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Brief Encounters #1

Reflections: Until the sixties were approaching their end I had, in Coda Magazine, only reviewed live events, a technique of reproducing the experience of inclusion to transfer the memory and imagery of the event onto paper. The first recordings to be reviewed were all on Impulse, a record company that would assist in identifying the growth of what was then called the avant garde. A record company that had access to quality recording equipment and most importantly, distribution. Exposing the music to a wider audience. Their mantra: The New Wave In Jazz Is On IMPULSE. And not surprisingly, considering my own choice of instrument, the records were of saxophonists.

I reprint them here as an example of what, initially, I thought to be a written language rendition of sound.

Archie Shepp
Mama Too Tight
Impulse A/SA-9134
mama too tight
Side 1: “A Portrait of Robert Thompson as a Young Man” – Perhaps I am not enough educated in the biographies of the Black Arts, to know who artist Robert Thompson really was. But the portrait painted by Archie Shepp helps clarify the gap in my learning. Perhaps the painters, in this case the sight and sound visions of men, have allowed me into their world; for as much as was intended. For the casual moment it is possible to dismiss, as mere noise, the barrage of non-sophisticate indignities that issue forth. They force the ego of this man back into himself, with a feeling of not being allowed to be part of this jazz world, only, as a non-American white man, to partake of and observe but not to belong in its entirety. 

There are four sections, including the introduction, to Robert Thompson’s image; moving from the array of violent abstract beauty colour, until his face vibrates in your very eyes, into the use of “Prelude To A Kiss”. It says, on the sleeve note, introducing Ellington’s song. The reason is apparent enough, it is used only to move on… on… on… on…

“The Break Strain”, “King Cotton” and “Dem Basses” becomes almost too easy to recognise. To listen to what is happening is the only requirement in clarification of the titles. “Dem Basses”, in particular, a change into humour, is a parody of the white marching bands. It is not possible to know what motivated Archie Shepp’s idea, but for me a humorous insult is what I need to know to just belong to the recognition of some acceptance.

Somehow, because of the very energy contents of the music, it comes out not merely as music, but as the force and devotion of each of the people, from each of the sounds. The strong collectivity, the complete mental and spiritual cohesion in this band’s recording may frighten those not able to adjust to its powerful message.

Side 2: “Mama Too Tight”, “Theme For Ernie”, “Basheer”. Side 2 continues into three more portraits no less clear than that of Robert Thompson. “Mama Too Tight” gives me that delightful lady — “… a tribute to a woman of paramount virtue and an eulogy for others”. She, this mama, is the gospel lady of all our white imaginations, leaping into that shout of clapping hands, making the god listen. And for the hip: SOUL.

“Theme For Ernie” continues. Ernie Henry must have been a beautiful and dear friend. Someone with peace and quiet music. Only Shepp could have shared this man totally, even though some of us had heard his song.

“Basheer” in finality: Basheer has initially some of the vibrations of the Mingus people, but still, what black artist is there that you cannot hear in the black music. Basheer was powerful. Basheer is strong. Basheer was sinuous. Archie Shepp is the brush of all tone colours, seeing his people and relating them, later, for us.

For all the other music on the album, which is really Archie’s; Roswell Rudd, Howard Johnson, Perry Robinson, Charles Haden, Beaver Harris, Tommy Turrentine and Grachan Moncur III gave all they could to help clarify this situation. Although they exist within this music they are not the reason for it. This must be the first total impression portrait of the Black Arts. I myself am happy that some of the painters are white.

“A Portrait of Robert Thompson as a Young Man”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=433QVw_NUU0


Albert Ayler
In Greenwich Village
Impulse SA-9155
Love Cry
Impulse SA-9165
greenwich village

These two albums are probably the most significant records Albert Ayler has yet made; not only for their musical value but because it is the first time he has been recorded properly by a major label with international distribution. The recordings cover a time span from December 1966 to the middle of 1967 and serves adequately to illustrate the changes in his music and the considerable emotional range that he is capable of.

“Truth Is Marching In” (Greenwich Village), an appropriate opening title considering what is happening to jazz commercially, is the earliest of the recordings. The music surges forward and around you, a rejoicing round of voices; Marching, Marching, lifting joyously all that is before it. And out of all this comes first Albert, then Don Ayler’s trumpet and then Michele Sampson’s violin, out of the repeated theme comes their free improvised self. The ending draws itself out, with Albert’s saxophone soaring above it all to a quiet end.

The other song recorded at this session at the Village Vanguard is a composition by Don Ayler entitled “Our Prayer”. This is a fine example for all to hear the lyrical beauty of the Aylers’ music. Don Ayler is the solo voice throughout: soon the silent altar and bowed heads will appear before your eyes. Truly a dedication to his creator.

“For John Coltrane”, is for me the finest solo recording that I have yet heard of Albert Ayler. It presents Ayler, on alto saxophone, in a singular light. Away from the cacophony of sound created by group improvisation, his feelings toward Coltrane pour forth. It shows him to be, more clearly, an intense melodist, and with the help of Joel Friedman’s astounding cello accompaniment and solo voicing, will forever stand as a perfect spiritual memorial for Coltrane. The whole song is made even more to its final beauty by Alan Silva’s upper register bass explorations creating two different harmonic directions with fellow bassist Bill Folwell.

The second track of this session, recorded at the Village Theatre in February 1967, is somewhat ragged and confusing in comparison to the above. The whole sound of “Change Has Come” starts out in the same format, but when they are joined by Don Ayler ‘s trumpet, a large limiting factor, the music re-enters the marching band era and for me totally destroys the sound of the group. Friedman at this point seems to go totally berserk and appears not to be at all concerned with what the others are doing. This one track however only occupies a small percentage of the record and should not act as a purchasing deterrent.

Sometimes impossible things appear to happen in the jazz world. The Love Cry album is one such thing. Not only the “new” band which is presented with Call Cobbs – harpsichord, Alan Silva – bass, and Milford Graves – percussion, but Don Ayler, who has been one of my points of criticism in the past, excels himself throughout this recording. Suddenly all his lack of consistency and sloppy technique have become a very positive and directional technique. The album is absolutely outstanding.

Side One consists of six very short tunes, the longest being just a little over 3-1/2 minutes, two of which they have previously recorded; “Ghosts” and “Bells”. They demonstrate the phenomenon of the Aylers’ ability to produce the most beautifully spiritual melodic improvisation I have ever heard from them. Communication between each and everyone is at its maximum, and Call Cobbs’ harpsichord adds yet another dimension to the textured layers of sound the Aylers create.

Side Two has only two songs — “Zion Hill” and “Universal Indians” — and all the ability that appears on side one reinstates itself over longer periods of time.

Apart from the aforementioned personnel, which changes the group sound considerably and must surely be the finest band Ayler has ever assembled, another new process appears: Albert Ayler’s use of his own voice on “Love Cry” (side one) and “Universal Indians”. The result is very interesting in so much that a great deal has been said about his music being vocal. Indeed the vocal sounds he produces on these two tracks do have a strange connection with his saxophone sound. So he, like Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, has returned to the music of our origin, the human voice; the voice without words.

In summation of these two albums I can say that it is not for words to describe the Aylers’ music, or indeed any music, but the ears, mind and soul. For some it will always remain a bloody noise, but once the communication he has been striving for has been established I believe it will be impossible to let go.

“For John Coltrane”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aszp7gKCoSg


Brief Encounters #2 will feature DVDs by Downchild Blues Band and Richard Underhill of Shuffle Demon fame.