SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock, Sunny Murray – New York Eye and Ear Control 1964 [50th Anniversary Edition] – ESP-DISK, vinyl

An intriguing time capsule of mid-‘60s, New York City free jazz.

Published on December 2, 2013

Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock, Sunny Murray – New York Eye and Ear Control 1964 [50th Anniversary Edition] – ESP-DISK, vinyl

Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock, Sunny Murray – New York Eye and Ear Control 1964 [50th Anniversary Remastered Edition] – ESP-DISK, vinyl [Dist. by Naxos] ESP1016LP, 45:51 [9/24/13] ***1/2:

(Albert Ayler – tenor saxophone; Don Cherry – trumpet, cornet; John Tchicai – alto saxophone; Roswell Rudd – trombone; Gary Peacock – bass; Sunny Murray – drums)

This 45-minute free-jazz celebration is an interesting find for those keen to experience or re-experience more than just a taste of mid-‘60s, New York City avant-garde/free-jazz. New York Eye and Ear Control was recorded in July, 1964, a week after maverick saxophonist Albert Ayler produced his seminal outing, Spiritual Unity, which was his aural manifesto of what and how he wanted his jazz to be heard and considered. Thus, this recording includes Ayler and the rest of his then-current trio (drummer Sunny Murray and bassist Gary Peacock), but it also has three members of the New York Contemporary Five: alto saxophonist John Tchicai, trombonist Roswell Rudd, and trumpeter Don Cherry (who also plays some cornet). In essence, this is a nearly uncontrolled jam session which comprises some of the Big Apple’s shining examples of outsider jazz. New York Eye and Ear Control was originally issued in 1964 on vinyl by ESP, resurfaced as a remastered CD in 2008, and this year was reissued on 180-gram vinyl (which utilizes the remastered tapes). This review refers to the re-released, remastered vinyl edition (please note, the record’s subtitle which indicates a 50th anniversary is not linked to the LP’s initial release date).

The sextet came together at the behest of multi-discipline Canadian artist Michael Snow, who had ties to the Big Apple’s free/avant-garde jazz scene: his loft functioned as both rehearsal and gathering space for musicians connected with the Jazz Composers’ Guild, and others. Snow needed an exploratory soundtrack for his forthcoming, 35-minute film, entitled both Walking Woman and New York Eye and Ear Control, a movie based on his ongoing art subject centered on a silhouette of a woman, modeled after pianist Carla Bley (Snow’s silhouette artwork was the basis for this album’s cover as well as Paul Bley’s 1964 Barrage LP). The musicians fashioned freely improvised music (a short, one-minute opener; and two lengthy excursions) without seeing the film, but were guided by Snow’s instructions and ideas. The result is fully collective improvisation, where no one takes a leadership stance but everyone surges through the unstructured material, which is sometimes intense and other times ebbs to a softer abatement.

The first track, the lyrical “Don’s Dawn,” is 65 seconds long, and features Cherry smoothly flowing on trumpet, with spare accompaniment: mostly Peacock’s airy arco bass, but a bit of other horn subtly slips in. It’s the closest the group gets to a head or theme. The following 21-minute piece, “A Y,” contrasts sharply with the nearly languid “Don’s Dawn.” The players investigate different avenues of musical focus, and provide a sense of respite and tension, with both coarse and quieter passages. There are disorderly moments and instances of both dissonance and atonality: the horns are visceral, raw and temperamental. Ayler uses his infamous wide-vibrato wail, in addition to earthy honks and some folksy and bluesy abstractions. Tchicai is often right alongside Ayler, driving him to abandon any specific melody, and other times he restates notes or phrases with sly repetition. Rudd, one of free jazz’s most acclaimed trombonists, utilizes all of the sounds and tones his instrument can manufacture, and Cherry sways in and out with nipping bop fragments.

The third and final number, “ITT,” has the same kind of uninhibited creativity, though more strident and looser than “A Y.” Ayler does not take a backseat to the other players, but he does not dominate the setting. Rather, at times, he defers to the ensemble’s overall dynamics. His tenor sax tonality and phrasing occasionally goads the other instruments, or mimics a brash Dixieland or New Orleans timbre, although done within a thoroughly contemporary sheen. There is constant intermixing of instruments, as the musicians lace in and out of the 23-minute jam, which slows down, then quickens, changes directions, and generates an unrestricted musical space. At first listen, it may seem like cacophony, with only scarce apparent collaboration, but subsequent listening proves how interactive the sextet is. New York Eye and Ear Control was not groundbreaking, not like Ornette Coleman’s double quartet project, Free Jazz (1960), nor was it as imaginatively successful or satisfying as John Coltrane’s Ascension (1965), which had Tchicai in the ranks. But New York Eye and Ear Control is consistent collective-musical artistry and an intriguing snapshot of a time and a place.

Buyer caveat: while the remastered sound is excellent (especially for an analog-to-digital effort, and a 1964 recording which was probably not taped in an expensive studio), the vinyl version does not contain the incisive and detailed liner notes found in the CD edition. A paper insert inside the 12-inch sleeve would have sufficed, but evidently no one approved or thought to include the liner notes.

TrackList: Don’s Dawn; A Y; ITT.

—Doug Simpson




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