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“Albert Ayler: Live in Greenwich Village – The Complete Impulse
Recordings” is a two-CD set made between 1965 and 1967,
and reissued in 1998. It was originally issued on three different
recordings; however, this set also includes “Universal Thoughts,”
which has never been issued before.

Collectively, the featured personnel include Albert Ayler
(1936-1970) on tenor and alto saxophone, Don Ayler on trumpet,
George Steele on trombone (only on “Universal Thoughts),
Joel Freedman on cello, and Michel Sampson on violin, with
Bill Folwell, Henry Grimes, Alan Silva and Lewis Worrell all on bass,
and Beaver Harris and Sunny Murray on drums. One song, “Angels,”
has a prominent piano part, and the pianist is listed as “probably”
Call Cobbs, Jr.

In my desire to broaden my horizons, I grabbed this set as soon
as I saw it. To the best of my knowledge, I’d heard of Albert Ayler,
but had never heard his music. When I noticed that these
recordings were released by the Impulse label, I felt assured
that I would probably hear well-recorded performances,
coupled with informative liner notes. I certainly wasn’t
disappointed on these two fronts.

For the most part, the music was engaging on its own terms.
It wasn’t as avant-garde throughout as I had expected.
The beginnings of these songs often consisted of diatonic,
triadic harmonics. In fact, there was a strong element of
Gospel/New Orleans Jazz at work here. Songs such as
“Truth Is Marching In,” and “Spiritual Rebirth” were akin to
marches. When I considered these factors, I believe the
music exhibited its own type of “spirituality.” However, after
these almost corny diatonic beginnings, the improvisations
would typically take abrupt turns into cacophonous areas,
reminiscent of “speaking in tongues.” The results were mixed,
but nevertheless interesting when heard with the proper
mind-set!

The instrumentation varied, yet all of the songs featured a
bowed string contingent of some sort, with the largest section
consisting of two bass players, a cellist and a violinist. Even the
aforementioned “Angels” tune was billed as a duet between
Ayler and “probably” Call Cobbs, Jr. on piano, but also used
a bowed bass. In fact, Ayler was the only instrumentalist
performing on all 14 tracks. He played tenor saxophone on
every song, with the exception of “For John Coltrane.” Here,
Ayler played alto saxophone, along with the bowed quartet
mentioned above. It certainly was not your “typical” Jazz
combo, but this set of live recordings isn’t exactly your “typical”
Jazz. Ayler’s brother, Don, was a strong presence, playing on all
but two tracks and composing the tune, “Our Prayer.”

The least dissonant and most surprising song in the set was
“Angels.” With a running time of 10 minutes, it was a showpiece
for the pianist, with Ayler blowing strong, diatonic tones over
the piano’s rippling stream of notes. This tune stood out, by
virtue of its sheer beauty, as well as its sparse instrumentation.

This was definitely a musical “mixed bag,” but well worth
hearing from a novelty standpoint, and the aforementioned
factors helped contribute to the “revival meeting” vibe of
the music.

Unfortunately, Albert Ayler’s body was found floating in the
East River during November of 1970, making him yet another
premature casualty of the Jazz world. He didn’t leave much
of a recorded legacy. However, this Impulse set that was
recorded live at the Village Vanguard, Village Gate and
Village Theatre in New York City, provided a sample of what
made him unique. With a running time of over 130 minutes,
I’d suggest it for those wishing to broaden their “New Thing”
Jazz background. An informative booklet that includes essays
by Nat Hentoff and Robert Palmer accompanies this set.