Albert Ayler, Sonny Murray and Coltrane Vinyl on EBay

s-l1600Among the first jazz musicians to really get me excited about this music was Albert Ayler. I have great memories of hearing Bells and Spiritual Unity at the record store where a friend of mine worked back in the mid-1990s. The sound of his saxophone and his ensembles completely rearranged my brain and what I thought music could be. Coming from a perspective that was jazz-curious and a bit tired of the punk/indie landscape, Ayler was exactly the sort of aesthetic catalyst I needed. At one point it seemed like his records were relatively easy to obtain, if not always in their original form, and not necessarily desired by the “big-money” jazz collectors out there.

That’s changed somewhat, as seen in this first commercial issue of Spiritual Unity on ESP-Disk’ with the red-on-white silkscreened cover, booklet, and alternate take of “Ghosts (Second Variation).” It’s a beautiful piece of the recorded history of improvised music, and from what I understand one of the most sonically representative examples of Ayler’s sound. For a copy in VG++ condition for the vinyl and VG+ condition for the cover (with what looks like slight damage to the upper left seam), the closing price was $800. Perhaps not Blue Note territory, but expensive nonetheless. I attempted to get in the fray but was quickly dispatched and will have to continue chugging along on a clean second-ish pressing (purchased for around $10 almost 20 years ago).

Another prime early Ayler side and a rare sideman appearance is on drummer Sunny Murray’s Sonny ‘sTime Now (sic), issued on poet LeRoi Jones’ Jihad label in 1965 or ’66. Though comparatively easier to find than a first edition Spiritual Unity and with a Japanese pressing circulating as well (which is what I have), it’s still an important 1960s jazz collectible. The seller of the Ayler above had one on offer in VG+ or VG++ condition for the vinyl and cover, including the mimeographed insert. The price at the end was $325.

And just for comparison to the recent auction of the test pressing of A Love Supreme, this seller also had an original mono of the iconic Coltrane album in very nice-looking condition, with the LP in VG++ condition and the cover also in probably VG+ or VG++ condition. The end price was $365, or $65 more than the coverless test issue. That’s a respectable price, if not top dollar.

As always, happy collecting and happier listening (we need the latter especially right now).

20 comments

  • https://www.discogs.com/Albert-Ayler-Trio-Spiritual-Unity/release/1141294

    My copy is exactly the same as this discogs listing..so it seems the only difference between my copy and this one you mention on eBay is the labels. I’ve always wondered if the red on white “pencil art” labels is the first commercial issue or the red on black typeface labels as seen on this ebay auction?

    Any Ayler scholars know the answer?

  • Mark, Clifford : I have the same as the discogs one. The difference is in the label and the sleeve ( no silk). Any expert opinion most welcome.

  • Mark, Rudolf, that’s the same one I have. I’m pretty sure that the version with the silk screened sleeve and red label is the original as that’s the one you usually see with the booklet. Though there was a black on mustard silk screened release also with booklet that I think is even earlier as I’ve seen copies of that with ‘x of 50’ edition numbers on the back.

    I actually like the red on white scribbled labels more as they add to the whole weird / arcane vibe but I’d love to own the booklet and silk screened sleeve. Those go for a hell of a premium though so I’m happy with what I got for now.

  • I have a black on white cover with the scribbled labels and back text “Y” symbol, 5th Ave. address — probably around the same issue (chronologically) as what you guys have. My understanding is that the solid red-label issue has a different fourth track, which commands the premium (not to mention the booklet and silkscreen artwork). The “x of 50” (or whatever it is) went out as a promo to reviewers and musicians. Saw one recently in a shop that had belonged to a Village Voice writer, but it was in VG or VG– condition and $1500.

  • What about the deep groove doodle labels for Spiritual Unity? I thought those were the first pressing!

  • My copy has a deep groove on one side (I think side 2) but I’m not sure that’d mean it’s a first pressing. My copy at least is pressed by Plastylite (it’s got the ear!) and if the theory that post-1961 Plastylite Blue Notes with deep grooves are second pressing is also true here then, well, it’s probably second. Then again, I wouldn’t know if Plastylite did all ESP pressings. I had a copy of Spiritual Unity earlier with black on white sleeve and label (no doodle, regular text) without the ear. It’s the one with the Library of Congress number on the front sleeve which I think is assumed to be from 1966. Incidentally it did have deep groove side 2. The plot thickens …

  • Also the black on mustard silk screen release was indeed a promo and ‘x out of 200’ – I looked it up earlier today and you posted about a copy on Jazz Collector a while back, Clifford. Sold for over 2000 clams, geez.

    Also also I’d love to hear that alternate take of ‘Ghosts’, does anyone know if it’s on the web anywhere? Maybe we have a lucky individual in our midst who actually owns a copy and can post a rip? Normally alternate takes don’t excite me much but with how free Ayler played I’m pretty interested to hear where else he took it.

  • The alternate is on the (or “a”) recent CD reissue, which I don’t have.

    Plastylite did ESP pressings from 1002 up through 1015 at least, minus 1012 which was issued in 1968. My copies of 1016-1019 are later issues and my first stereo of 1020 is not Plastylite. I haven’t looked at 1001 so am unsure of where it falls, but since its first appearance was as a vanity release funded by Stollman (Esperanto Disk 1001) it could have been manufactured by a handful of plants.

  • Deep groove doodles equals a later pressing. I have a couple of DG ESPs and they’re all later.

  • ESP (elusive strange pressing) keeps on having unsolved questions.
    1) burgundy: silkscreen cover, white labels, burgundy scribbled; deep groove side two only, 180 Riverside Drive side two only and not on cover, booklet, ear.
    Back cover is white with burgundy art.
    2) mustard: silkscreen cover, red labels; no deep groove, 180 Riverside Drive on both labels but not on cover, booklet, ear.
    On back cover: “This pressing is a special pre-reòease edition numbering 200 copies. This signed by the artist and bears serial number ——”
    my copy has got no number and no signature.
    back cover is white with black art.
    while front art is identical, save for the color, back credits ain’t.
    it’s the same hand but many are the differences found.

  • So I have the same as your “1)” but I’m missing the booklet. But as a bonus the former owner stashed in a NY newspaper article from that time discussing Ayler.

  • I’ve never seen a pre-release that is signed or with a number properly added.

    your 1) is interesting. Must be some sort of transitional example. I would not be surprised if they had leftover screened jackets and books from the first run and had new LPs cut when the decision was made to switch the fourth track.

  • I’ve seen one only, # 44, no signature. pics available.

  • so, dott and clifford, it looks like you have conflicting opinions about which is first. dott, are you talking about the ESP equivalent of a white-label promo copy? and clifford, are you talking about the first commercial pressing? i have been actively searching for a copy and i want to be sure i have my info correct!

  • My copy is also the same burgundy silk screen and label w/ inner sleeve (no booklet) as the discogs listing. it is deep groove on side 1 and has the ear. Handwritten (printed in all caps) on the cover – “D J Copy Not For Sale Promo Only I Repeat, Not For Sale Or Resale”. ESP issue history is incredibly draconian, as we see with this posting, but I always thought of this as an original issue. Since I am at least the second owner, those emphatic words were not heeded. But Mr Stollman got the last laugh because the vinyl has a warp!

  • I just pulled out my copy of “spiritual unity” to play tonight. The news clipping is from the New York Times and the date is November 28, 1965. It’s an article discussing “the new thing” with reference to many ESP artists and recordings.

  • dealing with ESP, I’m unable to identify the real original.
    unsolved questions rise with many issues, Bells over all.
    about Spiritual Unity: 200 numbered? copies with mustard cover and red labels, promo/pre-issue.
    Burgundy cover (red exists), red or white labels with promos as bill states.
    which is the first?

  • We need a Fred Cohen ESP book to settle this!

    I actually asked him about that and he rolled his eyes and said “no way!”

  • Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. Just saw this and thought with the Black Friday discount, this is a smokin’ deal. I already have a nice copy (although paid more than this site offers).

    http://eil.com/shop/moreinfo.asp?catalogid=651325&adtype=LH&from=LH_app&utm_source=LH_app&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=sales-manual

  • The one in the auction is the first commercial issue of Spiritual Unity. Nuff said 🙂

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