Leaving Out the Saxophone, a Tone Scientist Resurrects Albert Ayler’s Spirit

The phone rang shortly after I put on Spiritual Unity’s self-titled CD for the first time. And recognizing track two as Albert Ayler’s “Spirits” from the next room, I thought for a moment there that I was hearing a tenor saxophone—it was Marc Ribot on guitar, heavy on the tremolo. There are really only two types of jazz guitarists anymore: the chord nerds who drool over “Have You Met Miss Jones” and the tone scientists like Ribot who recognize Ayler as kin to Charlie Patton and Dock Boggs. Leaving out the saxophone works in Spiritual Unity’s favor: Ribot, trumpeter Roy Campbell, drummer Chad Taylor, and back-from-oblivion bassist Henry Grimes are going for Ayler’s essence, not his sound, and invidious comparisons are avoided. Turning cowboy on “Bells,” Ribot sounds like he’s thinking about his darling Clementine rather than Ayler’s holy ghost—a lovely, reflective moment before the crash-bang ending. More than just lending a touch of authenticity, Grimes’s powerful bowing keeps everyone on an even keel as they switch from Slug’s-era lurch to square dance to (I swear) polka. Taylor dances nimbly on his cymbals, and the criminally underrated Campbell is his usual puckish self. Spirits rejoice! Just what we needed to complete the long overdue Albert Ayler renaissance.

Spiritual Unity play Tonic June 21.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.