The Impulse 2-for-1 series are single-CD amalgamations of two original LPs, one a major achievement of the artist, and the other a more minor release; in Albert Ayler’s case the eponymous Love Cry, recorded in 1967/8 and released posthumously in 1971, and, from 1969, the Last Album. It is hard to know how to describe Ayler’s late music to those who haven’t heard it. Very little music is quite so exposed and apparently naïve, but the effect of unfettered joy and excited engagement is compelling. Nonetheless, these albums were made within three years of his presumed suicide. In his live concerts Ayler had been fêted, not least by John Coltrane, as one of the great free improvisers; his band, which included his brother Donald Ayler, would touch briefly on a tune and then erupt into extended frenetic improvisations that were usually beyond the point of having discernible pitch content. After some years of touring with this band, Ayler, perhaps frustrated by the limitedness of his soundworld, began to incorporate R&B elements into his music (a return to his roots, in fact), in the process alienating many of his fans. These two very late LPs have little of the free improvisation, but there is a deeply ceremonial, march-like, quality to the music—it has been described aptly as ‘Pentecostal’, but it is just as much a reflection of the New Orleans marching band traditions. The Last Album is a much stranger collection than Love Cry, opening with a haunting duet with Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine and Ayler on bagpipes, and continuing with a lovely track, Again comes the rising of the sun, with vocals both spoken and sung by Ayler’s partner, Mary Maria Parks. The remainder of the album has Ayler variously abandoning his notorious plastic reed and producing a genuinely beautiful sound not unlike that of Pharoah Sanders, playing more raucous R'n'B, and more—who knows what he might have achieved had he lived longer?
Despite the rather arbitrary cult status that his music enjoys, it is unquestionably original and rewarding, unexpectedly thoughtful beneath the busy surface, and has a remarkable ability to tap into what critics have referred to as the ‘primal’—the infamous remark by John Litweiler that “never before or since has there been such naked aggression in jazz” being both unfair and misleading. Like all truly great music, Ayler’s work, for all its faults, aims to benefit and enrich the listener.
Other artists in the Impulse 2-for-1 series include Art Blakey, Mel Brown, Alice Coltrane, Curtis Fuller, Coleman Hawkins, Milt Jackson, Ahmad Jamal, Elvin Jones, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Shirley Scott, Archie Shepp, Gabor Szabo, and the McCoy Tyner Trio.