Shakers n’ Bakers – Heart Love
(Little i music CD107. CD review by Mark McKergow)
New-York based tenor saxophonist and arranger Jeff Lederer explores the final and controversial phase of sax legend Albert Ayler’s career in this lively and joyous collection of R&B, soul and gospel influenced performances.
Ayler was, of course, best known in connection with the New York free jazz scene of the 1960s along with the likes of Gary Peacock, Sunny Murray and John Tchicai. He brought a wild and exuberant sound which was more likely to draw on children’s songs and gospel tunes then conventional jazz material. At the height of his free jazz explorations, Ayler performed at John Coltrane’s funeral in 1967 before moving on to produce more composed music. His final albums featured strong R&B and soul rhythms, in an attempt by Impulse! Records to broaden his appeal. These albums were reviled at the time as sell-outs by critics and fans alike. Ayler was found drowned in New York’s East River in 1970, a presumed suicide.
Jeff Lederer has long had a fascination for the music of Albert Ayler and his partner Mary Maria Parks, and has taken a new look at this last phase of his career with a particular focus on the New Grass album of 1968. Taking some of the tunes from New Grass and adding other similar numbers performed by Ayler around this time, Lederer has made a canny move – the way that music has developed over the past 50 years with a beats-led feel to the fore makes this material ripe for revisiting.
The album opens with an Ayler-esque fanfare of wailing horns before a spoken spiritual poem from Shaker poet Mother Ann, performed by vocalists Mary LaRose and Miles Griffiths. This text, unheard since the mid-19th century, was unearthed by Lederer in 2013 at the New York State Archives (the Shakers being Lederer’s other passion), gives a suitably grave opening which nicely reflects the opening of New Grass. We spring instantly into the period funky shuffle of Everybody’s Moving, Griffiths’ vocals giving a strong lead. This is very attractive and enjoyable music, reminding me of fellow New Yorker Don Byron’s takes on the work of Jr. Walker – performers with proper jazz chops taking a headlong run at simple funky grooves with exciting results; Lederer doesn’t hold back in an extended tenor solo. The playing is perhaps slightly more controlled that Ayler’s (could it be otherwise?) but the ensemble is tighter and the whole thing slightly more refined for our 21st century ears.
Other highlights include the reggae-ish Oh Love Of Life, with loping ska-bouncing horns and organ and fine vocals from Mary LaRose. New Generation gives a dance-floor filling fiesta of grooving solos with Jamie Saft’s deftly period organ solo preceding a great trombone tumult from Joe Fiedler. Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen is a slow and sanguine reading full of passion from Lederer, while Swing Low Sweet Chariot, for contrast, skips along as a sax-and-drum duet (with Allison Miller) before launching into one-in-a-bar soloing. Goin’ Home, perhaps better known as the tune taken by Dvorak for his New World symphony, is a stately and sensitive reading, leading to the finale – the title track Heart Love, irresistible with the whole ensemble joyfully joining in with swagger and bounce.
This album is a real find, a totally worthwhile reappraisal of Albert Ayler’s final period and crammed with flag-waving crowd pleasers. DJs and others take note – I’ll be featuring some of these tracks in my sets and I’m hoping it will be picked up widely. A very fine piece of work.
LINK: Preview the music here.