Jul 15 2012
So, until I get my Know Your ABCs: an Album, a Book, & a Cat series up and running again, for the time being, I’m gonna start using my Sunday slot to put the spotlight on some re-issues and archival finds that have been catching my attention. I’ve got one right now, in fact. Let’s begin…
Frank Wright Quartet – Blues For Albert Ayler
This album offers never-before-issued material recorded live at Rashied Ali’s New York loft, tracks that were part of the same performance which resulted in Wright’s album Black Beings. This recording followed an extended European stay that saw Wright collaborating with another Cleveland expatriate, pianist Bobby Few, and exploring his free jazz inclinations, while, also, paying tribute to his mentor (and yet another former Cleveland native) Albert Ayler. What you have here is a set of free jazz, the kind that doesn’t look too far down the road to see where it’s going, and which sure as hell doesn’t look back over its shoulder to see where it’s been.
Your album personnel: Frank Wright (tenor sax, flute, vocals), James Blood Ulmer (guitar), Benny Wilson (bass), and Rashied Ali (drums).
The album is broken into tracks, or “parts,” per the cd.
The album opens with ripples of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, both in terms of the phrases utilized, but also with the powerful spirituality they convey. Wright briefly played with Coltrane, and he was certainly there during a fertile period in the free jazz movement, so hearing echoes of music like that isn’t terribly surprising. The tune becomes increasingly freer as it progresses.
It leads into “Part 2,” which opens with an extended drum solo. Miller is the first to accompany, with Ulmer clearing this throat here and there, but both seem to hesitate when confronted by Ali’s massive rhythmic assault. Ali owns the track.
“Part 3” marks the return of the other quartet members; it also marks the return to the theme of “Part 1.” Phrases reveal themselves as familiar in a peek-a-boo style, glimpses of things that came before. As the song progresses, the structure breaks down, as if watching the erosion of a mountain on a video set to fast-forward… tufts of notes kicked up in the wind like scattered stars, dust returning to the soil, and wild time lapse shadows crossing the path of sunlight streaks. Wright’s tenor sax returns occasionally to that opening phrase, giving just enough cohesion to a deconstructing mass. Rashied Ali plays like he was born inside a tornado. The song ends with notes drifting slowly back to earth.
“Part 4” is an extended arco solo by bassist Miller, which leads into “Part 5″… a furious attack by Wright on flute, then Ulmer on guitar. Wright later enters on sax with a firestorm of skronking and screeches, blistering everything in sight. But that gradually dissipates, and Wright inserts brief phrases into the mix, Ulmer’s guitar speeding along, Ali’s nonstop rhythmic barrage, and Miller maintaining a curious lope that, somehow, snappily fits into place. At twenty-four minutes in length, it’s by far the longest track on the album. Miller’s arco on “Part IV” is especially enjoyable in how it provides an eye to the storm of the music that surrounds it.
The final track “Part 6” is a return of sorts, coming full circle to where things started, though the quartet sounds only vaguely tethered to one another. Ali’s drums is the only thing resembling glue at this point. But in a way, after the tumult of sound and fury that preceded it, there’s something natural about the seeming messiness of the conclusion… a sense of travelers returning from their separate journeys to the same spot.
It’s an album that’s best appreciated for its raw emotional power, the ferocity and perseverance of the artists through the long performance given, without pause, and the unbridled desire to conjure up everything they had and show it to the world.
This isn’t the best example of what the musicians were capable of performing, but for an album like this, that’s a little beside the point. Wright passed away in 1990 and Ali in 2009. The days of the New York loft scene are long gone. Free Jazz is definitely still around, but those early incubation years are decades in the past. Blues For Albert Ayler is a found note thought lost, a message in a bottle from the past, one of those rare opportunities to hear something new from ensembles and times that are long gone. Archival finds like this should be treasured. Flaws in this kind of diamond enhance its character, because its value is found the music’s existence, and not in how it stands up to the pantheon of recorded jazz.
The sound quality ain’t bad, all things considered. It’s an analog-to-digital transfer. The cd comes in digi-pak format, including a booklet with some very cool liner notes and photos. The liner notes were put together by ESP’s Michael D. Anderson, who deserves sincere thanks for putting albums like this out. Obviously, I’m very focused on the jazz of the present day, but I got introduced to jazz by the musicians of the past, and I’m always thankful for opportunities to hear music, especially from the under-the-radar artists and especially in live settings.
Recorded live July 17, 1974 at Ali’s Alley, NYC, released in 2012.
Released on the ESP-Disk label.
Available at Amazon: CD