Saxophonist Albert Ayler‘s work straddled various streams of the jazz idiom. Nearly 50 years after his tragically early death (his drowning in the East River most likely the result of suicide), critics, fans, and detractors are still arguing over whether Ayler can be considered a true “free jazz” player or whether his unorthodox style transcended or complimented the moniker. In any case, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1936, the son a semi-professional saxophonist who tutored him early on alto sax and exposed him to swing and bebop, along with the church music that was a big part of his upbringing. After studying at the Cleveland Academy of Music with jazz saxophonist Benny Miller, Ayler became known as “Little Bird” after Charlie Parker, for his mastery of bebop. As a teenager, he was already playing tenor saxophone in Little Walter‘s blues band during school holidays, and when he joined the US Army in 1958, Ayler began playing with fellow GIs such as tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and the experimental composer, poet and keyboardist Harold Budd; he permanently switched from alto to tenor in this phase. Upon leaving the Army, Ayler sought work in Los Angeles and Cleveland, but found resistance from the purists for his continual pushing of boundaries. Relocating to Sweden in 1962 was the bridge to a successful recording and performing career as he led various Swedish and Danish groups on radio sessions, playing in an informal and uncredited capacity in Cecil Taylor‘s band in late 1962. The Albert Ayler Trio then consisted of Ayler, bassist Torbjörn Hultcrantz, and drummer Sune Spångberg; four dissonant songs from their live performance on October 24, 1962 would be issued on the Bird Notes label in Sweden as Something Different!!!!!! and reissued overseas as the first edition of The First Recordings; it included a barely-recognizable rendition of showtune “I’ll Remember April”, an off-kilter take of Sonny Rollins‘s “The Stopper” retitled “Rollins’ Tune”, and a wobbly cut of Miles Davis‘s “Tune Up”, along with the original “Free”. The exceedingly rare The First Recordings, Vol. 2 was also issued on Bird Notes — at least in test pressings with photos of Ayler glued to the cover — comprised of three extended meditations of discord, namely blown mutations of showtunes “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”, along with a growling cut of Count Basie‘s “Good Bait”.