Canadian pianist Al Neil may be little known except for a circle of old Vancouver enthusiasts, but it makes this two-CD retrospective all the more fascinating to study. This set presents everything that was salvageable from the Al Neil Trio's recordings (studio and live) made between 1965 and 1968. When this trio first got together, Neil had not yet heard the music of Cecil Taylor and was on his own idiosyncratic path to free improvisation. Also a writer and poet, he imported his spontaneous cut-up technique into the music, which added to drummer Gregg Simpson's tape loop contraption (the "vortexerola"), and bassist Richard Anstey's uncanny vocalizations produced some very weird real-time sound collages -- the one about narcotics cop Abe Snedenko sounds like a poor man's vision of Frank Zappa's We're Only in It for the Money (both are from 1967 by the way). Disc one focuses on free jazz playing. Neil's style combines elements of Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and Taylor (even though he wasn't aware of it); he has power, over-spilling emotions, and a certain form of madness that actually pushes the music further over the edge than what Taylor was doing at the time. Disc two mostly contains collages, like live radio plays that hit somewhere between Zappa and John Cage. One exception is "Dreamers Exposed," a 27-minute improv recorded in December 1965, catching the group in its infancy. Occasional poor sound quality doesn't distract from the interest of this pioneering ecstatic jazz. This set reissues all the music included on the 1976 LP Retrospective while adding much material previously unreleased and an informative 36-page booklet. It takes you back to the days when experimental music meant taking risks. A definitive document.
AllMusic Review by François Couture