Avant-Garde Jazz

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Avant Garde jazz is rooted in the so called 'free jazz' of the late 50s and 60s. In 1958 Ornette Coleman shocked the jazz world when he released 'Something Else!'. Although rooted in be-bop, Ornette's music eschewed standard harmonic changes and gave soloists freedom to pursue chromatic melodic excursions based on intuition and improvised interaction with the other musicians. Meanwhile John Coltrane began to leave off the standard bop chord changes in his music and began to pursue lengthy improvisations based on modal drones that gave soloists much more freedom. As the years passed and Coltrane's band changed membership, the background provided by his rhythm section became more and more free and cacophonous as well.

Although Coleman and Coltrane introduced more freedom to jazz, essentially their music remained rooted in swing and bop in that their melodic phrases, no matter how atonal, still 'swung' in the traditional sense of the word. Soon a new generation of jazz virtuosos such as Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Albert Alyer and Pharoh Sanders would take jazz into even further abstractions and noise levels creating music that was all about emotive expressionism, not entertainment.

Although it never totally disappeared, free jazz faded to the background when fusion came along with its amplified guitars and Fender Rhodes pianos. Ironically enough, Miles Davis, who was always critical of the free players, seemed to adopt much of their expressionism when his brand of fusion became increasingly abstract and aggressive culminating in the beautifully harsh and intense 'Live at Fillmore'.

One avant-garde jazz musician who always charted his own course outside of the free movement and ahead of Ornette Coleman's innovations was Sun Ra. Possibly one of the most creative jazz musician ever, Ra condemned the free players saying there was no freedom in his band, only the 'Ra jail'. After the demise of the free movement, Sun Ra's vision of avant-garde jazz, in which composition played a large role along side improvisation, became an inspiration to a new wave of avant-garde jazz musicians.

The avant-garde genre at JMA is dedicated to avant-garde jazz musicians only, and not to the larger world of avant-garde rock and composition. Although the differences may be subtle, avant jazz often differs from other forms of avant-garde music in the use of jazz's characteristic syncopated rhythms and the make-up of the instrumental ensembles which often reflect jazz's past traditions.

avant-garde jazz top albums

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ALICE COLTRANE Ptah, the El Daoud Album Cover Ptah, the El Daoud
ALICE COLTRANE
4.84 | 22 ratings
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ORNETTE COLEMAN Science Fiction Album Cover Science Fiction
ORNETTE COLEMAN
4.94 | 6 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Infinity Album Cover Infinity
JOHN COLTRANE
4.92 | 6 ratings
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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
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4.77 | 39 ratings
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HENRY THREADGILL Everybodys Mouth's a Book (Make A Move) Album Cover Everybodys Mouth's a Book (Make A Move)
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4.92 | 5 ratings
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ARCHIE SHEPP The Magic of Ju-Ju Album Cover The Magic of Ju-Ju
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CECIL TAYLOR The Cecil Taylor Unit Album Cover The Cecil Taylor Unit
CECIL TAYLOR
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CECIL TAYLOR
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WAYNE SHORTER
4.83 | 7 ratings
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ARCHIE SHEPP Fire Music Album Cover Fire Music
ARCHIE SHEPP
4.88 | 5 ratings
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DON CHERRY Complete Communion Album Cover Complete Communion
DON CHERRY
4.88 | 5 ratings
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avant-garde jazz Music Reviews

BARRY ALTSCHUL Virtuosi

Album · 1976 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Drummer Barry Altschul is one of the most respectable advanced jazz drummers ever,co-founder of Chic Corea's Circle (together with Dave Holland and Anthony Braxton), member of ARC(Altschul-Holland-Corea),long-time Anthony Braxton quartet's member,etc,etc. His career as leader was mostly unnoticed though, fortunately after Finnish TUM label released his trio's strong "3Dom" in 2013 it looks he attracted more attention.

At the very beginning of his musical career Barry played with already respectful Canadian pianist Paul Bley (as his trio members) for five years.Together with Bley,they were two permanent trio members,bassist position was filled with some different musicians as Mark Levinson,Ken Carter or Steve Swallow.Gary Peacock was one of them as well.

"Virtuosi", formally Altschul debut as leader,was released in 1976,nine years after the material has been recorded.In all but the name musicians participated is just a Paul Bley Trio of the moment.Albums contains two long compositions,one on each vinyl side,both written by Annette Peacock (what only enforces the feeling that you're listen to Paul Bley band).It's difficult to imagine why recorded material coming from 1967 Paul Bley trio's have been released after nine years stating Barry Altschul as leader (album was released on Bley's own Improvising Artists Inc.)At least one good thing here is that being in all but the name Bley album from late 60s as almost any other pianist recording from that time it contains quality music.

As one can expect nothing here reminds Circle or Arc or Anthony Braxton quartet's music - complex multilayered avant-garde jazz presented on other Altschul-participated recordings from same period. "Virtuozi" contains dreamy melancholic and tuneful if quite free characteristic Anette Peacock signature's music,similar to what one can find on other Payl Bley trio's albums. The main difference is probably that Bley's piano doesn't dominate here - very often it takes an accompaniment role for leading rhythm section. To say truth,Gary Peacock's physical acoustic bass is even more notable that Barry's drums here(as on many his other earlier recordings,Gary Peacock plays very free here).

Being a pleasant listening (and one of very early recordings predicted upcoming so-called "ECM sound"), "Virtuozi" are a bit bulky and in moments sound directionless; probably it's a reason why tapes spent even nine years in attic before they were released. Not the best album,released under Altschul name, this release still is one valuable evidence of early Bley/Peacocks' music and worth listening especially for such music fans.

NAOJI KONDO Live At The Tarupho

Live album · 1986 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Japan is a big jazz country but for Westerners it always was (and still is) Terra incognita. Sadao Watanabe's international success during late 60s and 70s plus extremely creative Japanese free jazz scene between 1969 and 1972 (with Masahiko Satoh and Masahiko Tagashi) - that's all even experienced European or American jazz fan knows about it. Chick Corea's student Hiromi is great but only Japanese jazz well-known representative on modern international jazz scene.

To be correct,it looks even inside of Japan non-commercial jazz (count all jazz excluding j-fusion and j-pop jazz) starting from late 70s got quite nonconformist underground art's image.The only form which won higher respectful social status is mainstream (mostly hard bop)and for last some decades Japanese gigs and regular releases are one important source of income for best US straight jazz veterans.At the same time creative jazz didn't die on the Far East,it exists in form of plenty of small clubs gigs and some limited edition releases.Living its own life in stone jungles of Japanese cities',modern country's free jazz is quite different from what could be heard on Western scenes. Since one of most influential Japanese post-70s music trend was brutal avant-rock (Ruins,etc),big part of contemporary free jazz is influenced by it. Still there are more different streams,including very interesting eclectic mix of funk,etno-tunes,urban r'n'b and free improvs all in one. Main problem for those interested in more modern Japanese jazz is there isn't possible to find almost any systematic info if you don't speak Japanese. Rare occasional available releases are costly and often aren't all that representative since as rule you have no idea what you're listening.

Fortunately for me,annual Vilnius Jazz Festival contains Japanese artists in their program on annual basis,usually presenting leading creative music,so it helps at least at starting point.Mid-generation sax player Naoji Kondo played here in Vilnius in 2009 as part of Yoriyki Harada - Naoji Kondo duo (with piano veteran Yoriyuki Harada).Short fest's press release informs that Kondo plays free jazz from early age but works as practicing psychoanalyst during day time. He played at Moers Fest in Germany,toured Korea - and it's almost all what is known. On many Japanese clubs' sites one can find he's regularly plays in Japan,often - beside of best domestic artists. As far as I know he released only one album recorded live in 1986.

And this album is great - almost no-one plays like that anymore! Acoustic Kondo-lead sax-bass-drums trio contains another interesting modern Japanese creative jazz artist Daisuke Fuwa on bass (played here on Vilnius Jazz in 2012 leading his own Fuwa Works (with two sax players on board)and lesser known drummer Shiro Ohnuma. Surprisingly enough,Kondo trio plays tuneful,even soulful early free jazz recalling Coltrane's transitional works circa late 1965. All musicianship is based on soloist's (usually Kondo himself,but both bassist and drummer has more than enough time for longish solo improvisations)pushing groovy muscular and very bopish music ahead with support of two rest trio members. Kondo plays lot of themes and tunes,very free but never leaves the ground. It's a real joy listen to his human voice-like sax telling stories, emotive,worm and playful. Fuwa is a bit too modern drummer for that music,slightly too heavyweight and rock-like,but he successfully balances on the edge without destroying Kondo's built fragile beauty. Ohnuma is good bassist,if not too original but very successfully continuing great Isao Suzuki's tradition of deep physical acoustic bass. Lot of tunes,tempos (incl.even marching),very warm and inspired live gig with really enthusiastic public,quite good recording quality - all these makes this obscure release worth time and funds spent.Dedicated listener feels like he participates on concert played in modern days by one of late 60s jazz greats without sense of nostalgia. It like time machine brings you right to New York circa 1966 - no-one plays like that in real world anymore.

RODRIGO AMADO Searching For Adam

Album · 2010 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Portuguese sax player Rodrigo Amado last year's release "Wire Quartet"(on Cleanfeed) made him one among year's jazz heroes. Full-Portuguese quartet with unique Derek Bailey-influenced guitarist Manuel Mota (who is known in Portugal more like free-improvs musician,not an jazz artist) demonstrated excellent internal communication,original sound and in all perfect kind of modern European jazz.

Amado's as first class jazz reedist story started some years before though (in fact, Wire Quartet's material was recorded in 2011 and only released in 2014).At the end of the first new millennium decade (and after few domestically released albums as leader)Amado switched from free-form improvisational music towards avant-garde jazz with quite positive results from very first recordings. "Searching For Adam" is his first ever international release and he plays with world class jazz musicians on it.John Hebert is one of the most interesting American bassist of younger generation, Gerald Cleaver - busiest drummer around all US and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum is regular Anthony Braxton collaborator, among many others.

To be honest, "Searching For Adam" isn't such a great result as one could expect from musicians of that level. Recorded in 2008, it is still seriously influenced by Amado earlier free form improvisational techniques. Besides of some really well-played moments,it contains lot of extended free improvs,some of them doesn't sound useful or logical at all. Released two years after it was recorded, it obviously came on the wave of growing Amado's newest music popularity.Being a mixed bag in all senses,it contains 21+minutes long composition and five shorter (but still up to 13-minutes long)ones, and generally is too long and bulky. After serious editing recorded material could still give a birth to better-than-average "old-fashioned size"(up to 40 minutes) album. Three years later same Polish Not Two label will release Amado's next studio album with trombonist Jeb Bishop as guest ("The Flame Alphabet"). More or less of similar quality, it could be counted only as prelude to "Wire Quartet" success. From other hand, Rodrigo's most current to time "Live In Lisbon"(2014,NoBusiness) album ,recorded with trumpeter Peter Evans as guest,is his another highlight.

ITARU OKI Paris-OHRAI

Live album · 2001 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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Differently from many Japanese late 60s free jazz scene leaders,who came there as yesterday's students (usually after musical studies in US) and had no deeper jazz roots, trumpeter Itaru Oki started playing jazz as teenager in dixieland and later in bop bands.So even if his big scene's debut occurred on the wave of Japanese free jazz revolution in late 60s,his music stayed influenced for trad jazz for decades.

Being a member of two leading Japanese avant-garde musicians pianist Masahiko Satoh and drummer Masahiko Togashi bands (among others),Oki played around Japan and on few European tours.More important,in 1974 he relocated to Paris where he stayed for decades being one of the most "European" of Japanese jazz musicians (probably,beside of pianist Aki Takase).In late 70s he became a member of Alan Silva's Celestion Communications Orchestra,participated on recordings of "The Shout - Portrait For A Small Woman"(1979,Sun Records)and "Desert Mirage"(1982,IACP). His other regular musical partner became German clarinetist Michel Pilz.

In the beginning of new millennium,after series albums as a leader(recorded in Europe and Japan both,but released as rule on Japanese labels),Oki returns to free jazz quartet with Michel Pilz and free jazz dream rhythm session - Alan Silva on acoustic bass and former Albert Ayler trio drummer (played on "Spiritual Unity",one of the best free jazz album ever)Sunny Murray.Nothing's strange that quartet's music recall Ayler's songs - Oki's dixieland roots,marching orchestra's rhythms and general small town fest's atmosphere are all what Ayler bring to free jazz. Still there are some important differences - Oki's trumpet differently from Ayler's sax sounds softer,warmer and more lyrical and whole band's music is better framed being very free inside.

Recorded in Paris' club,not all album is that "Aylerish". It contains some characteristic more modern Japanese jazz meditative songs with ethnic elements (sounding surprisingly alive because of muscular rhythm section),quite complex dramatic and groovy compositions, influenced by European chamber music(with great Pilz's bass clarinet) and closes with "Météore" - almost "Pete And The Wolf"-like narrative instruments' dialogue,still surprisingly tuneful.

Released in Japan only on tiny Ohrai label, this album passed almost unnoticed and it's a shame - great artists plays modern music rooted in tradition here, it must to be heard.

SYLVIE COURVOISIER Double Windsor

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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Swiss pianist and composer Sylvie Courvoisier on her newest release on Tzadik presents almost perfect balance of two worlds - her chamber European roots and groovy New York down town jazz scene.Living in Brooklyn for more than 15 years she became important part of American modern avant-garde playing with Tim Berne, Ikue Mori,Susie Ibarra and John Zorn (being a member of his Cobra) among others.At the same time her music is often well-composed with attention to details and obviously influenced by European classical tradition.

John Zorn's Tzadik have been a revolutionary label in early 90s and its influence is obvious not only for New York avant-garde jazz scene but for contemporary creative music in whole as well. Being really prolific Tzadik is still important player on alternative music market but very often its releases are quite predictable what is not strange at all: it's almost impossible to be still very fresh after a quoter of century activities dealing with some leading artists of their generation. Fortunately for label's fans it still produces time to time music of above standard level. Sylvie Courvoisier's "Double Windsor" is one of such albums, one among few more released this year.

Even if trio format isn't very unusual for Sylvie, her current classic piano trio with double bassist(great Drew Gress) and drummer (Tzadik veteran Kenny Wollesen) is her first time (her trio with electronics wizard Ikue Mori and drummer Suzie Ibarra was far different thing). Groovy and even muscular rhythm section has fantastic chemistry inside and with Sylvie as well - result music varies from chamber songs to Latin-influenced tango/flamenco pieces to percussive Cecil Taylor-like piano miniatures to inspired post-bop but in any single moment main value here is almost impossible balance between melody,pushing ahead groove and compositional perfection with attention to smallest detail. Songs all are of different tempos,all with nice melodies and classic-like deep dramatic scenario,but differently from many similar recordings (partially ECM artists) rhythm section supplies extremely American vibes. It works like blood injection into perfectly executed (and often knotted) compositional body.

The album in whole sounds very modern but at the same time somehow reminds "golden era" releases - each song on it is different,perfectly executed but sounds fresh at the same time and radiates more life than steroidal energy we quite often hear from some non-conformist music. Clever thing can be beautiful.

Doesn't matter if this album is released last summer - it's great music for winter eves if you still aren't familiar,give it a try and I expect you will stay pleasantly surprised.

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