November 10, 2011

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Albert Ayler

Love Cry/The Last Album


The late tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler is known for his bold, intense, hard-blowing playing style, which profoundly influenced future generations of avant-garde saxophonists; Ayler also notably influenced John Coltrane’s late period, and controversially, he said the following about Coltrane’s track “The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost”: “He was the father, Pharoah [Sanders] was the son, and I was the holy ghost.” One might think that Ayler’s method has no use for nuance or sensitivity, but that’s not true; his is an impassioned, at times delirious style with an odd beauty that conveys his spiritual expression—this fellow played at Coltrane’s funeral, after all.

The disc at hand is part of Impulse’s series of two-albums-on-one reissues, including a pair of late ’60s Ayler studio albums that offers a peculiar spread. Love Cry features a lineup with Ayler’s brother Donald on trumpet, at times pairing with Albert melodically in a three-legged-race of sorts; harpsichordist Call Cobbs adds treble twinkling, and poor bassist Alan Silva is practically drowned out except for his sliding glissandos. The standout player on this outing, however, is drummer Milford Graves, with an incredibly fluid, non-metronomic fashion and outpouring of beats. The group runs through several two-to-three minute renditions of concert favorites, including the singsongy “Ghosts” and “Omega,” with exuberant, catchy melodies. The album’s peak is perhaps the dizzying, ten-minute “Universal Indians,” which alternates between a simple two-pitch pattern and unhinged free jazz goodness.

The Last Album is a strange release, even by Ayler’s standards, beginning with a meandering duet between Ayler playing a bagpipe chanter and electric guitarist Henry Vestine (of Canned Heat), who also contributes some bluesy licks to “Toiling.” “Again Comes the Rising of the Sun” follows, featuring call-and-response exchanges between vocalist Mary Maria Parks and the ensemble, and Ayler himself sings fervently, if a little awkwardly, on “Desert Blood.” While not the most satisfying Ayler album, it demonstrates that he was a risk-taker ‘til the very end.

Matthew Herbert

One Pig


One of the more horrifying food-related TV clips of recent memory that does not involve Paula Deen and copious amounts of butter is a demonstration by Jamie Oliver, showing a group of American children the unsavory process behind mechanically separated chicken. Amusingly, Oliver’s experiment backfired, and the children still wanted to eat the nuggets made from his chicken-carcass paste. Still, it underscores how relatively little the public knows exactly about how meat and other foods are prepared.

Sound artist Matthew Herbert’s third concept album in a trilogy, following One One and One Club, is One Pig, which documents the entire life of a pig intended for slaughter, from “birth to plate.” PETA has decried the album, but although Herbert is not a vegetarian, he is striving to present the realities of eating meat.

One Pig is part aural documentary and part musique concrète piece, and some of the sonic meddling seems unnecessary at times. For example, the opener “August 2009” uses a field recording of the pig’s birth amid grunts and squeals, and it’s enhanced with static and electronic tones to ostensibly heighten the drama of the moment; however, the music just sounds like it’s in the way.

The album works better with pieces like “February,” which features sounds like a knife being sharpened and blood dripping into a bucket, clinically arranged and electronically sliced and diced; it’s reminiscent of Matmos, but unfortunately some of it sounds like bad industrial music.

Herbert was not allowed to document the actual death, thankfully, so the most macabre part of the album is the use of a specially created musical instrument, by Henry Dagg, to create disturbing squealing sounds using the pig’s blood.

One Pig ends with the strum-and-sing lament “May 2011,” which seems detached and insincere, and the project, while good fodder for conversation, just isn’t as compelling and involving as it tries to be.

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November 10, 2011

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