Albert Ayler Quartet – Copenhagen Live 1964 (2017)

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With the permission of the Albert Ayler Estate, hatOLOGY has brought into the public realm a set performed by Ayler’s groundbreaking quartet at Copenhagen’s Club Montmartre in September, 1964. Captured just days before the combo had taped one of the tenor saxophonist’s key statements Vibrations (first issued under the title Ghosts), Copenhagen shares “Children,’ “Mothers” and “Vibrations” with that session, and both feature Ayler joined by Don Cherry (cornet), Sunny Murray (drums) and Gary Peacock (double bass).

As with other recordings from this very fertile period for Ayler, Ayler’s time in Europe (he was based out of Sweden at the time) impacted him in that his songs incorporated European folk forms, most evident in the baroque heads, but that only amplifies the subversiveness of Ayler’s music, who runs these Old World styled harmonies through a meat grinder rooted in 19th century African-American gospel, field hollers and African and Creole dance traditions.

Here, we get to hear what Cherry adds to “Spirits,” which Ayler had recorded a couple of months earlier as a trio with Peacock and Murray for Spiritual Unity. After a statement of that sing-song theme, Ayler goes off on one of his freakish flights, and Cherry does his own thing that on his own might seem unhinged but next to Ayler, he’s actually the one keeping things grounded. Especially since Murray and Peacock are locked into perfect communion with the leader’s undecipherable language. Like on “Spirits,” Cherry alternately tethers the band and serves as its willing accomplice on “Children.” The best Ayler-Cherry interplay of the night comes during the runaway chorus played together at the beginning and near of the end of this tune, making a strong case that it takes real chops to play this freely so purposefully.

Ayler’s famously scary vibrato announces itself in dramatic fashion to launch “Vibrations” and his fellow horn player wails right alongside him. But Peacock is the real focal point here, sawing away with a buzz that melds with the cornet and then soloing pizzicato with remarkable fluency. Ayler’s nervous sax screams take “Saints” up to a combustible plane, and the band quickly senses the heightened urgency and adjusts accordingly. Ayler took the old Negro spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and transformed it into “Mothers.” His hyper-expressive tenor sax portrays the pain and despair of the spiritual’s Slavery origins.

As with Albert Ayler’s other recordings from 1964, this set of performances is worth the price of admission for the metaphysical connection among these musicians alone. But Ayler’s violent alchemy of Africa and Europe also imbues this music with historical importance because more than fifty years hence, these ideas put into practice sound as radical today as they did back then.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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