One of the great albums in the free jazz movement, Albert Ayler's "Vibrations" finds Ayler finally reaching a pinnacle expression of his ideas. While earlier in the year, he put together two superb albums displaying his vision clearly-- "Spirits" and "Spiritual Unity", "Vibrations" is the first one where it really all comes together. Certainly sympathetic support helps the cause-- Ayler's rhythm section of mid-1964 of bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray was augmented by trumpeter Don Cherry.
Albert Ayler is a difficult player to for anyone to work with, simply because the force of his character is so strong-- his technique resulted in a deep, fat tone with a wide vibrato and humanistic expression. He feared no technique and was often inclined to perform in extreme upper and lower registers, harmonics, overblowing, etc. Add to that the rather insistent nature of his performance, and it was often difficult for others to stand next to him. And yet in Sunny Murray he had a drummer whose force of personality was a match for his-- Murray eschewed standard timekeeping in favor of implied rhythms (as strongly as presenting at times the feeling of a march beat without ever stating it) and providing a platform from which the other musicians could launch. For his part, Gary Peacock provided a unique voice in that he somehow struck a balance between foiling Ayler's playing and setting up a rhythmic foundation to work with. But the key to the success of this group lied in trumpeter Don Cherry.
With the other horn players Ayler worked with, regardless of instrument, including to at least some extent his brother Don, Ayler's personality established itself on their playing to such a level that their personality as a musician was often lost, or at least subsumed in part, but Cherry was a different story. Having played alongside the other incredibly strong personality in free jazz (Ornette Coleman), co-led a date with John Coltrane, and worked as a sideman with Sonny Rollins and Archie Shepp, Cherry presented with a confidence and uniqueness of personality that made him the perfect frontline partner for Ayler. When Ayler became insistent and overbearing, Cherry didn't follow suit-- he became sympathetic. When Ayler cried and yearned, Cherry gently prodded and explored his upper register with accents. And when Ayler stopped soloing and Cherry started, there was no drop in the intensity of the performance. Certianly the rest of the group noticed this as well-- Peacock plays beautifully under Cherry's solos, sometimes better than he does under Ayler, and Murray was positively inspired on these sets.
The pieces on the album are the stuff Ayler's legacy is built off of-- marches, ballads, simple structures to serve as springboards for improvisation. The album opens with a patient and bubbling theme statement of "Ghosts" (Ayler's most famous piece) and never looks back, moving through moody ruminations ("Children", "Mothers"), aggressive themes ("Vibrations") and a positively ecstatic reading of "Ghosts". Start to finish, the album is breathtaking, powerful and overwhelming. Essential listening for free jazz fans. Curious parties on Ayler should start here as well.