Albert Ayler

The Impulse Story

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Albert Ayler was a lightning rod for criticism both from within the music community and from without. His free-thinking approach made him a bane for jazz traditionalists, and his incorporation of popular American musical styles like soul, R&B, and even rock made him a sellout to the free jazz crowd. His volume in The Impulse Story series -- one of ten individual artist titles to accompany both the book The House That Trane Built: The Impulse Story by Ashley Kahn and the four-CD label history set of the same name from Universal, is in many ways the very evidence of both points on the scale. There are ten cuts on this set, and the first three -- "Holy Ghost," "Truth Is Marching In," and "Angels" -- come from the celebrated Live in Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Recordings double-disc set. They offer the best recorded evidence up to that point -- 1965 and 1966 -- of Ayler's use of gospel music and marching rhythms in his free jazz approach. All are lengthy pieces with three different lineups. There are two shorter tunes from Love Cry, recorded and issued in 1967 -- including a lovely short version of "Bells." The lineup was bassist Alan Silva, Don Ayler on trumpet, and drummer Milford Graves. Three more come from the very controversial New Grass set, one with wildly varying musics and lineups. There's the title track, Albert's spoken word apologia "Message from Albert," and "Free at Last," with Pretty Purdie on drums and Call Cobbs playing electric harpsichord, as well as Bill Folwell on electric bass, backing vocalists, and a slew of horns arranged faux Memphis style. There is only one track -- the title -- from the equally combative Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe issued in 1969, which featured Bobby Few on piano, a pair of bassists -- Folwell and Stafford James -- with Mary Maria Parks singing and Muhammad Ali on drums. Finally, there are two tracks from the posthumously released Last Album: Parks' "Water Music," with the same lineup sans Parks left over from Music Is the Healing Force, and a completely crazy duet between Ayler on bagpipes and electric guitarist Henry Vestine recorded during those same sessions. In sum, this package is perhaps even more controversial than the individual albums it was culled from, and not the best introduction to Ayler out there. But then, given that no period of his music could make everyone -- with very few exceptions -- happy, this is perhaps the most fitting package of all.

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