Albert Ayler Trio - Spiritual Unity 50th Anniversary Edition (ESP, 2014)
Part 1: The People
I guess nobody expects me to rate this album. It is one of the greatest free jazz albums ever made – in one line with John Coltrane’s “Ascension”, Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” and Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz”. The reason why we review it here is that ESP has just released it as a 50th anniversary edition with an extra track.
July 10, 1964 was Albert Ayler's first ESP recording session, although – before “Spiritual Unity” – he had already recorded in Europe and, in February ’64, in New York, but this was the first album on which Ayler felt that he had to get his art out. As a result, the music felt like a shock for many people because it was so completely different to almost everything they had heard before. Val Wilmer said about Ayler’s music on this album that it was “disquietingly harsh and brutal but at the same time deeply tinged with pathos”. One of the reasons for this was that Ayler had a perfect band: Gary Peacock was an independent and self-confident bassist, both monumental, physical and sensitive. Via the bands of Miles Davis, Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Evans and Paul Bley, Gary Peacock had aroused Ayler’s attention, and it is also Peacock’s playing that makes the album such a killer. If you listen to the way he slaps his bass when he starts playing on “Ghosts (Variation 1)” and his solo on “Ghosts (Variation 2)” you will immediately know that nothing will be the same for bassists after this recording. Kevin Whitehead wrote that it was Peacock’s unpredictable lines that leapt “all over the fingerboard, the antithesis of supportive, connect-the-dots walking bass. He hits open strings so hard they clack against the neck.”
Secondly, Sunny Murray played his drums like no one before. In Cecil Taylor’s bands he had developed his own style liberating his drumming from the traditional function of simply marking time by focusing on the cymbals. Amiri Baraka said that he sounded as though he might want to disappear. However, Murray was in the right place at the right time, freeing his instrument from the restraints of simply delivering a beat for the soloists. This style gave Ayler the ultimate freedom - a lively pulse free from an enslaving beat - which was exactly what he needed for his solos. In the end, the band was a perfect unit because of its perfect interaction and the autonomy of the musicians. On the surface the musicians sounded as if they were playing for themselves, yet the album was one coherent piece. Ayler said that they “weren’t playing, (they) were listening to each other”.
Tomorrow, Part 2, the music...