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Albert Ayler - The Copenhagen Tapes

Mark Keresman, Jazz Review

The late Albert Ayler (he died in 1970) remains an enigma. From his mysterious death (he was found floating in NYC's East River - jumped, fell or pushed: unknown) to his towering, virtually mythic sonic presence, Ayler continues to confound, mystify and delight. He was something of an oddity in the context of the prevailing jazz hierarchy: unlike most "free" players, Ayler did not emerge from the bebop tradition - he was a tenor (and occasionally alto) saxophonist from Ohio who was inspired by R&B and the newly flowering (late 50s/early 60s) jazz avant-garde. His big, deep, wide sound on the horn was inspired by the depth of the blues and gospel, the direct simplicity of folk and gospel melodies and the "vocal" capabilities of the saxophone - Ayler strove for the most "vocal" sound possible, almost as if he were speaking in tongues like some seer/shaman who felt The Spirit enter him. David Murray, Peter Brotzmann and even rock & roll singer/poet Patti Smith count A.A. as an important influence/inspiration. (In a late 70s issue of the pop 'zine Hit Parader, Patti Smith contributed a poem dedicated to the man; she described him thus: "mysterious as a lily and just as perfect.")

The Copenhagen Tapes consists of two live quartet performances in Denmark, September 1964: one club date (at the legendary Montmartre) and one set for Danish Radio (the latter includes a brief interview w/ A.A.). While not immediately "accessible" to ears not weaned on "out" music, this disc captures the full flowering of the early/mid-1960s jazz. While maintaining a "forward" rhythmic impetus, "swing" in the usual sense is de-emphasized: the "rhythm section" plays on equal footing with the soloists, who themselves are less about "heads" and even "notes" and more about pure sound, a wild, unrestrained, very human sound. Gary Peacock, in particular, is amazing: his bass sound is nearly as "vocal" as Ayler's on the tenor and Don Cherry's on the trumpet. Looked at in the context of the time: as Jackson Pollock was/is to abstract painting, Ayler is/was to jazz. Although not recommended to those new to the avant garde/free thing, this set, with its crisp, vibrant sonic quality and nearly 70-min. running time, is unreservedly recommended to fans of Albert Ayler and those of his "offspring" Ken Vandermark, Hal Russell and Arthur Doyle.