Saxophonist Arthur Doyle died January 25 in Alabama; he was 69. Doyle had one of the fiercest, most unfettered saxophone styles in all of jazz; he got his first break in 1969, when he appeared on Noah Howard‘s The Black Ark. When I interviewed Howard for The Wire in 2006, he said, “Doyle was going in the direction of Frank [Wright], of Pharoah [Sanders], of Trane, and he was a young guy. I said, well, fuck it, I’ll put him inside my compositions and just let him express himself and do his thing.” To my ear, it’s that combination of Doyle’s wild, full-blast playing and Howard’s structured, relatively melodic (for 1969 free jazz) compositions that make The Black Ark one of his most successful outings on record. On other albums, like Milford Graves‘ Babi Music and his debut as a leader, 1978’s Alabama Feeling, his commitment to total freedom could become wearying over time. Still, there’s something viscerally thrilling about a player so explosive that it seems like microphones and recording equipment can barely contain him. Alabama Feeling, originally released in a 1000-copy edition on vinyl and barely reissued 20 years later as an LP-to-CD transfer, features Doyle alongside trombonist Charles Stephens, electric bassist Richard Williams, and two drummers, Rashied Sinan (who also appeared on Frank Lowe‘s Black Beings) and Bruce Moore. Recorded in fidelity that would make garage punk aficionados wince, the album is a blistering assault that nevertheless retains its power no matter how many times you play it, something that can’t be said of very many albums, regardless of genre.
As early as the late 1970s, Doyle was working in the blurry zone between free jazz and noise-rock as a member of guitarist Rudolph Grey‘s Blue Humans; he can be heard on Live NY 1980, along with drummer Beaver Harris. In the 1990s and 2000s, he was embraced by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth; he put out an album, The Songwriter, on the guitarist’s Ecstatic Peace label, and the band even namechecked him on the song “Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream.” He recorded prolifically, though not everything was brilliant. A trio disc, Live in Japan 1997, with Les Rallizes Dénudés guitarist Takashi Mizutani and drummer Sabu Toyozumi, is hard to find but worth the search. A pair of duo discs with legendary free jazz drummer Sunny Murray—2000’s Dawn of a New Vibration, on Fractal, and 2001’s Live at Glenn Miller Café, on Ayler, are also of interest, the former more than the latter.
Watch a 2000 duo between Doyle and Murray in three parts below:
What a shame – I really loved his playing. Alabama Feeling is pretty far out, but also nuanced in its own way.
he lived an inspired life… I’m a big Arthur fan.. thanks for writing this article…
R.I.P. Arthur D. & may da CREATOR keep U n His memo.;..1 of da badest,greatest musician I worked with. Richard Williams aka RaDu ben Judah
I knew Doyle back in the days at Tennessee State University where he got his degree in music. After graduation he came back with me to Detroit. We were both in our teens, although Doyle seemed much older. We were playing a lot of Eric Dolphy and Booker Little material at the time.
After the Detroit riot, Doyle left for New York. The next time I saw him he was with Sun Ra. We rented a boat in Central Park and ate roasted chicken…and had a cool smoke. Big Fun!!
We were great friends. RIP Brother.