Albert Ayler was the Cleveland-born saxophonist whose “fire music” kind of defined the term “skronk”*, and his 1969 LP, New Grass, finds him skronking, honking and screeching. Making a sound like violin strings being violently hacked. A distressed wild animal warning its neighbours of danger. Or in dire need of a mate. His reeds squeezed through rapidly ascending, atonal note clusters backed by abstract emissions from an upright bass. Far beyond any traditional idea of melody. Albert sending his spiritual message of “love, peace, and understanding” to us from a different dimension. One he reached through intense meditations on sacred texts – Revelations, and where he was visited by elaborate visions of apocalypse and rebirth. Leading him to call for prayer and repentance. Sending him on a mission to eliminate selfishness and restore universal harmony. A year later he would sadly take his own life.
But New Grass finds Albert pushed in a more “accessible” direction, by producer, Bob Thiele, and label, Impulse! A place that he’d called musical home since `67, thanks to the sponsorship of his friend, fan, and mentor, John Coltrane. So Albert’s ecstatic screams, uninhibited celebrations, are coupled to upbeat, gospel numbers, uptempo R&B, and the other horns in the sizable recording band come in action paintings of Batman Theme biff bang pow punches. Groovy go-go-a-go-go. The choral vocals could be outtakes from Hair. Age Of Aquarius hippies socking it to ya.
Albert all the while over-blowing away above organ grinds and chitlin’ circuit funk. Blowing your mind and blowing himself hoarse. His playing in places recalling Leon Thomas` yodel. Offering up a joyful noise unto the creator. Speaking in tongues, then dropping to a whistle, while the rhythm section – of Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and Bill Folwell – keep fierce time. In between the “freedom” singing hymns for love-ins, and happenings, with a Sesame Street swing. Simple, innocent songs of unity.
Albert Ayler`s New Grass is available again care of Third Man Records.
*Skronk was coined by legendary rock journalist, Robert Christgau, but arguably best put to use in ‘A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise’ – a brilliant record review that reads more like a short story – written by Christgau`s equally legendary contemporary, Lester Bangs.