Alibi V.16 No.48 • Nov 29-Dec 5, 2007 

Music to Your Ears

My Name Is Albert Ayler

Listening to free jazz is like gazing into a world beyond reason, lacking discernible form--it's what emerges from the human brain before being rendered by any structural or harmonizing filters, a musical stream of consciousness. This cacophony can also be downright stressful. While challenging, such chaos has the potential to reward its listener with momentary glimpses into unseen transfigurations of existence.

Free jazz, in all of its confounding mutations and adulterations of tradition, is also important for what it lent to the furtherance of art. And at the forefront of free jazz and avant-garde during the ’50s and ’60s was American saxophonist Albert Ayler.

I called upon KUNM Music Director, and my former boss, Matthew Finch for thoughts on Ayler. "He normally falls into the free jazz category, but he got there through forging a testifying style of sax-playing with R&B and blues players," Finch says, warning, "I'd avoid any facile description of him like 'halfway between Coltrane and Sun Ra' since that'll only piss off the jazz-heads." Noted.

Born in Cleveland in 1936, Ayler's often-difficult career began at an early age, took him to European residences in France and Sweden and even brought a 1966 cover of Downbeat. His style--which was at times scorned by traditionalists--feels bittersweet, with march-like melodies reminiscent of New Orleans jazz, mixed with brass and percussive dissonance.

"His story falls into that sad canon of misunderstood jazz visionaries who suffered from the music's marginalization in the late ’60s," says Finch. "That, coupled with his own mental challenges and a mysterious death in 1970." Ayler was found floating in the East River near a pier in Brooklyn, his cause of death the source of wide speculation.

Beginning this Monday, Dec. 3, and running through Thursday, Dec. 6, jazz laymen and experts alike can learn all about Ayler. The Guild Cinema (3405 Central NE) will screen 2005's My Name Is Albert Ayler. The documentary, made by Swedish filmmaker Kaspar Collin, contains interviews with Ayler's family members and the only known concert footage of his performances. Click here for film times.