Kasper Collin's film documents the life and legacy of jazz musician Albert Ayler, who died in 1970. Ayler pioneered the 'freeform' sound, which, depending on your point of view, is either the most intuitive, emotionally sincere music ever made or a dissonant din that sounds like a swan caught in an electric fence. My Name Is Albert Ayler is unlikely to break down that love/hate schism, but it's an interesting history of a leading figure in an important American artform.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Ayler made his first splash as a musician in Stockholm, Sweden in the early 60s. The American avant garde jazz movement was still in its infancy, but in Europe Ayler found a small but devoted audience. He moved to New York in 1964 and recorded the benchmark album Spiritual Unity. However, respect among his peers - including the great John Coltrane - did not translate into money in his pockets and Ayler and his band, now including little brother Donald, lived mostly on fresh air (a scarce resource in jazz clubs).
"AN ARTIST WHO RAILED AGAINST THE STATUS QUO"
What separates Collin's film from similar documentaries packed with talking head interviews and grainy archive footage is his inclusion of Ayler's own voice. Much more powerful than his former friends eulogies are the interview soundbites recorded by Ayler in his heyday. "My imagination is beyond the civilisation in which we live" he says, and "If people don't like it now, they will." It's clear to see that Ayler really was an artist who railed against the status quo, and the label of 'pioneer', or perhaps even 'misunderstood genius' fits him well.
My Name Is Albert Ayler is released on Friday 9th February 2007.