First there was the Father, then the Son and then the Holy Spirit in a manner of speaking. The Father was John Coltrane, the Son was Pharoah Sanders and the Holy Spirit was Albert Ayler. This earthly Trinitarian concept was first spoken of by Albert Ayler himself not out of a sense that the tenor saxophonists belonged to some grande magisterium, but rather that he—Albert Ayler—truly believed that his music was born of the same apocalyptic shout that fired up Mr. Coltrane’s and Mr. Sanders’ music. But Albert Ayler had something else. He had his epiphany when his musical career began. As he played he filled the room. He was larger than life itself. His music roared like a pride of lions. His vision was ethereal because while he roamed the earth he dwelt in the spirit dimension. His vision of music came from that rarefied realm. Apart from that Holy Trinity, only Charlie Parker “saw” music the way Mr. Ayler did. But unlike the others, only Charlie Parker and Albert Ayler actually fell into a time warp where they experienced a baptism by fire, returning through a magical portal, speaking, as it were, in tongues. But even there and then, Mr. Ayler’s language was different. It was radical; born of thunder and lightning. It was dangerous as an insurrection. His blues were not cried, but screamed as if his life depended on every note.
It seemed that no one could capture Albert Ayler’s music. It tore through the earth in breathless torrents; its shrieks and howls, honks, elementally wild, yet human smears would forever remain elusive. And Mr. Ayler’s life on earth was all too brief, but happily, two record labels were brave enough to put out their dream-catchers in the form of spools of magnetic tape to weather the onslaught of Albert Ayler’s tenor saxophone and his music. Werner X. Uehlinger, whose engineers from the HatHUT label shadowed Mr. Ayler and his ensembles around Europe to capture his monumental concerts. But before that came ESP Disk, and Bernard Stollman, its founder. Mr. Stollman worked feverishly to capture the seminal sound of the 60’s avant-garde. He seemed to have a symbiotic relationship with musicians whose music was driven by the fire of improvisation. And in his stable of artists, no one was fierier than Albert Ayler. The two men’s storied lives were intertwined by the DNA of seminal recordings and none more so than Spiritual Unity. Not long after an obscure label, Bird Notes and the Danish label, Debut Records first captured Albert Ayler on record, Bernard Stollman and his ESP Disk produced the LP, Spiritual Unity and the legend of Albert Ayler was born. The album was recorded in 1964 and has remained a classic for over fifty years. In its first incarnation, the album featured just four songs: two variations of “Ghosts” and “Spirits.” Probably because the first issue was on an LP format, it could only accommodate these four tracks. Then in 2005, the music was re-released on CD, again featuring the same four tracks; as did the limited edition, 180 gram LP (2009). In 2014, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of ESP Disk, Spiritual Unity has been restored to its full version and includes the rarely heard track “Variations.”
It bears mention that, albeit the absence of Albert Ayler’s brother Donald from the collective, bassist Gary Peacock and percussionist Sunny Murray make up a formidable band and seem to be among the few musicians who were able to make the transcendental leap of faith to accompany Albert Ayler. The trio burns through the charts in the same manner as John Coltrane’s classic quartet made their own fiery journey through his music. The piano was not known to be favoured by Albert Ayler. The gathering storm of his music worked best with just bass and drums—as on Spiritual Unity or with trumpet and later guitar. But the musicians of Spiritual Unity were touched by the same tongues of fire as Mr. Ayler was. They were gives the gift of tongues, so to speak, and fortunately the dialect they “spoke” in was the same as Mr. Ayler’s. Of infinitely great value was that Bernard Stollman heard the music the way it was meant to be heard and captured it for eternity on his magnificent label.
Track List: Ghosts (First Variation): The Wizard; Spirits; Ghosts (Second Variation); Vibrations
Personnel: Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone; Gary Peacock: bass; Sunny Murray: percussion
Label: ESP Disk | Release date: 2014
About Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler was born in Cleveland, Ohio on 13th July, 1936. His father, Edward, encouraged an early interest in music and taught Albert to play the alto sax, and they performed as a duo in various local churches and community centres. Albert’s musical training continued at the John Adams High School where he also developed an interest in golf. In 1951, at the age of 15, Albert joined his first group, Lloyd Pearson and his Counts of Rhythm, which led to a job with Little Walter Jacobs. He spent the following two summer vacations on the road with the R&B band. In 1954, Albert graduated high school and went to a local college but in 1956, due to lack of money, he joined the army. His musical education continued, playing in the military band, which led to his first trip to Europe in 1959. Read more…