‘Scalding emotional intensity’: Geoff Dyer on the spiritual power of saxophonist Zoh Amba

Still only 23, the US saxophonist is channelling the free jazz pioneered by Albert Ayler in the 60s – and making hugely profound, wildly uplifting music

Interviewed many years after the experience, Don Cherry said he would “never forget” the first time he heard the tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler. That was in Copenhagen in 1963.

I’ll never forget the time I first heard Zoh Amba, last March, at the Big Ears festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. A wealth of competing options at the festival makes it completely acceptable to drift in and out of performances mid-set, and many of the most exciting gigs featured young people we’d never heard of. Reliant on better-informed friends, my wife and I went where we were told. It was the guitarist Steve Gunn who suggested we see Zoh Amba, who, by the time we made it in, was 20 minutes into her set.

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