‘Jazz is Jim Crow. Jazz is of another era, another time, another place. We’re playing free music.’
Albert and Donald Ayler
The younger avant-garde are being overlooked by most promoters and record companies, and it is surprising to learn that such a large proportion of their recorded music has appeared on Danish labels—after musicians have visited the Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen—rather than on American labels. In this situation, the institution of the esp disk record company was very welcome. This company, directed by Bernard Stollman, lawyer and prominent Esperantist with a long-established interest in jazz, was set up last year after the October Revolution concerts, with the aim of presenting the younger musicians’ work on record. So far, it has produced 16 jazz albums, 10 of which have become available in this country.
Up to now, Stollman has not been completely successful. esp records have no sleeve-notes, where intelligent commentary would often be very useful. Often, the quality of recording is very poor. Sometimes, the company falls short of its aims by presenting the wrong music. The esp catalogue contains conventional ‘hard bop’ presented as new, original music (Pharaoh Saunders), pointless eccentricities (Sun Ra) and experiments which are far removed from the development of jazz (Bob James). In these respects, the esp achievement has not yet equalled that of the now-defunct Candid label, directed by Nat Hentoff.
However, some esp albums present younger musicians whose work is a logical extension of the music we have discussed previously. At present, some of these musicians are insufficiently represented so that we cannot present a reliable account of their programme, and we must confine ourselves to discussing those who have recorded more frequently. The most important of these is undoubtedly Albert Ayler.
Ayler is 29 years old, and plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, though he is most frequently heard on the tenor. He gained his first professional experience playing rhythm-and-blues with Little Walter; more recently, he appeared in contemporary jazz as a protégé of Cecil Taylor, and has led his own occasional groups both in America and in Europe. He has made six records, five of which are currently available in Britain. One of them was the best selling jazz record in London for a time.
His records have caused a controversy which mirrors the actual ambivalence of the music. On the one hand, his work is exciting, adventurous, and a logical extension of recent developments. On the other, it is cynical, destructive and verging upon the chaotic.