In the 1960s saxophonist Albert Ayler took free jazz to unimagined places, exploring combustible ensemble energy and finding new outlets for joyful noise in unheard-of parts of the tenor sax. By the time of his mysterious death in New York’s East River in 1970, Ayler had left an indelible mark on the music and almost single-handedly created the energy-jazz subgenre. Bored by the prevailing neoconservative diatribe, some of our most adventurous musicians are reawakening Ayler’s radical slash-and-burn expressionism with a vengeance and a renewed sense of purpose. Reed marvel Mars Williams, a saxophonist capable of Ayler-esque wallops, pays homage to the pioneering figure in his newest project, Witches & Devils. Taking its name from one of the many Ayler tunes it covers–in fact all the written material is Ayler, arranged by Williams–this band is at once saturated with authentic 60s-style intensity and completely up-to-date and engaged in today’s musical concerns. Intelligently, Williams avoids the one overplayed Ayler piece, “Ghosts,” opting for lesser-known numbers like “Universal Indian” and “Truth Is Marching In.” Ayler often worked in a two-horned front line with cohort Charles Tyler, and he made important recordings with a group that included strings. Witches & Devils utilizes the devastating horn team of Williams and Ken Vandermark (who plays tenor exclusively in this context), the same sax section that blows the roof off the sucker in the NRG Ensemble. Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, a recent transplant to Chicago from New York, adds string textures to the group; he’s a splendid soloist, well worth lending an ear to in this extroverted setting. Ayler’s anthemic melodies and dense free blowing require a strong engine to make them run right–drummer Hamid Drake (subbing for regular member Steve Hunt), with his combination of sensitivity and power, is well suited for the job. With pianist Jim Baker and bassist Harrison Bankhead, the chips are laid for some serious sound. On the same bill will be the much anticipated debut of the Vandermark 5. Friday, 10 PM, Lunar Cabaret and Full Moon Cafe, 2827 N. Lincoln; 327-6666. John Corbett

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marty Perez.