Directed by Kasper Collin. Sweden/US. 2006.

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This documentary about Albert Ayler the famous jazz pioneer who killed himself in November 1970 is the work of Kasper Collin, a native of Sweden.  The film uses newly discovered footage of Ayler and his band, archive footage, interviews with the man himself between 1963-1970 and interviews with key players. 

Albert Ayler was born in 1936 and was bought up learning the saxophone by his doting music playing father and paralysed mother.  The story begins when Albert heads for Scandinavia, a free-spirited place which would go hand in hand with his expressive music.  Upon making contact with Clint Taylor in Sweden and Denmark and performing improvisational  music, he heads to New York where he meets John Coltrane and attempts to make his career.  There follows the attempts to release a record, the conflict between he and his equally talented trumpet playing brother Donald and the inevitable break-up with friends once a woman, in this case Marie, becomes involved.  If it was a film it would be entertaining, but this is real and all the more emotive. 

I knew very little about Albert Ayler, in fact I had never heard of him.  But his legacy is definitely apparent and you can tell by his style of playing that he was ahead of his time.  And as he says, ‘If they don’t like it now, they will’.  Like most geniuses, he was supremely confident in his own ability to perform and find an appropriate audience.  Albert was a very handsome man with his unique image of having a white bit in his black beard, even his beard was unique.  Near the end when he descended into an attempt to include vocals in his brand of expanding jazz/rock mixture, he reminded me of Jimi Hendrix. Albert  had a destructive spirit who believed that his own death would save the souls of his paralysed mother and mentally unstable brother. 

The soundtrack is of course impressive and no doubt viewers will seek out his back catalogue, especially the breakthrough album ‘New Grass’.  Albert Ayler was a genius and a pioneer for the breaking down of jazz’s stringent walls, a handsome man loved by women and admired by men (sounds familiar), but he was like most geniuses, fighting demons constantly and so cruelly jumped into the East River, New York one night in November 1970 at the age of 34.  The film begins and ends with the images of his father looking for his gravestone in Cleveland, Ohio - his father is still a proud man.  But it is quite prophetic he is looking for his grave as the film is looking for the man behind the saxophone.  This film goes a long way to explain him.   

An enlightening documentary that is a proud achievement to Mr. Collin.

Jamie Garwood
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