Albert Ayler “Spirits Rejoice”

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The first thing that I noticed about this album before I put it on is that it says in all caps on the back, PURE VIRGIN VINYL. I read it out loud and then Alex said, that’s actually a technical term, but he didn’t know exactly what it meant. After looking it up, it has something to do with not using recycled materials and being a thicker quality? I still don’t really get it, but when you pull the record out, you can tell it’s higher quality than all those records made in the 70s and 80s.

This is a reissue of a 1965 album, it was put out in 1998. I don’t know who Albert Ayler is, but I can tell he plays saxophone. There is a lot of writing on the sleeve and back cover, which I’m going to look at later, but I’d like to point out that the first sentence on one side of the sleeve says “Albert Ayler born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 13, 1936 and died a tragic and mysterious death in late November 1970.” I’m really intrigued. But first let’s put on the music.

This starts out with a very free form sounding saxophone and some drums. It sounds really busy and hard on the ears at first, and then Alex starts humming along and I’m like, “excuse me?” This is not humming music, but then it does start sounding like a familiar patriotic song that I can’t put my finger on, but still really messy and almost like a band doing sound check. It also occasionally sounds like the trumpet that’s played before a hunt or a horse race. I have to say that at first this was all very off putting, but now I feel like I’m kind of getting it. It’s almost relaxing in its very busy way. But then it veers away from all melody whatsoever and really starts making me feel grouchy. Ack! It doesn’t even sound like they’re playing their instruments correctly and it also sounds like a desperate, crying, dying animal. Part of me feels like I want to be avant garde enough to get this, but then another part of me feels like the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes! What are all these musicians doing? Is this really enjoyable for them?

Okay, back to keeping an open mind. I’m now realizing why there are only 5 songs on this entire album. The first song, which we’re still listening to, is 11 minutes and 43 seconds long. It’s called "Spirits Rejoice," and let’s just say that my spirit feels like complaining rather than rejoicing right now. This is NOT what I was expecting. When the music gets quiet and sort of fades in and out, I like it, and when it has a melody to it, I also like it, but when it get’s extremely cacophonous and chaotic, then I can feel a crease forming between my eyebrows and my lips turning down in a grumpy frown. I guess at least it’s making me feel something though and not boring me.

Okay, on to song 2 which is called “Holy Family” and is only 2 minutes and ten seconds long! This song has more of a melody, but still feels like not a real song. I am not really getting this.

Well, the good news is, we’re on to side 2 already, and Alex is humming again! Like this is actually music you can hum along to! I feel like the only sane person in the room right now. The first song on side 2 is called "D.C." and again sounds like sound check, but if the band was really angry or something. I’d be really angry if I was in a band and this was the kind of music we had to play. UGH! I WANT TO TURN IT OFF! Louie, I miss you so!

I’m going to get a glass of wine.

There’s that dying animal again, and someone beating on a snare drum like a three year old beating on a pot with a wooden spoon. Thank god I’m not listening to this music live right now, because then I would really be in hell. I’m still listening to “D.C.” by the way, it seems to be never ending. I am the maddest I have ever been during this project! Oh sweet Jesus, it’s calming down into normal sounding jazz bass and drums. Maybe the song titles on this album all have names like “Spirits Rejoice” and “Angels” because that’s how you feel not while listening to them, but when they’re over. When it’s over, your angelic spirit rejoices.

I do feel like I feel a sincere peace when it all calms down and starts to sound a tiny bit like normal music. That release would never be achieved if I hadn’t just gone through cacophonous hell. So is that the point of this music? To concentrate not only on what you feel while it’s playing but also how you feel in it’s absence? Cause I can kind of see the masochistic thrill in that, but that kind of feeling isn’t normally what I associate music with.

Okay, "Angels" just started (I know this with confirmation from Alex because I’m having a really hard time figuring out when songs begin and end.) and it’s much more manageable. I just said to Alex, “It’s a little scratchy sounding.” And he was like, “Yeah, this album has gotten a lot of play.” Um, who am I even married too?!?

Oh great, “Prophet” just started and we’re back to our old antics. This album is going to kill me! Alex is really surprised right now, he’s saying he really didn’t think that this album would be my “breaking point” and that I would be into it. He was wrong. 

There is an article by Ralph J. Gleason on the back cover of this album called "Perspectives: The Death of Albert Ayler" which is very good and making me wish I liked this music more. Maybe it’s an acquired taste. While I already knew that this type of jazz existed, this is probably my first time listening to an entire album of it all the way through and intentionally. But unlike something like modern dance and modern art which just clicked for me one day, probably when I was in college, I can’t really see myself wanting to give this type of music much more of a try. There’s too much other music out there to discover, that I know understand right away and not need to learn to appreciate. So, I don’t think I’ll be putting Albert Ayler on again, but it seems like he was a true artist who made the kind of music he needed to make, and I’m happy that some people at least, enjoy it. Seriously, read the Ralph J. Gleason article, it’s really good.

Alex Says: I have actually been trying to keep my little post scripts on the blog to a minimum lately, because I feel like this is Sarah’s blog, not mine. But Sarah told me I needed to comment on this one, to help her understand what I like about it.

For whatever reason, the late 90’s was when everyone I knew got into free jazz. I think it was just a natural sidestep from all the punk aggro noise garbage I was so into back then. Like Sarah, when I first started listening to it, I was very confused by it. And then my friend/roommate/Yoda Fred passed along this album to me, and it was like it all snapped into place.

Sarah’s right, this isn’t music that’s easy to listen to or to have on in the background, because you kind of have to dialogue with it. To me it feels like watching Pentecostals speak in tongues. It’s the sound of a musician being overwhelmed by his love for his instrument, and lapsing into melodic glossolalia. It’s exciting and confusing and overwhelming and challenging and a little scary and a little silly too. All of that is by design!

I remember, when I first got this, just wanting to listen to it over and over again and not entirely understanding why. The brief moments of broken-down melody felt kind of relaxing, but I was always looking forward more to the chaos. It’s like getting swept up by a tornado. It feels great.

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