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Albert Ayler: Slug’s Saloon

Donald and Albert Ayler, New York 1966

Listening to these 40 year-old tracks, I’m reminded how extraordinary Albert Ayler was–and what a mixed blessing his influence turned out to be. Ayler was a giant, for sure. His work was unique and had a profound effect on a lot of fine players to follow. At the same time, his leap into total subjectivity gave slackers a license to stink things up. Of course, you can’t blame Ayler for that; he was wholly occupied with being himself.

This two-disc set of recordings made at the notorious Lower East Side jazz hole is a reissue of the original ESP-Disk LPs. The music’s lost none of its power. It’s still astonishing: the complexity that springs from the marchlike, nursery-rhyme motifs; the lyrical grace that’s too seldom commented upon; the link that existed, unobstructed, between inspiration and expression. I doubt even Coltrane was more connected to his primal self.

Ayler’s joined here by his brother Donald Ayler on trumpet, violinist Michel Sampson, bassist Lewis Worrell and a young Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums. The sound’s lo-fi, but that hardly matters. It’s a work for the ages. As always, if you want the truth, go to the source.

Originally Published