The guitar alchemist genuflects before the Albert Ayler Quintet’s Live At Slug’s Saloon May 1, 1966 (Base, 1982)
It was the mid-’80s. I was playing in the Lounge Lizards, living on East 16th Street in New York. I was playing compositions that were to do with harmonics, they sounded kind of like bugle calls. And [NY pianist] Anthony Coleman said, “You should listen to Albert Ayler’s Bells.” I knew he was part of the pantheon of jazz geniuses, and very controversial, but I’d never done a close listen. Then I did. And I’ve been doing that ever since. When I put the album on it was, “Oh yeah… all right.” I wasn’t analysing it – it was an artefact of a very intense quasireligious experience, like you’re standing in the back of a room in which there’s a strange ritual going on, you hear a chicken squawk and see a bloody knife, and you’re not sure what going on but you’re certain something is! Ayler was influenced by bugle calls, church music, hymns. The first part is a hymn, but what it’s praying for is what happens when the song progresses. It’s like a diving board into something else, the chords come at you a mile a minute. It’s a virtuoso/intellectual/ physical feat. It was the missing link between jazz and punk rock and made me understand everything I most needed from both. It made me understand that music can be a ritual in which musicians and audience engage, and how it can take people up and put them down in a different place. You have to have listened to the stuff that came before it, and to have reached a point of frustration, in order for it to feel necessary. When I listen to it I find it incredibly funny and tender, with the desire for honesty and revelation. One thing Albert Ayler gives me is courage. Something clicked when I heard it. Before that I didn’t know what I was gonna do. And after that, I did know.
Marc Ribot’s Songs Of Resistance 1942-2018 is out on September 14 on ANTI-.