Albert Ayler Trio was an American jazz power trio best known for their revolutionary and innovative style of avant-garde jazz. Founded in New York City in 1965, the trio was directly responsible for sparking the free jazz movement and ushering in a new era of musical exploration and experimentation. The group was comprised primarily of alto saxophonist/composter Albert Ayler and two of his jazz colleagues and collaborators: bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray.
Ayler was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1936 to a family of musicians. His father was a trumpeter with a national touring orchestra, and Ayler was attracted to the music from an early age. After experimenting with a number of different instruments, Ayler chose to focus on the alto saxophone and picked it up as his primary instrument during high school. After developing the basics of the saxophone, Ayler served in the military for two years and when he returned honed his skills at the Academy of Music in Cleveland.
In 1962, Ayler moved to Sweden to further develop his improvisational talents, an endeavor that was ultimately successful. During this time, he formed the Albert Ayler Trio with guitarist Alan Silva, and the two soon developed an identifiable sound. Returning to the United States in 1964, the band gained some national exposure thanks to Ayler's close brush with the discipline when he appeared alongside Don Cherry in the Nu-Sound Production documentary â€œMessin' with the Blues.â€
In 1965, the band moved to New York City and slimmed down to a trio with the addition of bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray. This would signal the true focus of the ensemble, and Ayler himself referred to it as "Spiritual Unity". Indeed, the trio pushed free jazz to its outer limits and focused intensely on improvisation and experimentation. However, beyond Ayler's playing, both Peacock and Murray also impressed with intense solos and off-the-cuff playing. The addition of Sunny Murray's drums was perhaps the group's greatest contribution to jazz as a whole, as Ayler felt they provided the group with a vital oratorical component.
The trio followed up their free-style playing with more orthodox approaches as Ayler's compositions moved into standards, hymnals, and traditional compositions. As the band returned to the more traditional approach, they embellished the bebop classics with free jazz elements, the fusion of the two not only creating melodic sparks, but producing high-energy solos and improvisational playing.
The trio recorded Their 1965 album, Other Music, for ESP-Disk, as well as Music is the Healing Force of the Universe and Sound Practice in 1969 and Changing with the Times and Spirits Rejoice one decade later. In between the 1970s albums, the Trio disbanded as Ayler sought spiritual guidance away from music. Ironically, Ayler left the band and eventually reformed it as an acoustic quintet, the group re recording much of their early work as they explored new directions and ideas.
Sadly, Albert Ayler passed away suddenly at sea in November 1970. The cause of death remains a mystery and continues to intrigue fans to this day. However, the innovative and game-changing music made by the Albert Ayler Trio will be remembered for generations to come. Although the band's history was short-lived, their music advanced jazz to new frontiers and was essential to the development of contemporary improvisational and avant garde music.
Simply put, the Albert Ayler Trio pushed the boundaries of jazz and provided a critical spark to the free jazz musical revolution of the 1960s. Whether structuring their setlists around blues standards or new and unwelcomed melodic ideas, the trio developed a style all their own, and, in that, their legacy will never be forgotten.