Albert Ayler, Bells / Prophecy

Mark Richardson

By Mark Richardson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Bells / Prophecy

Albert Ayler

This document from Albert Ayler's peak years combines music from two very different shows. The 20-minute "Bells," originally recorded at New York's Town Hall in May 1965, finds him leading a quintet that alternates strained, joyless blowing devoid of melody with breath-catching interludes built on singsong martial themes that don't rank near Ayler's most memorable.

Two mid-’60s shows catch Ayler at his most frenzied.

The much better second half, recorded at a June 1964 performance at New York's Cellar Cafe, contains excellent trio versions of several of Ayler's signature tunes. The ripping take on "Ghosts (First Variation)" finds Ayler in heavy honk mode as he sandwiches eight minutes of furious double-time runs between statements of the uplifting, childlike theme. "The Wizard" and "Prophecy" are excellent demonstrations of the band's ability to chip away at a lovely tune until the ground is clear for playful collective improvisation.

Throughout this date Ayler's playing has a lumbering gravity that contrasts with the rhythm section; drummer Sunny Murray works with a speedy but delicate touch and bassist Gary Peacock takes a careful, restrained approach. The resulting tension, applied to a strong selection of Ayler compositions, shows this key trio at its best.