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25 August 2009

Albert Ayler Trio - 'Spiritual Unity' (ESP/Get Back)

Did you know that the symbol 'Y' predates recorded history and represents the rising spirit of man? You can also gleam from the back cover alone that we are entering the realm of spirits, wizards and ghosts. But this isn't some Druid-worshipping 20-sided die record, it's Spiritual Unity, notable for being the breakthrough Albert Ayler record, the first non-Esperanto release on the ESP label, and as invigorating of a statement of purpose as there ever existed in the spheres of jazz, folk, or primitive musics. I know I'm prone to hyperbole (as well as clichés) but it's not really an exaggeration to say that Albert Ayler changed music forever -- and with this record. If Albert Ayler had one tune that everyone knows it's 'Ghosts', and this is the definitive recording(s) of it. First we get the original variation at the beginning and the second variation at the end - the first is bold, brash and iconic and the second is a bit more stumbling and open. 'The Wizard' is no sloucher but it's 'Spirits' that is the real sleeper. I often get Ayler tunes confused because they all of these eerier melodies that come and go, plus they all have similar titles like 'Vibrations' and 'Spirits', etc. But when you listen to a lot of Ayler in a row, as I'm about to, it all starts to melt together into one massive floating body of work. There's still ups and downs from record to record - I mean, the trio here absolutely kills compared to the Danish dudes on My Name Is (no offense meant); however I've heard Spiritual Unity a zillion times while the weirdness on the last record I've only listened to maybe once or twice before, so I might be more likely to pull it out. In fact, I used to own an original copy of this on ESP that I found on the cheap but never listened to cause it was beat-up, instead going to this lovely 180g reissue for actual listening purposes. I have NO IDEA what happened to the ESP release; maybe it's my punishment for having two copies of something. I always say this is a record accumulation, not a collection; forgive me for straying from this philosophy. But back to the music -- there's many reasons why this record spat in the face of jazz. Murray's drumming is probably the first anyone ever heard anyone being that crazy, and that free. The beat is often just nonexistent - the pulse even flutters and skips - but it's still alive and propulsive. Gary Peacock is an unsung hero of free jazz - he is perfectly suited to play with Murray, for he's content to meander and knows exactly what to contribute. The tonal center of the music shifts continually, but still has more fucking soul than anything you ever heard on Coleman's Free Jazz or Tristano's forgotten 1940's improv dickery. And Ayler - I mean, it sounds like he's in another room sometimes, and it sounds like he's shoved the microphone up his tenor at other points. He blows like a frog's belly full of broken glass. These shards are violent but they come from him, straight in from his dirty Cleveland upbringing. This will be endlessly reissued til the end of time, until everyone owns a copy - at which point true spiritual unity will be attained.

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