The last years of beyond-free saxophonist and composer Albert Ayler were sonically restless and more troubled than previous seasons. While his music jittered through a self-restrictive and reflective vibe, his mental health suffered a sharp decline until his death from a possible suicide (unless you believe the Mob got to him, as goes the legend) in November 1970.
That there was such darkness and tension haloing Ayler at that time is one reason these long-lost tapes from July 1970 are so crucial to the saxophonist’s canon. Welcoming the unmoored freedom and light of the loose avant-garde back into his soul, even for a few shows, was like finding the Holy Spirit, then blasting into Heaven.
Ayler’s appearance/installation at France’s Fondation Maeght on July 25 and 27 of 1970 has previously been excerpted on albums with poor production values, namely Live on the Riviera (ESP-Disk’) and Nuits de la Fondation Maeght (Shandar). Recently discovered and released in their entirety for the first time (thanks to producer/archivist Zev Feldman), the Fondation Maeght recordings put the saxophonist’s penultimate concert performances in historical perspective while proving how mystical and spontaneous Ayler’s endgame truly was.
Pianist Call Cobbs (not at the first show), bassist Steve Tintweiss, drummer Allen Blairman, soprano saxophonist and vocalist Mary Maria, and a singing, tenor and soprano saxophone-playing Ayler start with the redemptive, howling blues of “Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe” and move swiftly, and playfully, into the humorously honking free soul of “Birth of Mirth.” (Jokes are big on these ORTF concerts, what with the rolling “Holy Spirit” and the cacophonous “Truth Is Marching In.”)
Often derided for not being as tight as previous Ayler ensembles (and for Maria’s Yoko Ono-like influence over the saxophonist), the group on this live set is charming, challenging, and filled with energy. Maria’s spoken word slide into winnowing vocals is particularly winning, and she is at her warmest when Ayler’s passionate blowing goes full-tilt scorched earth. While “Heart Love” is raw and churchy, with its saxophonist finding the grit in gospel’s grace and repetition, each of the seven numbered “Revelations” is a different shade of ceremony for player and audience, from snake charm to exorcism to confessional and congregational.
While the CD package is intriguing, the limited-edition five-LP Record Store Day release is worth every penny for such an aptly titled collection. Amazing and rare, top to bottom, Albert Ayler’s Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings is a must for fans of the free.
Learn more about Revelations: The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings at Amazon!