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ESP-Disk’ Back in Business

Seminal jazz label that recorded Albert Ayler and other mainstays of the avant garde resurfaces with new and old material

Donald and Albert Ayler, New York 1966
Albert Ayler
ESP-Disk Collage
Giuseppi Logan Quartet Cover on ESP-Disk

The story of ESP-Disk’ is well-known among avant-garde jazz aficionados. Forty-five years ago when nothing but gut instinct drove him, Bernard Stollman dove into the community of musicians to which Albert Ayler introduced him and documented the music that began its history. Over a period of nine years, from 1964-1973, Stollman released one hundred-nineteen albums with no backing. One of the first two recording sessions occurred with saxophone player Ayler’s group, resulting in the landmark Spiritual Unity (ESP 1002). Stollman proceeded to release records from a pantheon of stellar musicians, including altoists Ornette Coleman, Marion Brown and Sonny Simmons; pianists Burton Greene and Paul Bley; drummers Milford Graves and Sunny Murray; tenor players Giuseppi Logan and Pharoah Sanders; bassist Henry Grimes; and Arkestra leader, Sun Ra.

Stollman’s motivation was simple: to chronicle the musical life of New York City. Stollman did not keep to the jazz realm; he paid attention to intriguing genres that included folk and rock as well. In fact, the recordings of Pearls Before Swine, like Uncle John, and those by the group, The Fugs, provided the revenue to fund the sporadic production of the vanguard records that did not have a huge market.

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