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Albert Ayler - The Copenhagen Tapes

Roy Cambre, Where Y'At Magazine

Tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler stands among a short list of important, bright-burning American musical figures - Robert Johnson, Eric Dolphy, Jimi Hendrix, D. Boon, Clifford Brown, Booker Little, Kurt Cobain, et. al. - who unfortunately died far too young. When Ayler's body was found floating in New York's East River in 1970, it ended the career of one of jazz's great visionaries at the early age of 34. No mere stylist or technical innovator, Ayler took a great leap, as only true iconoclasts do, into his own musical world and created a body of work that remains unequaled. Ostensibly you would categorize Ayler's music as free jazz, and indeed he was one of the great avatars of the genre, but his music is so personal and singular that it transcends the easy definers of category or style. His was a music simultaneously more advanced and more elemental than any of the prevailing movements in the jazz of the day. The roaring overtones, sonic density and free time of his music were all avant-garde, but the folksy themes, simple harmonies and gospel-ized inflection were strictly old-world - earthy, raw, drippingly human. He reached back before the blues to early marching band music and on forward to uncharted oceans of sound. Very few have dared to draw from such disparate realms, and fewer have succeeded in creating such enduring music.

This CD of previously-unreleased material from Ayler's 1964 European tour with the best band he ever had - Don Cherry on trumpet, Gary Peacock on bass, and Sunny Murray on drums - is nothing short of amazing. The material comes from two performances on the same tour that yielded the classics Vibrations and The Hilversum Session, but from different concerts. Nearly half is from a Danish radio broadcast, so the sound quality is terrific, and the band is in outrageously strong form, clearly enjoying the good treatment of their European hosts. Albert's impassioned playing is just tremendous - huge saxophone sound, intense concentration even during the music's wildest flights - and the accompaniment of his collaborators is so sympathetic and supportive that he's never sounded better. Peacock and Murray sensitively pace their pulsating waves so the sound-field is ever-shifting, never becoming blurred or mono-dynamic; and Cherry's theme statements and solos capture that perfect combination of brassy adventure and ragged glory that made him the Archangel Gabriel of creative music.

Swedish label Ayler Records do their namesake proud by presenting this music with the respect it deserves. Great sound, erudite liner notes from Dan Warburton, and a lovely photo of the band burning on stage during the tour complete a package that is absolutely worth every penny. We review a lot of CD's here, and there are many I enjoy and recommend, but only a handful that I would specifically urge you to buy. This is one.