Tuesday, November 08, 2005

An Amen from the Big Top

Albert Ayler - Our Prayer

Revenant were rightly praised for the Albert Ayler box set they issued a while ago. It looks great. It’s comprehensive. It even has flowers in it. Am I going to buy it? Hell, no. I’m sticking with the reissues I bought from Crazy Jazz years ago. The cases are cracked, the booklets are scrappy and full of spelling mistakes and God knows the sound quality on the likes of “Bells-Prophecy” needs to be put through some kind of sonic laundrette. But it doesn’t matter.

I’ll never recover from hearing “Spiritual Unity” for the first time. How could forking out for a deluxe version possibly add to that life changing experience?

Let me put it this way. If you’re Catholic, you use the Rosary. The thing becomes a part of you. If the case cracks, you replace it with an old mint tin. You fix the bent wire. What you don’t do is replace your Rosary with a brand new gold one in a super deluxe case. That isn’t yours. That isn’t part of you. You haven’t charged it with prayer, your prayer. It’s just something you’ve bought. Put the money in the CAFOD box instead.

Fact is, box editions don’t do it for me. I was actually glad when my cat Chigley (God rest his soul) decided to take a wizz on the Anthology of American Folk Music. I threw the box out and put the discs in with the rest of my music. I even threw out the brand new booklet that it came with, because I really don’t care what Elvis Costello thinks about pre-war blues. I kept the repro of Harry Smith’s original booklet, with its odd cut-out illustrations and tabloid headline descriptions of song subjects. It’s fun, ramshackle, personal folk art.

This has something to do with keeping in touch with the history of the music. “Spiritual Unity” is in mono because the sound engineer was so disturbed by what he heard, he ran out of the studio. The BBC destroyed rare footage of Ayler because they considered it to be of no musical worth. I can’t help feeling that something of this history is emasculated in the planning and manufacture of something that may well be a fitting tribute to a life of artistic struggle, but for me is just a little bit too luxurious. Maybe the fault lies with me.

“Our Prayer” comes from “Live In Greenwich Village”. Donald Ayler holds down his plaintive melody while brother Albert darts in and out, trying to put him off. Meanwhile, Beaver Harris skitters about the kit like a drunk slipping on frost covered grave side grass. This is a rosary in an old mint tin. It’s deeply religious, deeply felt, battered, human and fun.

You know what? Albert was a great golfer. He wore a green leather suit. He was a cat. It seems likely that he got on the wrong side of some bad people and ended up drowned in the Hudson River as a result. Or it could be he jumped, or just fell in. We don't know. But I'm sure it's something his family will never get over.

Rest in Peace.

Visit - Albert Ayler
Buy - Live in Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Sessions [Live] Amazon

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