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Frank Wright Quartet: Blues For Albert Ayler

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ESP-Disk’ performed an honorable service by documenting many of the musicians associated with 1960s New Thing, but not everything in the underground label’s back catalog has the force of something like Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity. Two newly discovered recordings from the ESP stable, along with one reissue, posit that some musicians didn’t always know what to do once they found a new freedom in their music.

Frank Lowe never came across as a very technically proficient tenor saxophonist, but he eventually found a way to become a convincing performer by combining his rugged skills with a passionate voice. The Loweski comes from the same 1973 performance that yielded Black Beings, a searing yet intriguing set of shrieks and wails that ESP released at the time. The new album features a 37-minute performance (banded into five tracks) that feels just as severe as the previous set. Joseph Jarman sets the mood by emitting six minutes of alto squeals and growls before the rest of the band joins the fray. The stereo separation makes it even more disorienting: Bassist William Parker, drummer Rashid Sinan and violinist Raymond Lee Cheng reside in one channel, while Jarman and Lowe are in the other. The leader doesn’t get a proper “solo” space for nearly 14 minutes, and when he does he continues at the same level as his partner, with a series of raspy, reed-biting screeches. The more interesting moments come with breaks in the melee. Cheng, originally credited only as The Wizard, attacks his electric instrument feverishly, at one point sounding like Derek Bailey at work on guitar. In the final minutes, the rhythm section tones things down as Parker bows a short melody over some rolls and crashes from Sinan. It might have led to something different, but the recording fades out abruptly.

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