July marks the 50th anniversary of Albert Ayler’s recording of Spiritual Unity, a landmark album in the realm of whack jazz and Ayler’s first for the ESP-Disk label. It’s a record that defined both the mercurial saxophonist and the fledgling label, much as The Koln Concert defined both Keith Jarrett and ECM Records a decade later.
ESP plans to mark the anniversary when it issues The Albert Ayler Story. A download-only release that could fill up 4 CDs, the compilation will pull at least one track from each of Ayler’s ESP-Disk releases with portions of interviews with key musicians (including Ayler himself) recounting these sessions and live performances, as well as the significance of them and the man behind it all.
One of the live tracks that will be included in this compilation is a version of “Ghosts” taken from The Hilversum Sessions disc, a live-in-the studio taping for a radio show in Holland less than four months after Spiritual Unity was recorded.
“Ghosts” is the song that launches Unity, with Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. The Hilversum version has the added bonus of Ornette Coleman’s old foil, Don Cherry, on trumpet. The simple, sing-song melody unsteadily played that serves as the theme is a quintessential Ayler moment, as are the solos that aren’t tethered to anything discernible, just pure emotion. Ayler is liquid, naturally unconstrained and, true to form, tortured, while Cherry’s expressions are coarse, more thoughtful and sometimes stilted. His alter-personality completes Ayler much has he complemented another out-jazz pioneer a few years earlier. As with those studio versions, Peacock’s bass is psychic, and his note placements and phraseology are alone worth listening to the song. But it’s about more than mere individuals playing well, and this performance brings real meaning to the words spiritual unity.
The Albert Ayler Story is slated for release June 24, 2014.