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25 August 2009

Albert Ayler - 'My Name is Albert Ayler' (Fantasy)

Hey, is a promo copy of the first Albert Ayler record worth anything? Especially one with mislabeled sides -- in fact, I'm not even sure if I got the right record. I thought I was listening to side one but there were only two long tracks so I assumed it was actually side 2, meaning 'On Green Dolphin Street', a midtempo bump through a Caper & Washington number. The Danish backing band is more than competent; I want to hear some cold-weather inflections on the material but to be honest I'm probably just projecting that. Niels-Henning Orsted Petersen plays bass and he drops a bowed solo here but Albert lays low, showing his melodic sense. It's only on 'C.T.', the sole Ayler composition on the record (allegedly), that we get a taste of what is to come. I guess it's named after Cecil Taylor? Ayler's tone is a fairly radical departure from what we heard on the last track; the cutting vibrato is beginning to show and we get strange start-stop bursts and long periods of dropping out. When it accelerates into a bop pattern it sounds like Ayler is wandering out of the room, lost in his own thoughts - thoughts with occasional punchy interjections. But it never maintains enough momentum to really explode. A few spritual-cum-freejazz-cum-primitive shards get tossed out at the end - you know, the kinda lines that make it really sound like Albert fucking Ayler - but it plods to a rather anticlimatic end. This is the end of the record but the beginning of a new frontier in music, though since the wrong labels caused my to listen to this fucking thing inside-out, I have to perversely flip over to the real beginning. Except, I don't think the other side is right either. The liner notes say that this should all begin with a spoken introduction by Ayler, 'Introduction by Albert Ayler', but this side starts with a voiceless Johnny Carson-style warmup piece. There are four tracks listed but only two bands on each side. This side is supposedly lyrical stuff you'd expect from a debut record in 1965; 'Bye Bye Blackbird' and 'Summertime'. And while it begins that way, it quickly breaks down into the same exploratory, uneven momentum as I described 'C.T' (or what I thought was 'C.T.') above. There are some moments that are great - Ayler's reed occasionally closes up into a shrill drinking straw and Niels Bronsted provides enough piano haybales to keep it afloat. But is this a different record entirely? 'Summertime' is a fave standard of mine but I don't hear the familiar chord changes anywhere - could I have some weird, mutant Albert Ayler record instead? Unless he's deconstructing it beyond recognition, something that would surprise me since the liner notes describe his tone as 'gentle and caressing'. Whatever I have here, it's clearly true, as the liner notes say, that 'this present record shows Albert Ayler as one of the most original tenor saxophonists of the young generation'. But if this is truly a great important record - because I know it is - it certainly doesn't sound particularly urgent. But guess what comes next?

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