Marc Ribot: Spiritual Unity

Audio Samples

>Invocation
>Spirits
>Truth Is Marching In
>Saints
>Bells - (live)

Track List

>Invocation
>Spirits
>Truth Is Marching In
>Saints
>Bells - (live)

Album Remarks & Appraisals:

"When you speak of the giants of free jazz - the signatories of its constitution, so to speak - you are obliged to include saxophonist Albert Ayler. But curiously enough, his immediately recognizable music, although revered, had no direct followers. His compositions have been covered, but not like those of John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman. Maybe he was too much of an iconoclast to be copied.

Ayler died in 1970; his body was found floating in the East River. It was never established whether he was murdered or it was a suicide. The recent revival of his music, with two new remastered ESP editions and last year's ten-CD Revenant box set, shines a light on his genius. Guitarist Marc Ribot has included a little of Ayler in his music for many years. Ribot's solo recordings Saints (Atlantic 2001) and Don't Blame Me (DIW 1995) had Ayler covers, and his band Shrek was built upon an Aylerish sound.

His latest project, Spiritual Unity, is a cover band that honors the Ayler soul and the Ayler sound. The disc opens with Ribot's "Invocation. Bassist Henry Grimes, a former Ayler sideman, conjures the saxophonist with a swirling bowed approach. Ribot and trumpeter Roy Campbell jack into the ceremonial energy with churning and sizzling front-line sound.

Spirits follows the signature Ayler tune; its follow-the-leader pace bustles with energy. Ribot rips through a roguish solo that, like Ayler's playing, chooses primitive emotion over style. Both Grimes and Campbell follow with some raw playing, supported by drummer Chad Taylor's multi-rhythmic backing.

The formal and stately Truth Is Marching In captures the moment and intent of this project perfectly. While rooted in a march, the tune displays a certain kind of freedom that evokes the possibilities of the "new thing" while connecting it to jazz's birth in New Orleans.

The closing track, recorded live at Tonic, is a fifteen-plus minute cover of "Bells. The spirit is here. Campbell does his best Don Ayler while the energy crackles. You can even forget this is a guitarist's tribute to a saxophonist. The band takes you through a reflection before the march begins. You know their aim is true. The crowd certainly affected this piece. Slowly the dance (march) begins and the energy pours from this band. Resolution is simple and sweet. Ayler would be proud." -AllaboutJazz

"Spiritual Unity is the latest effort by versatile virtuoso guitarist/composer Marc Ribot since Saints, from four years ago. He takes this opportunity to explore the legacy of Albert Ayler, one of the giants of free jazz. The new unit he gathered for this occasion, featuring drummer Chad Taylor, trumpeter Roy Campbell, and the legendary bassist Henry Grimes, with whom Ayler recorded some of his seminal recordings during the '60s, is as multitalented and flexible as the leader himself.

John Zorn, who twenty years ago was part of a young generation of avant-garde musicians, took the music of another musician (Morricone) and infused it with the sound of his time. Similarly, Marc Ribot has brought the music of Albert Ayler into the modern age. This meeting of minds and eras kicks off with Ribot's tribute composition "Invocation," where he reveals the powerful influence that Ayler's music has had on his music.

This release is full of standout jaw-dropping performances, and it sounds as if these four guys were having a great time jamming together while seamlessly churning out ear-opening examples of sheer brilliance and virtuosity. Instead of following in Ayler's footsteps by playing the original compositions note by note, the band delivers a barrage of sounds that encompasses the emotional depth, rawness, imperfection, and passion that typified Ayler's work.

The music here is truly on the edge, and although this is not the first time that Ribot has paid tribute to Ayler (he covered tunes on his last two albums, Saints and Don't Blame Me), this is the recording that he has totally devoted to Ayler's principles. Like all those great improvisational albums, it rewards the patient listener who is willing to open his mind to new sounds. To me, this is the way tribute albums should always be." -Allaboutjazz

"Spiritual Unity is the latest effort by versatile virtuoso guitarist/composer Marc Ribot since Saints, from four years ago. He takes this opportunity to explore the legacy of Albert Ayler, one of the giants of free jazz. The new unit he gathered for this occasion, featuring drummer Chad Taylor, trumpeter Roy Campbell, and the legendary bassist Henry Grimes, with whom Ayler recorded some of his seminal recordings during the '60s, is as multitalented and flexible as the leader himself.

John Zorn, who twenty years ago was part of a young generation of avant-garde musicians, took the music of another musician (Morricone) and infused it with the sound of his time. Similarly, Marc Ribot has brought the music of Albert Ayler into the modern age. This meeting of minds and eras kicks off with Ribot's tribute composition "Invocation," where he reveals the powerful influence that Ayler's music has had on his music.

This release is full of standout jaw-dropping performances, and it sounds as if these four guys were having a great time jamming together while seamlessly churning out ear-opening examples of sheer brilliance and virtuosity. Instead of following in Ayler's footsteps by playing the original compositions note by note, the band delivers a barrage of sounds that encompasses the emotional depth, rawness, imperfection, and passion that typified Ayler's work.

The music here is truly on the edge, and although this is not the first time that Ribot has paid tribute to Ayler (he covered tunes on his last two albums, Saints and Don't Blame Me), this is the recording that he has totally devoted to Ayler's principles. Like all those great improvisational albums, it rewards the patient listener who is willing to open his mind to new sounds. To me, this is the way tribute albums should always be." -AllAboutJazz

Album Reviews:

Magnet (p.108) - "What's most startling about SPIRITUAL UNITY, particularly given Ribot's aggressively interpretive aesthetic, is the sheer note-perfect reverence with which the quartet approaches Ayler's melodic lines."

The Wire (p.63) - "[T]he instrumentation transforms Ayler's marching band melodies into raucous stomps....[It] works quite well over the long haul..."

Down Beat (p.77) - 3.5 stars out of 5 - "The musicians convey lucidity during these embryonic, harmonic-melodic structures interlaced with guts and glory."

JazzTimes (pp.102-103) - "The nimble-fingered six-stringer is forever picking energetic, angular lines that weave a half-century's worth of jazz, rock, and whatsis into every measure."

Album Notes

Personnel: Marc Ribot (guitar); Marc Ribot; Henry Grimes (double bass); Roy Campbell, Jr. (trumpet, pocket trumpet); Chad Taylor (drums).

Recording information: Orange Music Sound Studio, West Orange, NJ (10/27/2004/10/28/2004); Tonic, New York, NY (10/27/2004/10/28/2004).

Photographer: Dominik Huber.

Albert Ayler compositions have been in Marc Ribot's book for many years, so it shouldn't really be a surprise that he put together a band to play Ayler tunes. However, when Ribot started playing Ayler songs he couldn't have dreamed that he'd be playing them with Henry Grimes, the original bass player on a number of Ayler's seminal mid-'60s recordings (Grimes walked away from music in 1967 and remained out of sight until 2002). Rounding out the group are Roy Campbell on trumpet and Chad Taylor on drums and percussion.

The album is called Spiritual Unity, but it's not a direct cover of Ayler's Spiritual Unity album. In fact, Ribot's band only tackles one song from that particular album, "Spirits." Actually, although they do play Ayler's music, the band's mission statement says it's not about performing the tunes by rote, it's about seeking "a ritual process, through improvisation." To that end, although it sounds remarkably like an Ayler tune, "Invocation" is actually a group improvisation offered before the Ayler material. When they do get to that material, they work much like Ayler's quartets did, moving quickly from the head into fiery collective improvisation. This is free jazz to be sure, but Ayler's free jazz was grounded in marches and gospel music and those elements can come to the surface even during the roiling improvisations. Henry Grimes is remarkable. His ideas never seem to slow down and it's nearly incomprehensible that he didn't touch a bass for three decades. Chad Taylor has long been known as a supportive drummer and Ribot and Campbell's work probably needs no introduction. They operate here as a unit, not a collection of soloists, and they honor Ayler's musical process as much as the man or his compositions. Ayler's time on earth was far too short, but Ribot and company show that this music still lives on in the present moment, not simply as a relic of the past. Spiritual Unity isn't for the timid, but Ayler fans will find a lot to enjoy. ~ Sean Westergaard



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