Albert Ayler was one of the truly great musicians of the early free jazz period, mixing ferocious heart-wrenching wailing with sensitivity and spirituality, all built over a backbone of traditional music, gospel and military marches. His life and his music did not differ much : all intensity, restless searching, looking for true musical authenticity, travelling, practicing, playing, dying before he reached the age of 35, probably by suicide.
Many modern jazz musicians feel indebted to him, and played tributes to him, but no band is more fit to play a tribute to him than the band called this way. Tenor saxophonist and pocket trumpetist Joe McPhee is possibly the true heir of Ayler, and he finds soulmates in Roy Campbell on trumpet, pocket trumpet, bamboo flutes, recorder, voice, William Parker on bass, Warren Smith on drums and percussion. The album was recorded live at the "Dynamo" in Paris, France in November 2008, a month after I saw them perform in Antwerp, also a memorable performance.
The four musicians really play tribute to Ayler's essence, yet in their own way, without trying to copy him or even emulate them. The performance starts with the recitation of "Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe", which slowly evolves into Miriam Makeba's "Muntu", a slow, hypnotic and intense improvisation, that demonstrates the skills of these four musicians: it is powerful, spiritual, emotional, gradually gaining tension and force without losing control.
"Obama Victory Shoutout" says what it is : a celebration of Obama's victory, without violence, without bloodshed, as a turning point in American history, here a joyous political declamation and shout-out by all four musicians moving into Ayler's "The Truth Is Marching In".
The fourth track starts with "DC", a Don Cherry tune, that also appeared on Ayler's "Spirits Rejoice" and that evolves into "Vibrations". McPhee plays an incredibly piercing part on this, shouting through his horn while playing at the same time, with Parker's arco offering dark contrast to his sound.
The fifth track is Don Ayler's "Prophet John", and starts with Campbell's wonderful trumpet playing, first joyfully, then expanding the theme into a fifteen minute long wild improvisation, with Smith's great polyrhythmics supporting a long powerful arco bass solo by Parker, then taking the piece to the outro himself, soft and inventive.
The record ends with "Universal Indians", the shortest piece on the album, and possibly an encore.
If you like free jazz, which I assume, don't miss this album. It brings a wonderful overview of fourty years of musical history by four masters, who as a tight unit manage to demonstrate the value of Ayler's music, but even stronger, how beautiful, how uplifting, how spiritual and how emotionally moving great music can be. They are not going back in time, quite to the contrary, they bring Ayler's music back to life, but then in today's context, with all the skills and performing experience Ayler never got the chance to achieve. And it must be said : all four musicians are stellar. They understand the power of music. Deeply.Warmly. Truly.
Credits to the record company too : the quality of the sound is excellent, so are the liner notes, with interesting interviews with the musicians, and - even rarer these days - they keep the applause at the end of the tracks, showing the warm appreciation of the audience, even for a full two minutes after the last track, as if you were there.
Buy from Instantjazz.