Monday, August 9, 2010

A Love Supreme

A visionary tenor wants to pay tribute to another visionary tenor -- an established master, far more acclaimed and vastly more popular -- who has nonetheless lent the younger outsider all out support. So how does Albert Ayler tip his hat to John Coltrane in early 1967? First he picks up the alto saxophone, an instrument totally peripheral to his reputation. Then he strips down his septet, sending his trumpeter brother Don and drummer Beaver Harris out for a breather. Finally, surrounded by two bassists, a cellist and violinist, Ayler trades his characteristic squall for lyrical effusions that offer his praise and respect in forthright song. No, Ayler doesn't play it straight; there's no mistaking the twisted tone and slanted phrasing. But there's also the marked sense that he's exploring a different route of expression here, one that seeks exultation not by way of extroverted displays of emotion, but through relative restraint. Ayler could stir up musical trouble at the drop of a hat; his friend John deserved something special and he got it.
Little wonder that Ayler, along with fellow epoch shaker Ornette Coleman, had the bittersweet privilege of being the handpicked musical performers at Coltrane's funeral later in the year.

(Groovy as this visual tribute may be, to hear "For John Coltrane" in pure audio splendor head for Albert Ayler: Live In Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Recordings)

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