Friday, November 27, 2009

Albert Ayler's Clangorous "Bells," 1965

Albert Ayler's mature phase freaked more than a few listeners when heard in 1964-65. His folksy march tunes and quasi-spiritual heads were played with a kind of over-the-top vibrato and exaggerated zeal that were rather unprecedented in the music. His solos of course reveled in a kind of "speaking in tongues" frenzy, where the sound of his tenor may have seemed to some like the ravings of a madman but in fact were quite deliberate and controlled. He expanded the boundaries of the modern jazz saxophone vocabulary in revolutionary ways. Cries, shouts, multi-phonic blasts and rapidly undulating passages of "freak" notes were his normal playing mode. In some ways he took the expressive, soulful climax tones of Ben Webster, Illinois Jacquet and the bar walkers and extended their range and frequency as a consistent part of his solo lexicon. That flipped more than a few people out but also gained him a solid underground following.

It was ESP Disk who recorded and released the lion's share of his classic work in those few short years during the mid-sixties. That included the one-sided LP Bells, apparently the best half of a 1965 NYC Town Hall appearance. By this time he was working with an expanded ensemble, the quintet with brother Donald on trumpet, a young Charles Tyler on alto, and Louis Worrell and Sonny Murray on bass and drums, respectively.

Bells may not be his absolute best recording but it captures well the extended pandemonium of the new group in ways that the contemporaneous Impulse live set did not. New York Eye and Ear Control and Spiritual Unity (both on ESP and available again) might be better choices for your desert island Ayler take-alongs. Bells remains a thorough blast, however. Literally. And figuratively. (I said the same thing about another recording the other day. That was a blast too. I must be having a blast, no?)

There's a new limited collector's vinyl edition available on 180 gram virgin transparent vinyl with the Bells art silk screened onto the reverse side of the record. Go to to find out about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment