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Albert Ayler

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Cleveland Heights, Cleveland OH, United States (1936 – 1970)

Albert Ayler (born July 13th, 1936 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio – New York City, November 1970) was the most primal of the musicians of the 1960s. He possessed a deep blistering tone—achieved by using the stiffest plastic reeds he could find on his —and a broad, pathos-filled vibrato that came right out of church music. His trio and quartet records of 1964, like ‘Spiritual Unity’ and ‘The Hilversum Sessions’, show him advancing the improvisational notions of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman into abstract realms where timbre, not harmony and melody, is the music’s backbone. His ecstatic music of 1965 and 1966, like “Spirits Rejoice” and “Truth Is Marching In” has been compared by critics to the sound of a Salvation Army brass band, and involved simple, march-like themes which alternated with wild group improvisations and took back to its pre-Louis Armstrong roots.

Ayler remains something of a cult artist. “Ghosts”—with its bouncy, sing-song melody (rather reminiscent of a )—is probably his best known tune, and is something of a free jazz standard, having been covered by Lester Bowie, Gary Windo, Eugene Chadbourne, Joe McPhee, John Tchicai and Ken Vandermark, among others.

Saxophonist Mars Williams led a group called Witches and Devils, which was not only named after an Ayler song, but which covered several of his songs.

Peter Brötzmann’s Die Like A Dog Quartet is a group loosely dedicated to Ayler. A record called ‘Little Birds Have Fast Hearts’ references Ayler’s youthful nickname.

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