PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Albert Ayler: Live on the Riviera

If art imitates life, then Live on the Riviera is full of life... the thorny kind.

Albert Ayler

Live on the Riviera

Label: ESP-Disk
US Release Date: 2013-06-25
UK Release Date: 2011-04-26
Label website

It's not much of a hyperbole to say that jazz is made for a live setting. The music thrives, for the most part, on improvisation. That improvisation thrives upon countless outside variables: the strength of the rhythm section, the heat of the room, the promise of cash in hand (hopefully) and the energy of the crowd. That's why my brother tried to point me to live jazz albums when we were both discovering the genre. There were a few exceptions to the rule (Mingus's The Complete Town Hall Concert comes to mind), but in-concert jazz recordings had the golden opportunity to better their studio counterparts. Catching lightening in a sterile environment like a studio is understandably tough, but one man could always bring the thunder within those walls, and that man was Albert Ayler.

Before I move on to Live on the Riviera, I will first say that Albert Ayler was a badass. He may not be the original badass of the saxophonist or of jazz music in general, but when he raised his horn to his lips, he coughed up sounds that would probably have made Coltrane and Parker flinch. He had a grind to his tone that bordered on harmful, to him and the listener. His bands were highly unorthodox, incorporating bagpipes, harpsichord and occasional spoken word passages courtesy of his girlfriend Mary Maria Parks. And when all of this stuff was piled upon one another, Ayler could summon a bonfire of music -- even in the studio. If that kind of recording environment was ever a handicap to Ayler or his band, they certainly never showed it. But if these guys could burn rubber in the studio so well, why does their 1970 live set carry all of the gusto of squeaky wheels on a shopping cart?

After receiving Live on the Riviera, I eventually noticed that I actually had studio recordings of all seven songs: one from Love Cry, one from The Last Album (which wasn't really Ayler's last album, but that's another story), one from New Grass, and four from Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe -- more than half of that album's content. So they're all from Albert Ayler's late period, a series of albums that sadly reflected his unraveling mental state as well as an earnest attempt at a spiritual awakening. It's volatile stuff for sure, full of big questions and the anguish that comes from not getting any answers. And coming from those four albums, these seven songs are nothing but punch. But coming from a concert recorded live in the south of France in the summer of 1970 -- just four months before Ayler's suicide -- these songs sound like they're the ones getting punched. It's hard to tell if Ayler was enjoying any kind of telepathy with bassist Steve Tintweiss and drummer Allen Blairman. Is it an issue of a mediocre sound system and/or sound man? Because at many points during the opening number "Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe", Parks's mic doesn't get switched on until long after she's begun her next recitation -- unless she just forgot to walk up to it. Which is unlikely.

The wake-up reveille of "Ghosts" gets a more soulful bent on the saxophone end of things. But Tintweiss and Blairman, despite making it to the final selection of the evening, are still feeling each other out. "Heart Love" doesn't even sound anything near its original version, although that could be due to New Grass's icey reception and Ayler's subsequent stylistic backpedaling (I thought the '60s were supposed to be an open time, man!). But on Live On The Riviera, it's almost a matter of interpretation, as if it were a completely different song. And Ayler himself just doesn't sound confident on "Birth of Mirth" or "Masonic Inborn". But the crowd is more than down with it. When the concert goers recognize the main theme of each tune, they politely applaud. When each number wraps up, the place goes crazy.

It's tough to say what got lost in the translation from band members to the stage to the album. Perhaps it was a better night than what the master tapes might lead you to believe. Or maybe Albert Ayler was off his game. As I said before, he had only four more months to go before jumping into the East River on that cold November day, he couldn't have been in great mental shape. And his troublesome relationship with Parks probably doesn't put their traveling show in the best of light. She's got her own timidity to grapple with on Live on the Riviera. But if art imitates life, then this album is full of life. Too bad it's the thorny kind.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.