Witches and Devils Live At The Empty Bottle

Witches and Devils is an Albert Ayler "cover" band spearheaded by reedsmen Mars Williams and Ken Vandermark. Live at the Empty Bottle was recorded three years ago in Chicago, but it is a document well worth releasing. Three famous Ayler tunes ("Truth is Marching In," "Angels" and "Bells") are represented along with a group improv. This group captures Ayler's intense drive well, and the audience appreciates it. Williams and Vandermark are smokin' throughout. They seem to communicate telepathically in spots - the audience shrieks with glee during the "Sax Duet/Piano Interlude." Witches and Devils' approach is more arranged than Ayler's original compositions. Their system of visual cues, as explained in the liner notes, makes for well-defined peaks and valleys in the improvising, which were more rambling in Ayler's original versions. Their improvised intensity overshadows their too-irreverent handling of the songs' melodies. When they arise, they are played with a sprightly glee that doesn't suit Ayler's original intentions. Don't get me wrong, free jazz can support happy and humorous themes, particularly in its European varieties, but the heads to "Truth" and "Bells" sound like a marching band playing a tarantella, negating the cathartic power of the originals. But after these brief statements, all hell breaks loose again, and their superior group improvs engage the crowd and the listener fully. (Knitting Factory)