Ghost in the Army Band
Just finished listening to the last of the music discs of Revenant Records’ mammoth Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost boxed set. I’ve yet to work through the interview discs (www.revenantrecords.com/ayler/). Although Ayler is often thought to be one of the more extreme figures of the Free Jazz, I find him to be one of the most accessible in the movement. One can often hear echoes of early jazz and martial music in his tunes, as well as a playfulness, which gives listeners something to latch onto.
In addition to seven discs worth of previously unreleased, adventurous music, Revenant included of bonus disc of two tunes recorded by an Army combo, featuring Ayler. From roughly Spring 1959 to Spring 1961 Ayler was stationed in Orleans, France, and played in the Adjutant-General’s 76th Army Band. In that capacity he played in a variety of genres, and started experimenting with the fiery style that he would be remembered for.
Most reviews have dismissed the bonus disc as a historical curio. Certainly, the two cuts can’t compare with the power of Ayler’s later work as a leader, but they are not an embarrassment to the musicians involved. There is a rather sweet reading of “Tenderly” in the Glenn Miller tradition, and a competent version of “Leap Frog.” While not transcendent, they demonstrate the fluency such groups had with all manner of big band music. The role of the U.S. military in jazz history is something I’ll explore in further posts. Many jazz artists got early experience playing in formally sanctioned military bands, or informal groups while in service, including in this case, the Ghost himself, Albert Ayler.