As soon as I got to New York I did the obligatory scan of Time Out to see what was on. Top of the listings was a free festival to celebrate the life of saxophonist Albert Ayler, taking place on Roosevelt Island on the East River, the very river in which Ayler's body was found thirty years ago.
Ayler was a really raw free jazzer. I don't routinely listen to his stuff – it is pretty far out – but I saw a film about him a couple of years ago, My Name Is Albert Ayler, which really brought his music and story to life for me. He was seriously talented but struggled to make a living from his music. It included some footage of him playing a tribute at John Coltrane's funeral, possibly one of the more intense bits of footage I've ever seen. So I was really keen to go to the festival and pay my respects to him.
Roosevelt Island provided a backdrop to the music that some might say was bleak but I thought was really pretty. It was a really muggy day, quite cloudy, but every so often those clouds would break for a spell of intense sunshine. People laid out on the grass and just got lost in the music. It was really uplifting.
The lineup included several artists from ESP, the record label that Ayler recorded for and who released avant garde music, placing absolutely no musical constraints upon their artists. Andrew Lamb was a stand-out. He paid tribute to Ayler before playing, saying, 'He pushed the instrument to another level', then poured out some of his 'libation' – Poland Spring – for Ayler. Which was awesome! His playing was really powerful. Here he is.
This is Giuseppe Logan on saxophone. He is an original ESP recording artist and quite frail.
Reading up about him later I found out he spent 20 years in New York homeless and, from what I can work out, he squats now. These stories of musicians who are so incredibly talented but get little recognition or payment make me so sad. His playing was quite subdued but listening to his recorded work is a revelation. This album of his seems to be essential: Touchin' on Trane. He is an amazing pianist as well; I've been listening to this album of him playing jazz standards and it's lovely. If you're in the market for some extremely lovely easy on the ear jazz piano please buy it.
This dude, Gunter Hampel, played vibes and sax or a clarinet AT THE SAME TIME. Far out.
And it finished up with Marshall Allen, playing his space sax with an ensemble of the day's players.
Then it was back home across the bridge.
The man himself. Read more about Albert Ayler and ESP here.