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Healing Force - The Songs of Albert Ayler

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Artist: Healing Force

Album: The Songs of Albert Ayler

Label: Cuneiform

Review date: Aug. 14, 2008


Healing Force - "Music is the Healing Force of the Univers (excerpt)" (The Songs of Albert Ayler)


Though he will probably never be regarded as the equal of improvised music luminaries such as John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler’s star has certainly risen since his mysterious death at the end of 1970. Both of the above mentioned musicians had the utmost respect for Ayler’s unique approach to the saxophone, as do the seven musicians gathered together for this wild tribute: Vinny Golia, Aurora Josephson, Henry Kaiser, Mike Keneally, Joe Morris, Damon Smith and Weasel Walter. They incorporate Ayler’s innovations while never engaging in empty imitation.

Ayler was a man of extremes, and the Healing Force aggregate captures this aspect of his work through a wide variety of timbres. On “Love of Life,” Golia certainly has the forceful Ayler timbre and wide vibrato in his command, but it’s as if he is also tapping into an undercurrent of emotion not available even to Ayler. From moment to moment, his saxophone sound veers from silky smoothness to heart-wrenching raucousness, jumping registers and emotive states with ease. The entire album is underlined by a multilayered guitar drone, presumably from Kaiser and Morris, both of whom play with an energy tempered with clarity. Each note decays with a satisfying multiphonic ring, perfectly supporting Golia’s inter-registral leaps and glides.

Throughout, Keneally’s pianism is sparse and beautiful, each note a gem as it’s introduced in textures of varying thicknesses. “Japan” finds him at an especially fine moment, referencing the Pharaoh Sanders version more than the contemporaneous Ayler version with his spare fourths, dropped in time to Walter’s sensitive drumming. Walter’s contributions are a real treat, awash in color and rhythmic intensity. Listen to him cook on “New Generation,” his wild syncopations putting a fire underneath the track and keeping it buoyant.

Special mention must be made of Josephson’s vocals. She employs the breathiness of Maria Parks, Ayler’s unstable partner and vocalist in his final years, but she has infinitely more control of her instrument, as can be heard via her wordless emoting on “Japan.” She does justice to the superficially simple melody, unraveling its hidden complexities with high-register conviction. The darker hues of her voice are visible on “Man is like a Tree,” where her long-time collaborator Smith encircles her with long lines of acoustic bass overtone.

While the multi-voiced treatment of “Thank God for Women” – one of Ayler’s misguided rhythm and blues outings – seems a bit too much like a Broadway production for my taste, it’s the only weak contribution to an obviously heart-felt tribute.

By Marc Medwin

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