It takes all of two bars on the opening “Spirits,” from this Sept. 3, 1964 gig, for the Albert Ayler Quartet to establish technical mastery. Gary Peacock’s bass is instantly embroiled in virtuosic cycling patterns, Don Cherry has traced a melody on trumpet, Sunny Murray’s drums have woven a path interconnecting the interests of the other players, and Ayler is clearly ready to reach for the planets on tenor.
That first cut is an exercise in constant extension, a number that seems to continuously go up rather than out, with a French melody transposed by Cherry—cut into jagged shapes, almost like jazz-quartet cubism. As the liners mention, this is a “customary set” by the band, which is like saying, “Well, here we are for a customary day on Neptune.”
“Vibrations” is more of a freeform exercise than “Spirits,” but the proceedings are always under control. Sometimes you don’t know where you want to direct your attention. Murray and Peacock are a wonder as a rhythm team that provides more in the way of counterpoint and color than rhythm and flow, while you never know what direction Cherry might move in next; the dude is fast, faster, fastest in formulating his ideas. Ayler sometimes has a full-bodied tone reminiscent of a midcentury tenor master like Sonny Rollins, but there’s nothing else remotely Rollins-like—or anybody-like—about his playing. That they work in strands of New Orleans funeral music to complement the interstellar stylings makes this a rogue outfit no other jazz band could touch.