Thursday, May 4, 2017

Albert Ayler - The Last Album


Albert Ayler (1936-1970) was arguably the most radical musician that jazz ever produced. His saxophone sound was harsh and unyielding, and his improvisations often totally dispensed with meter and tonality. Ironically, many of his most radical improvisations were preceded by written melodies that had an almost childlike simplicity, like half-forgotten folk tunes.

His musical career was not all of a piece, however. Although all of the albums under his name were made in the space of the eight years before his death, his music was constantly changing and evolving. By the time of the August, 1969 sessions which produced this album, he seemed to be modifying the more radical elements of his style. The music here somewhat resembles later Coltrane or early Pharoah Sanders - although of course, Ayler's strong personality ensures that he sounds like no one but himself.

The Last Album was released in 1971, after Ayler's death; it has described as a collection of outtakes from the last studio album released during his lifetime, Music is the Healing Force of the Universe. Some of the tracks do seem like leftovers or second-best attempts - the blues "Toiling," for instance, is basically a somewhat inferior alternate take of "Drudgery" from Healing Force. That track and an "Untitled Duet" feature Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine, by the way.

Notwithstanding the variable quality of the music on The Last Album, I would hate to be without the beautiful "Water Music," played by Ayler on tenor sax, Bobby Few on piano, and the paired basses of Bill Folwell and Stafford James.


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