's muse, found the lonely road too insecure and had a breakdown. Ayler himself was found dead in December 1970. His body was fished out of New York's East River. For decades rumours were rampant that he had been murdered by drug dealers, the mafia and even the FBI.

But according to a book, As Serious As Your Life, by Val Wilmer, Albert Ayler committed suicide. Wilmer's source is Ayler's girlfriend Mary Maria who told Wilmer that one night in December Ayler, blamed by his family for Donald's breakdown, suddenly jumped to his feet screaming over and over, "blood must be shed", and smashed his saxophone over the TV, before running out of the house. Twenty days later, police found his body in the river.

Now, 35 years later, Revenant have chosen to honor the memory of Albert Ayler by releasing a nine-disc box set, Holy Ghost, one of BigO's albums of 2004.

This box was inspired by the fan-compiled 11-CD Albert Ayler Tree, which has different content from the official release. Whichever you choose to listen, Ayler's music will always stay demanding. It's never too late to throw away your Norah Jones CDs.

- The Little Chicken

Click here to see what's inside the 11-CD Albert Ayler Tree.

Click here for Philip Cheah's review of Albert Ayler's Holy Ghost and Spiritual Unity.


Albert Ayler's Holy Ghost is now available on vinyl from Revenant Records on March 31, 2005. A lavishly packaged 3LP is the first edition in a series bringing Holy Ghost to vinyl. Features deluxe double gatefold cover, a gorgeous 24" x 24" poster, postcard, printed innersleeves and more. Clear vinyl. Catalogue number: REV6011.

Here are the tracks:

Side A: 1. 1. [tune Q] 2. [untitled] 3. D.C.

Side B: 1.[untitled minor waltz]
2. Prophet/Ghosts/Spiritual Bells

Side C: 1. [F#Tune] 2. Ghosts/Bells

Side D: 1. Truth Is Marching In 2. "Free Spiritual Music", part IV 3. Japan/Universal Indians

Side E: 1. Four

Side F: 1. Venus/Upper and Lower Egypt

This is what the critics are saying:

"5 stars (out of 5). Lavish. Holy Ghost is the monument Ayler deserves..."

"Worshipful. Excavates much that will be new even to fetishists with home burners..."
- Village Voice

"Holy Ghost sets the platinum standard for Aylerology. Unprecedented."
- Dusted

"Much more than the reissue of the year, Holy Ghost feels--and sounds - like the work of lifetimes."
- Sunday Herald (UK)

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