By Daniel Margolis | Published May 2022
It’s somewhat bemusing to imagine the new Albert Ayler box set Revelations as a highly sought after Record Store Day collectable. At five discs, 10 sides, the thing is a beast. And yet, this is what many wanted on April 23, and some hopeful shoppers were denied.
This documents a unique period in Ayler’s work. He was prepping to release the last album he would record in his lifetime: Music Is The Healing Power Of The Universe (four of five tracks on that are here). A month before, he played two recorded dates in France at the Foundation Maeght, Saint Paul-De-Venice on July 23 and 27, 1970.
What’s captured here is a unique outing for Ayler. Some of this was released at the time as Nuits de la Fondation Maeght, but not all of it. It’s been miraculously unearthed by Elemental Music.
So, let’s get to the backstory. The liner notes, fittingly, spell that out in four “Revelations.” The first is Mary Maria Parks, his late-period partner, singer and foil on soprano saxophone. Then there’s Steve Tintweiss and Allen Brairman, a bassist and a drummer new to Ayler’s accompaniment. Call Cobbs, who played with Ayler before, makes a comeback here, but only on the second of the two recorded days. Finally, we have plenty of Ayler himself improvising vocally, simultaneously quizzical and delightful.
Right from the start — “Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe” — you’re having insights about Ayler. It’s no easy thing to get soulful, attractive notes out of a saxophone, but he could, easily. Thing was, then he’d dissect the instrument down to horrifying squeals to prove his intentions. Parks eventually takes over the song with advice like, “Just open up your soul and let it come in.” Definitely!
Elsewhere, on a track like “Birth Of Mirth,” Tintweiss and Brairman prove their place by backing Ayler in an orchestral manner and giving him plenty of space.
When he does his big hit, “Ghosts,” and the audience gives up a round of applause, you can practically count the number of hands in the room. But the bowed, stand-up bass solo serves as a reminder of why free-jazz was what it was. It’s like: “We’re going to play completely traditional jazz instruments, but it’s still going to be weird!”
Then there are “Revelations” parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (itself in two parts) and 6. There’s so much going on throughout these passages. First of all, from the outset, Parks really challenges him on soprano saxophone. In the third part, Ayler goes into his trademark move of playing an almost-identifiable nursery rhyme, as if to say, “See? This could be anything. It doesn’t have to be a standard.” Later parts feature spectacular drum and bass solos.
When Ayler turns to “Truth Is Marching In,” it’s different from the way he played it at The Village Vanguard four years previously. He just blows up until his capable rhythm section comes in and walks him home. Meanwhile, “Zion Hill,” which featured Cobbs on harpsichord on 1968’s Love Cry, is much looser and more relaxed here with Cobb on piano. The audience is audibly appreciative.
Perhaps owing to Ayler’s recent, unfairly maligned album New Grass, his band at this point was willing to try for a backbeat — a new move for the king of rejecting European harmony and rhythm. A great example of this is “Again Comes The Rising Of The Sun,” over which Parks declares, “We’re always studying and planning to make a profit, and in the end wonder if it’s worth it.” Preach.
It only gets better from there. “Holy Family,” off the 1965 album Spirits Rejoice, is just a straight-up jazz tune, expanded from its original length of two minutes to 12, and it never goes off the rails, with the rhythm section firing on all cylinders. Meanwhile, “A Man Is Like A Tree” is fractured, but perfect, with Parks singing all the way through.
The true get here might be “Holy Holy,” a six-year-old Ayler piece he doubles in length and that proves unabashedly free.
Another highlight comes in the form of “Thank God For Women” (wow, he had a way with song titles), a track that Impulse! rejected (according to the liner notes) but is aired out here.
Fittingly, the whole thing ends with “Music Is The Healing Power Of The Universe” again, with Ayler giving more of a late-night essaying of the tune and Parks, true to form, declaring, “Music is never complete. It is a being. It is always there.”
Then, on the final track, “Mary Parks Vocal Announcement/Curtain Call,” Parks says, “We are so happy to be with you. We love you very much.”
In less than four months, Ayler would be found dead in New York City’s East River. DB