Though he polarized critics in his prime, African-American avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler has come into favor as a cult hero and jazz pioneer long after his body was found floating in the East River in 1970. The Cleveland native was only 34, having already collected acclaim in Sweden, France, England, and New York for his animated, multiphonic skronk-fests, but his uncompromised artistry never produced much scratch; friend and acolyte John Coltrane was known to give him handouts. Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin’s melancholy, beautiful feature debut does more than just chronicle this undervalued musician; it brings Ayler and his message of spiritual unity back to life. Standard doc techniques resonate with a curious poignancy as former bandmates react all over again to Ayler via headphones, and we learn how he brought his younger brother Don (intimately interviewed here, along with their father) onto the stage until he was institutionalized for psychosis. Demanding ex Mary Parks, thought by some to have isolated Ayler from his friends, rightly insists that being heard only in voiceover will just make her seem mysterious, though not nearly as haunting as Ayler’s soft-spoken proclamations from seven years’ worth of interviews. Matched with the rarest of performance and family footage, his well-curated oration gives the whole endeavor an impressionistic aura, as though there’s a ghost in the room who still refuses to be ignored.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 30, 2007