Avant-Garde Jazz

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In brief:

The Avant-garde Jazz genre at JMA generally consists of jazz that is usually atonal, and quite often a-rhythmic as well. Avant-garde jazz can be ‘free’, in that there is no prescribed structure for the musicians to follow, or there may be some sort of compositional structure being used as well. Other factors that can result in an avant-garde tag include the use of extremes, such as extremely loud music, or extremely quiet music etc. Also, experimental presentations can be considered, such as a piece where the performers are playing without being able to hear each other, or all of the musicians are submerged in water, etc. Generally the Avant-garde Jazz genre is reserved for musicians from a jazz background, but JMA also includes some non-jazz avant-garde musicians in our Jazz Related Improvisation/Composition genre.

The history:

In all arts, the term avant-garde refers to those who lead the way towards experimentalism and change. This was true in music up until about the mid-60s, when western concepts of harmony and structure hit a breaking point. Prior to the 60s, western concepts of musical advancement centered around increasingly chromatic harmonies moving towards atonality, and increasing difficulties and complexities in rhythm. This breaking point, or dead end for western ideas of continued advancement occurred in the world of concert hall music with John Cage’s chance operations, and it occurred in the jazz world with the arrival of ‘free jazz’. Both John Cage’s aleatoric music, and free jazz, turned western ideas of linear advancement on their head and instead showed the ongoing development of music to be more like a snake swallowing its tail, more circular than linear. In other words, how different was ‘free jazz’ from early man’s attempts to intuitively make music with a hollow log or reed. Surely there are differences, but there are also unmistakable similarities.

After this sort of philosophical breaking point, the term ‘avant-garde’ found a final resting place in the world of jazz as being jazz that is usually atonal, often a-rhythmic and quite often free of any structure. Over the years, many avnt-garde jazz artists began to mix compositional structure with free style playing, but there still continues to be devotees to a 60s style totally free approach.

As we move further into the 20th century, what is termed “avant-garde jazz’ may not necessarily be on the front-lines of change, instead, Avant-garde Jazz as defined by JMA, and as defined by most jazz resources stands as one more genre with its own fixed history, definitions and boundaries. Today’s artist can chose elements from the ‘avant-garde’ as well as any of the other historical jazz genres. In today’s jazz world, the elements introduced by the avant-garde are alive and well, and more common than ever, but many artists today will mix those avant-garde elements with all the other stylistic elements musicians can choose from. Today's top jazz composers and performers often challenge themselves to make music that blurs boundaries such as free and structured, or atonal and tonal.

From a musician’s point of view, the advent of free jazz opened some doors, and closed some others. The initial impact of the freedom was exhilarating as artists like Lennie Tristano, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, Pat Patrick, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp and Albert Alyer unleashed some of the greatest jazz ever recorded, but in time, a lack of harmonic changes (chord changes) to work with made many musicians feel like they were playing the same solo over and over. After the initial explosion of the mid 60s, many musicians were happy to go back to the eternal challenge of trying to reconstruct music from a set of complex and harmonically rich chord changes. Still, there continues to be artists such as Joe Morris, Ivo Perelman, Evan Parker and Peter Brotzmann, who continue to make meaningful modern free jazz.

avant-garde jazz top albums

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This list is in progress since the site is new. We invite all logged in members to use the "quick rating" widget (stars bellow album covers) or post full reviews to increase the weight of your rating in the global average value (see FAQ for more details). Enjoy JMA!

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avant-garde jazz Music Reviews

JON IRABAGON Foxy

Album · 2010 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Sax player Jon Irabagon is better known as co-founder and co-leader of funny no-nonsense avant-garde jazz parody-circus Mostly Other People Do The Killing (MOPDTK). Irabagon as his own projects leader is usually more serious, more innovative, more experimental and in moments not less humorous.

"Foxy" is a great example. Just looking on the album's cover one can easily recall Sonny Rollins' "Way Out West" from 1957. Irabagon runs on "Foxy" same tenor-double bass-drums trio as Rollins did more than half of a century ago, just Jon's drummer is Barry Altschull (not Rollins' Shelly Manne) and the bassist is Peter Brendler (instead of Rollins' Ray Brown). Than, album's title "Foxy" can issue some association with Rollins' tune "Doxy", but similarities finish here.

Irabagon's "Foxy" is one 78-minutes long improvised jam (separated to twelve "songs"),rooted in blues, bop standards, Ornette Coleman's groovy harmolodics and presented with style and grace. There are no common theme in album's music but Irabagon skilfully adds tuneful snippets here and there all album long. As a result the listener gets album which doesn't sound too monotonous, boringly repetitive or too "out". There are lot of swing, bluesy structures and melodic groove which make this fully improvised album sound almost danceable and really accessible.

Great example of serious modern jazz which doesn't sound too serious, good entry for fans of MOPDTK interested in similar but slightly more experimental music.

MARQUIS HILL Marquis Hill, Jeff Parker, Joachim Floren, Denis Fournier : Escape Lane

Album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
There was a time when the idea of a relaxed or even ‘mellow’ approach to free jazz improvisation would have been quite the oxymoron in a genre usually given to intense emotional outbursts, but those days have long passed. It was the Art Ensemble of Chicago and other AACM artists who introduced the idea of free improv as a collection of minute events that could easily move from quiet to very intense, depending on the intent of the performer. Since then, the innovations of this Chicago Ensemble have taken root and today’s free jazz improviser is freer than ever, and welcome to explore his craft in any mood desired, including this mostly very mellow set by the new ensemble, Escape Lane, on their equally new release of the same name. This may be somewhat relaxed sounding music, but the concentration of these performers, and their imaginative approach to their instruments is just as intense as a room full of screaming tenor saxophonists of times past, or present.

There is an interesting mix of approaches here amongst the four musicians involved. Trumpeter Marquis Hill remains mostly melodic throughout, recalling similar approaches by fellow trumpeters such as Booker Little and Don Cherry, who also kept a melodic approach while often being surrounded by a maelstrom of activity. Drummer Dennis Fournier often recalls Paul Motian’s ability to sound vaguely busy, yet relaxed, while on cuts like “Lever de Soliel…” he introduces a Billy Higgins style African influenced groove, only to let it go halfway through the proceedings. Guitarist Jeff Parker can recall Jim Hall, but also is the one most apt to go for pure sounds and noises, which he finds without any effects or devices by using the physical quality of his strings and the volume knobs on his guitar. Bassist Joachim Florent, like many a jazz bassist, is a bit in the background and could have used a little more boost in the mix, but he still gets a few moments to step forward.

Most of the music played on here is truly ‘free’ in that the band rarely gets on a shared groove except for the aforementioned opening to “Lever de Soliel …”, as well as the closing of that same lengthy (20 minutes plus) track when Fournier goes into a bit of a post bop ride. “Rough Grooved Surface” is a break from their usual relaxed approach as the band builds to a climax driven by Fournier’s free bop drive and capped by Jeff Parker’s frantic guitar solo that recalls AACM’s Michael Gregory Jackson. After this, the album closes with “Une Petit”, which ends things with Hill soloing melodically over Parker’s sparse string noises.

“Escape Lane” is a highly creative and focused album and one of the best jazz albums of 2017, avant-garde or otherwise. Its also one of the better free jazz records in the entire 55 plus years of the genre. Listening to the unobtrusive approach of these musicians might have you wondering, is this the sound of lounge music in the new century, now that would be something.

TCHANGODEI Tchangodei / Archie Shepp / Mal Waldron Trio : Three for Freedom. Volume 3

Album · 1987 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Tchangodei is a mystic figure on French jazz scene, self-taught pianist who was born in former French colony of Dahomey but moved to France in early age. Since that, he released more than fifteen albums as leader (predominantly on his own Volcanic label, established in 1981), became an owner of tiny jazz club in Lyon and established himself as painting artist.

Never an active member of French domestic jazz community, he collaborated mostly with brightest American ex-expatriates, based in France, including Archie Shepp, Steve Lacy, Mal Waldron, recorded with France-based Japanese trumpeter Itaru Oki.

"Three For Freedom" is one such album - recorded on Tchangodei's Volcanic label unorthodox trio of two pianists and sax player. Where second pianist's role takes Mal Waldron and the reedist is true - Archie Shepp. Five compositions are all bluesy and smokey, but differently from let say some Archie Shepp's recordings of that time, this album is hardly oriented on hard-bopish ballads fan.

Album's longest track (over ten minutes long) is "The Seagulls Of Kristiansund"(titled here "The Seagulls Of Kristian") - excellent Mal Waldron composition, recorded by him more than once. On original vinyl release it's placed on side B, but it smartly opens CD reissue edition. Tchangodei quite minimalist this song's version contains renown Waldron piano drones instead of regular bass/drums section, Tchangodei's lite dancing staccato melody and Shepp's rich smokey sax soloing all the way, bluesy but quite free (as for late 80s).

"Space Blues" is album's shortest composition, marching optimistic hymn with Archie filling all the space with his tenor."Africa Struggle" sounds quite as Waldron song, with Shepp's soloing going high octave. "Driftin' Blues", the standard, is played mid-tempo, with Shepp demonstrating so-rare distortion sax soloing.

"Ma Mission",album's closer is another hymn-like song,which opens with long piano duo and contains adding African vocalize just to turn on to two pianists fast and angular dueling on a second part. Shepp's sax is missed on this track.

In all -true obscurity, unorthodox trio's album is less conformist than both Waldron and Shepp own works of the time. Being bluesy and really accessible , it demonstrates that creative side of early free jazz which has been almost missed already in late 80s. Give it a chance if you'll find one.

EVAN PARKER Evan Parker & RGG : [email protected]

Live album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
In a world of modern technologies one need just to have a wish and make few easy steps to establish a new jazz label. Music market is overloaded with releases, many of them are just a memorabilia for artists friends and families, but some contain really great music.

Polish young and ambitious label Fundacja Słuchaj! for some time releases (mostly) live recordings of Polish and world known advanced jazz musicians, many albums contain really impressive music. One of their very fresh releases presents quite unorthodox quartet, formed for one-night concert in probably Polish most renown jazz club Krakow's Alchemia.

British sax player Evan Parker needs no introduction. Being one of the living legend UK's free jazz, he plays and record really a lot, but mostly with avant-garde musicians. Polish contemporary jazz trio RGG are known and really popular collective in Poland playing music influenced by their great compatriot Tomasz Stanko and ECM-style European chamber jazz in general. Here on "[email protected]" Parker and RGG play four free improvised compositions and its works surprisingly well.

First of all, Evan Parker doesn't steal the show but plays as equal collaborator with trio and it saves the gig from being just another "Evan Parker plus supporting local band" night. From other hand, RGG staying melancholic tuneful typical Polish piano trio play freer and groovier than on their regular recordings. In fact, RGG build melodic and rhythmic basis for tasteful and surprisingly lyrical, but always energetic Parker's sax solo improvisations.

Album's music is perfectly recorded and well edited - one can find here that rare balance between accessibility and adventuress which saves any jazz release from being both far too "out" and boringly predictable. True label's success, bravo!

STEVE LACY The Beat Suite

Album · 2003 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
One of the greatest soprano sax avant garde jazz musician Steve Lacy recorded "The Beat Suite" almost at the ned of his long-lasting and extremely prolific career. Fortunately, it is no way master's melancholic look to his past. Oppositely, "Beat Suite" is ambitious project brewing beat poetry with Lacy's improved trio's music.

Beside of Steve regulars acoustic bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch, there are two very important collaborators participated. First is trombonist George Lewis, and the other - operatic voice singer (and Lacy's wife) Irene Aebi. Irene participated previously on some Lacy's recordings and everyone familiar with their tandem knows that her singing is an acquired taste: use of operatic voice in avant-garde jazz compositions are appreciated by ones and hated by others. Anyway, "The Suite..." is mostly based on Aebi's singing so chose properly.

Quite unusually for Lacy's music, each of ten compositions contains lyrics, including such renown material as William Burroughs "Naked Lunch", Kerouac "Wave Lover" or Alien Ginsberg "Song". Irene's singing isn't easy acceptable source of songs' lyrics so it's great that liner notes contain all the texts.

Music is quite different from Lacy's regular as well - more relaxed, with lot of free trombone soloing, it combines more 50s "beat" atmosphere (or even cool jazz) than usual Lacy's late 60s free jazz-influenced works with minimalist early 20th century/ Weimar era influenced operatic songs.

Steve Lacy recorded "The Beat Suite" at his late sixties, just a few years prior to passing away. It's really impressive evidence how creative great sax player stayed till the end of his life.

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