An interview with
Henry Kaiser

By Beppe Colli
Nov. 2, 2007

It was in May, 2006 that I first heard about a project where a collective of musicians played the music of Albert Ayler. Since at that time I was doing an interview with Mike Keneally, and since in fact he happened to be one of those musicians involved, it seemed only logical to me to ask him about it. Interested readers can read his answer in our 2006 interview.

Titled Healing Force: The Songs Of Albert Ayler, the album is finally out. Including songs from Ayler's last three albums on Impulse! - Love Cry (1967), New Grass (1968), and Music is the Healing Force of the Universe (1969) - the album features a wild assortment of players: Vinny Golia (reeds), Aurora Josephson (vocals), Henry Kaiser (guitar), Mike Keneally (piano, guitar, vocals), Joe Morris (guitar and bass), Damon Smith (bass), and Weasel Walter (drums).

Since it appeared to me that it had been Henry Kaiser who had chosen what music to play, and it had been him who had called the musicians, it was only logical to ask him to discuss the album.

The interview was conducted by e-mail, at the end of October.

I understand that the seeds for this project were planted one day in 2006 when Mike Keneally called you on the phone. Would you mind talking a bit about this?

actually I cannot talk truthfully about this without incriminating two other people
so: no comment

Ayler's influence on many musicians is undeniable - and absolutely massive. But it's always his early- and mid-60s production that's considered to be of crucial importance, not his late-period LPs. I understand it was your decision to play precisely the music from this period. What was the reason?

because it seemed like perverse thing to do; that nobody else would do
and because playing the earlier Ayler standards is a VERY tired cliché here in America; that has been done badly too many times

I'd like to know about the reasons why you called these particular musicians to play the music.

aside from Vinny, it's just who happened to be around town here that week
all the in-town sax players were either afraid to do the project or one felt it was anti-Christian (which it is not)
and Vinny is the closest person, geographically, who is a great player, that we could talk into coming to town to do it for the minor recompense available

Whose decision was for the album to feature so much piano? It's not an instrument that readily comes to mind when one thinks of Ayler's music.

we never thought about it
the music just played itself
no planning or forethought
Keneally was a keyboard player before he was guitar player - so it's natural for him to play keys to express himself

At the time Ayler's late albums were released, "peace and love" was a slogan that was already the subject of much ridicule (for in., Frank Zappa's We're Only In It For The Money), and many jazz critics consider to this day some musicians' effort from this period (for in., Pharoah Sanders) as being little more than just an easy way to cash in on a trend. What in your opinion makes Ayler's music from his late-period, as recorded, stand as music?

I think the late period studio recordings are a sloppy mess - but one can imagine what he wanted to do, if one wants to

On the CD cover it says the album was recorded May 3, 2006. What about things like editing and overdubs? (For instance, starting at about 14' in the track Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe there's a guitar solo that to me sounds like it's played by Keneally, while at the same time one can still hear the piano.)

everything was done that day
with mixing the next half-day

Some of the tracks on the album reminded me of something else - for in., at a certain point in New Generation it's like somebody spliced a Sonic Youth piece into the track. What was the rationale for this?

it's just what we happened to do at the moment
no rational planning or forethought was involved
everything is first takes, no rehearsal, done very very quickly
Keneally did transcribe and write out the Third Stream arrangement for MESSAGE FROM ALBERT in advance, he did prepare that

The album was recorded last year, it's just coming out now. Did you have any problems in finding a label willing to release this?

there are almost no labels left in the USA
it's the end time for finding labels to release things
I feel very lucky that Steve Feigenbaum can still keep the CUNEIFORM label going in difficult times

It's usually said that albums like this - "homages", for lack of a better word - can also make younger listeners aware of an artist and go in search of the originals. Here I have two questions. The first: What do you think that a person who's exposed to this album will think when confronted with, say, Spiritual Unity or In Greenwich Village?

I have no idea at all
but those "classic" Ayler records pretty much speak for themselves to anyone who cares to listen
they are great art
my favorites are PROPHECY, BELLS, and LOVE CRY. Those are the best ones for me.

In my opinion an album like this really needs a ton of liner notes to benefit both the uninitiated and those already familiar with Ayler's music. Also, these days, it's said that it's already a miracle that people still spend some money on music instead of downloading it. I have to say I'd personally feel let down to find so meager a booklet after paying my money! Why did it come out like that?

I think liner notes would defeat the whole purpose and concept of an album like this
from my point of view
as Ayler said: It's not about notes it's about feelings
the same goes for words, for me, here
the quotes inside the album are EXACTLY and COMPREHENSIVELY all that I think should be said about this recording
that's why they are in there

I don't like liner notes on most any records, except ethnic recordings anyway

© Beppe Colli 2007 | Nov. 2, 2007