“My Name is Albert Ayler”

Pub date March 5, 2008
WriterMax Goldberg
SectionFilm Review

REVIEW My Name Is Albert Ayler offers a close reading of the titular musician, a saxophone colossus who pushed the emotional limits of free jazz, but it also tells a broader story about the strange currents of American avant-garde music. Interviews with Ayler’s churchgoing Ohio family, New York City compatriots, and Scandinavian admirers trace a particular, though by no means atypical, passage. The tenor saxophonist first achieved renown in Stockholm, Sweden, where he began to experiment with the wailing, explosive runs that would some years later turn even John Coltrane’s head. ‘Trane specifically asked for Ayler to play at his funeral, and the photographs and live sound from the memorial service included in the film are searing enough to make even the staunchest defender of melody reconsider. Rather than employing warts-and-all tactics, first-time Swedish director Kasper Collin keeps a respectful distance from Ayler’s mysteries, nowhere more hauntingly than in a few late sequences regarding the musician’s purported tendency to stare into the sun. There is so much we will never know about Ayler, Collin seems to tell us, but watching former collaborators listen to his music through cracked expressions of pain and amazement is revealing enough.

MY NAME IS ALBERT AYLER runs Sun/9–Tues/11 at the Red Vic Movie House. See Rep Clock for showtimes.