Combining two of his best ESP recordings on one CD, the 1998 compilation of 1965's Bells and 1964's Prophecy is the tenor saxophonist at the peak of his powers. Bells, originally released as an idiosyncratic one-sided LP, is a live set featuring Albert Ayler, his trumpeter brother Donald Ayler (this was their first recording together), alto saxophonist and ESP labelmate Charles Tyler, bassist Lewis Worrell, and drummer Sunny Murray, recorded live at New York's Town Hall. Although banded as a single track (and confusingly given the same title as an unrelated Ayler composition), Bells actually consists of a 20-minute medley of three Ayler compositions, the incantatory "Spiritual Bells," "Holy Ghost," and the brief coda "No Name," with the middle piece the primary focus. The playing is positively ferocious, with all three reed and horn players swinging from wild solos to some even more out ensemble playing. In comparison, the trio date Prophecy sounds almost normal. The four tracks (plus a second variation of Ayler's early signature piece, "Ghosts") are, oddly, the same that appeared on Ayler's ESP debut, Spiritual Unity. (Prophecy was, in fact, recorded a month prior to Spiritual Unity, although it came out much later.) Though both albums were recorded with the same sidemen, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, Ayler's relentlessly questing solo style means that these performances differ greatly from the previous album, so thoroughly that other than the initial themes, they might as well be completely different songs.
by Stewart Mason