A Season of Songs, day 56: New Grass/Message From Albert

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today’s song is “New Grass/Message from Albert” by Albert Ayler taken from the 1968 album “New Grass”.  I have this song as part of the “Albert Ayler: The Impulse Story” CD which is a collection of 10-tracks from records he did on Impulse.

I first really became aware of Albert Ayler when reading the book “The House That Trane Built” by Ashely Kahn, a history of the amazing jazz record label Impulse Records.  That’s another good book for your reading list.  After reading the book, I decided to try to expand my knowledge of some of the Impulse Records artists.  Luckily I live mere blocks away from what was then Paul’s CD’s, which is stacked with quite a collection of jazz CD’s.  In the coming months I would pick up records by Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler.

Ayler was only around for a bit (he came on the scene in the mid-60s and would die in 1970) but would have a sizable impact. He was heavily influenced by Coltrane but pushed things in a more “free jazz” direction.  In turn, Coltrane would also be influenced by Ayler and other artists examining the freer limits of the jazz spectrum.  I have to admit that when listening to a track like “New Grass” that I fully understand how lots of people would not care for this.  It’s a music that demands your attention in a way that can be somewhat exhausting as a listener.  Personally my own ability to listen to more than a little bit of this style in one sitting is limited.  At the same time I certainly understand the appeal of this music from an artistic perspective (the desire to push oneself as an artist) and from a music listener’s perspective (is this really any more discordant and annoying than various strains of punk and hardcore?).

One of the great things I love about this track in particular is that it is half this free jazz exploration and then it just fades into him talking about his music.  The song is the first track on the original LP, so its was basically him opening up the album with a song and then saying, “you know what, I want to talk to you about why I make this music”.  An excerpt:

 “The music I have played in the past I know I have played in another place at a different time.  And I was sent once again to give the people of Earth a spiritual message.  The message I bring to you is one of spiritual love, peace, and understanding.  We must restore universal harmony.”

A similar message is expressed in another of his songs, “Music is the Healing Force of the Universe”, in which the vocalist Mary Maria Parks sings “music causes all bad vibrations to fade away / it makes one want to love instead of hate / it puts the mind in a healthy state / of god” while Albert works the saxophone.

As I listen to this full CD right now I’m wondering why I don’t listen to it more often.  It’s a challenge but there is really some interesting stuff happening here.  I definitely recommend checking out some of Ayler’s stuff, especially if you got into any of the Impulse-era Coltrane stuff.

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