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Blues for Albert Ayler
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Wow! Some good unheard Frank Wright! This great set was recorded in 1974, live at Ali's Alley (owned by Rashied Ali) in New York City. The sound is very good-no harshness in the analog to digital transfers. The band consists of Wright-tenor sax/flute/vocals, Benny Wilson-bass, James Blood Ulmer-guitar, and Rashied Ali-drums. The music is broken into six "Parts"-there's no traditional titles. Two are fairly short (5+ minutes each) and the rest vary from 12 to 24 minutes each. Wright has released a couple of albums on the ESP-DISK label in the sixties, and they too are worth hearing. He's known for being part of the "New Thing" in jazz in the sixties. Ali is known for his playing with Coltrane in his later free period. And Ulmer has released a number of albums (most discontinued) of free thinking jazz, and later some blues based jazz releases as well.

The music is tight, with few open spaces. With Wright's tenor (especially), Ulmer's guitar, and Ali's drumming taking up all the available space, this is one dense, exciting concert. Wilson, for the most part, stays in the background, anchoring and pushing the music. He does step forward for an extended bass solo (including his bowing technique) on "Part 4". Wright plays his tenor as if his life depended on it. His sometimes furious rapid blowing is very exciting and visceral. Ulmer, too, is constantly shaping and pushing this music forward, whether he's out front or playing a rhythm part. And Ali's drumming is busy (but not cluttered) in the best tradition of this music. "Part 5" features Wright's flute playing-floating over the drums and bass. It's in contrast to his fiery tenor playing.

This is high energy music (as they used to say in the sixties) in the best tradition of outside jazz. With Wright's energetic squalls on tenor, Ulmer's rapid fire playing all over this music, and Ali's drumming constantly moving the music, it's difficult to catch your breath-but that's a good thing. At times Wright sounds similar to Ayler with that blues based sound on the tenor. Afterall, this set was in homage to Ayler's birthday-and what a present. As with music of this type, there's no real melodies-or if there are-they're only fleetingly heard in the beginning and the end of a piece. The "Parts" become progressively freer the further into this set you go. It's as if the musicians were feeling each other out and then felt comfortable enough to begin taking chances with the music, knowing that the others would back him up. All in all, a very nice set of music (free but not to free) from a fine band. With both Wright and Ali now gone, and Ulmer not exactly a spring chicken, it's even more important that unreleased music of this sort be released. ESP-DISK has released another fine set of jazz.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Frank Wright, ten sx, flt; James `Blood' Ulmer, guit; Benny Wilson, b; Rashied Ali, dr.

This exceptional album was recorded live at Ali`s Alley in New York City on July 17, 1974. All though it's labeled as Parts 1 through 6, the whole album is really one continuous piece which stretches across 75 minutes without a break.

Wright was an early convert to the "New Thing" approach of Albert Ayler. Just as Ayler had, he had cut his musical eye teeth in boogie shout bands, absorbing the big sound and "talking" approach to soloing of r&b saxophonists like tenor sax player Big Jay McNeely (an icon of that music to me when I was a teenager). Frustrated with the scene in the States, Wright emigrated to Europe in the late 60s and flourished there. On a trip back to New York in 1974, he put together this quartet to play at Ali's Alley, a prime venue for the most aggressive and modern jazz music being played at that time. Ali played drums in the group. (Boy, did he!) Wright played tenor mostly on this album but flute as well. (His approach didn't translate as well to flute, where he couldn't squeeze the sound; the flute cut short the percussive attack that is evident on tenor.) The bassist for the gig was Benny Wilson, a musician I've not heard of elsewhere. For the most part, Wilson's playing is drowned out on this set by the flood of energy that poured out by the other three musicians, although he plays a respectable solo two thirds of the way through. The find of the group, and the musician whose playing raised this music above very good to exceptional, was guitarist James `Blood' Ulmer, who has never played better than he plays here.

Think of it. Wright was an apostle of Albert Ayler and this album is, in title, an album honoring Ayler's incantatory music, which was half Gospel Church and half R&B music hall. Wright `s tenor sound is distorted like Albert's, his fingering fast and furious, and he talks, screams, and yells with his horn. Constraints of meter and chord pattern are thrown to the winds at times in the fury of sound he unleashes on his horn. He has behind him a drummer who was legendary for playing not behind the ensemble but parallel to and separate from it. Ali follows his own sense of meter, accent and breaks. Ali and Wright are like two musicians playing independently off the same lead sheet, but a head so shortened that they are each free to proceed on their own, doing what they want throughout the whole piece. The wonder is that they fit together but they do listen to each other and while they don't stop going their own ways, they trim a bit to fit together.

Ulmer binds it all together. When he plays in support of Wright's solos, he mostly chords. Each chord is injected suddenly and separately into the music, alternating with occasional short jagged runs and Ulmer's patented jagged, ragged, distorted semi-acoustic sound. When he is soloing, it's mostly single note lines, each note separate and distinct. Ulmer doesn't try to merge the notes into the flowing guitar lines beloved of earlier cool jazz guitarists. (Think Johnny Smith or George Van Eps.) He uses techniques learned from Jimi -the wah wah sound, amp distorts, vibes. His guitar sounds as though it's gobbling, definitely not singing. There are marvelous passages where Wright and Ulmer solo together. It isn't call and response or trading measures. Rather, it's like those magical moments late in some of Mahavishnu I's songs when guitarist McLaughlin and violinist Goodman and keyboardist Hammer moved beyond trading eights and fours and twos and then ones, and the separate lines blended together in a great wash of sound. That's what Ulmer and Wright, kicked along by a thundering Ali, sound like in these parts of this piece.

Let me say it again, in case you haven't gotten the point yet, this is a standout album, capturing on tape a magical moment when the right combination of master musicians got together and for one night, `sang' together without any diminution in quality or intensity. Every jazz lover should own this album.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This live set by Frank Wright's 4tet was recorded in 1974 and is previously unreleased. Wright is a bit more conversant with "melody" in the conventional sense than some of his "out" sax brethren. His high-energy free playing had strong undercurrents from blues, R&B, and gospel --- in fact, Wright was a R&B bassist before switching to the saxophone. Wright's approach is often riveting and more joyous than angry. He's accompanied by Rashied Ali (John Coltrane's drummer toward the end) and guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer, whose blues-infused subtle squall makes a nice contrast to the colossal roaring of Wright and Ali.

For those less conversant with "noisy" jazz, Blues for Albert Ayler is a good way to go, while Wright fans (and fans of Peter Brotzmann, Charles Tyler, Albert Ayler, etc.) will treasure this.
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