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My Name Is Albert Ayler

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Album Review

Hearing the soft-spoken voice of Albert Ayler at the beginning of this 1963 recording is spooky. Not because he's gone, but because he's so calm, so young, and so hesitantly articulate: Nothing like the voice of his saxophone playing at all. This session is a reissue of a Fantasy recording, and one which pairs Ayler up with a Scandinavian rhythm section that includes the 16-year-old Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass. After the weirdly wonderful spoken intro, Ayler goes for the throat on soprano in "Bye Bye Blackbird." It's difficult to tell if Ayler's tonality on the horn is intentional or the rhythm section is just so stick-in-the-butt rigid that he sounds more out of tune than he is. Ayler plays tenor on the rest of the program, which includes "Summertime," "Billie's Bounce," "On Green Dolphin Street," and "C.T." The session becomes irritating in that the rhythm section refuses to give Ayler the room he needs: they play straight bop no matter what, as if they couldn't play anything else. Only on "Summertime" does he connect with the inner voices of his emotions and lets loose in what would be come his trademark wail. Born equally of gospel, R&B, and early jazz phrasing, Ayler lets loose a torrent of emotion on the tune, making everything — and everyone on the bandstand — else seem nonexistent in comparison. This is a strange record, like a soloist mismatched with the recording of another band, but nonetheless there is that singular tenor voice to contend with, and, on "Summertime," it is unfathomably beautiful.


Born: July 13, 1936 in Cleveland, OH

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s

One of the giants of free jazz, Albert Ayler was also one of the most controversial. His huge tone and wide vibrato were difficult to ignore, and his 1966 group sounded like a runaway New Orleans brass band from 1910. Unlike John Coltrane or Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler was not a virtuoso who had come up through the bebop ranks. His first musical jobs were in R&B bands, including one led by Little Walter, although oddly enough he was nicknamed "Little Bird" in his early days because of a similarity...
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