Mars Williams: tenor saxophone, toy instruments
Thomas Berghammer: trumpet
Markus Schneider: guitar
Hermann Stangassinger: bass
Didi Kern: drums, percussion
For many years Witches & Devils, the long-running Albert Ayler tribute band led by saxophonist Mars Williams, have existed mostly as an excuse to get together and perform an annual Chicago holiday concert. For these memorable concerts, Willams merges a variety of Christmas songs with the indelible repertoire of free-jazz titan Ayler, who brought a scalding intensity to tunes rooted in gospel and spirituals. It may sound silly, but the performances are no joke, and they produce a seriously joyful noise. The band tackles warhorses like “O Tannenbaum” and “12 Days of Christmas” in the same smoldering fashion as their take on Ayler: the rhythm section bubbles and generates a kind of levitating intensity during the wonderfully expressive, multilinear theme statements, while the horns state familiar melodies in loose cries and the embellished lines of each player pull apart and coalesce in a naturalistic frenzy. Williams designs clever medleys that appropriate the pulse and feel of particular Ayler tunes as the band rips through a greatest-hits lineup of holiday tracks. (Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader)
For the last two of years, along with the annual Chicago performances, Williams experimented by performing “An Ayler Xmas” in New Orleans, using local musicians. The performances were incredibly successful!