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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HENRY THREADGILL Henry Threadgill & Make A Move ‎: Everybodys Mouth's A Book Album Cover Henry Threadgill & Make A Move ‎: Everybodys Mouth's A Book
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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

TON-KLAMI Paramggod

Album · 1995 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Three years after their debut at the German Moers Festival (recorded and released in Japan in 1993), the Ton-Klami trio returned to the studio to record their first (and only) studio album. The same line-up (Japanese avant-garde legend pianist Masahiko Satoh, leading Korean reedist Kang Tae Hwan and lesser known Japanese percussionist Midori Takada) are improved here on three songs with New York downtown unorthodox reedist Ned Rothenberg (on alto sax and bass clarinet).

Ton Klami generally play the same music they presented on their debut album, just here on "Paramggod" it sounds more mature with better interplay - and a much improved recorded sound. In the early stages of Japanese jazz, one of the more important (philosophical) problems was whether Japan could have its own unique take on jazz, or would they just be copying Western artists. Besides percussionist Masahiko Togashi, pianist Masahiko Satoh was one of the first Japanese artists who was trying to find a specific Japanese way of playing jazz. In the mid 70s, a lot of those experiments were quite formal, but here on this album, one can hear that Japanese (or being more correct - Far Eastern) jazz exists with no doubt. Thanks to the very original Tae Hwan and his sax improvisations (very "out", cool and dzen, at the same time being very close to Western free jazz traditions), this trio's music sounds as unique as you can only imagine, a true Asian take on free jazz. Satoh himself plays in his usual manner, combining European (German) technocratic/teutonic piano sounds with some Japanese meditative atmosphere.

Guest reedist Ned Rothenberg's participation on three compositions gives some additional attractiveness, fortunately his improvs are ascetic and fit well with the main trio's building atmospheres.

One of better Satoh albums from the 90s, it's just a pity the Ton-Klami trio didn't recorded more music after this release.

TON-KLAMI In Moers

Live album · 1993 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
After some more or less successful fusion releases and a series of neoclassical piano albums released during the late 70s and 80s, Japanese early avant-garde jazz legend Masahiko Satoh returned back to his roots in the early 90s, forming Ton-Klami trio with Korean reeds player Kang Tae Hwan and lesser known Japanese percussionist Midori Takada.

The trio's debut album is their live recordings from the Moers Festival in Germany 1991, released that same year by Nippon Crown in Japan. Without a doubt, besides Satoh, the other interesting musician on this recording is Tae Hwan (playing exclusively alto sax here). Korea isn't a jazz friendly country even now, in the early 90s there were very few musicians playing jazz there at all. Reedist Kang Tae Hwan is probably the best known of them all, at least outside of the country. His sax sound is very different from any Western sax player, dry and very "out", strongly influenced by East-Asian musical traditions and Buddhist culture. At the same time, he is a real free jazz musician without overt sounds from other music.

Masahiko Satoh is known for his cold, technical piano playing. Here on this album he is even more formal, combining "teutonic" free improvisation with academic musicianship. Percussionist Midori Takada is obviously in the supporting role to the two leaders, who don't always interplay successfully. It's even more strange that here in this live recording, in fact all concert long, Satoh and Tae Kwan exchange with each other on solos almost without having a common ground for their music.

A few years later this trio will release their next album, a studio one this time, with guest New York reedist Ned Rothenberg, who demonstrates a much better communication and really better realized potential. Still, on "In Moers", they demonstrate some raw ideas more than real musicianship.

For Tae Kwan though, this collaboration was an important step towards his quite successful international solo career.

ELTON DEAN The Cheque Is in the Mail

Album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
The year is 1977 and synthesizer still isn't a every band's (boring) toy as a decade or two after. There are two kind of jazz albums incl. synthesizer coming from seventies - rare very creative,almost unique works combining new sounds possibilities with improvisation in a true jazz tradition key and others - where musicians are openly fascinated by their expensive toys and enjoy their possibilities more than care about the music they produce.

"The Cheque Is In The Mail" unfortunately belongs to the second category. Two of leading British scene's reeds players saxist Elton Dean and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler are part of the trio with American drummer/percussionist and keyboardist Joe Gallivan. Dean has already released few suite successful albums as leader (demonstrating very own combination of avant-garde jazz and tuneful, even sentimental rock-songs influenced composition). His solo career is radically different from the music known from his previous band - Soft Machine. Gallivan was a Soft Machine member too (he replaced Robert Wyatt in a band), but as Dean is obviously attracted by free jazz here.

Unfortunately, nothing works properly on trio's album. Credited to Dean as leader, "The Cheque..." is in fact an evidence of how much Gallivan enjoys his synthesizer. Playing extremely free (or better to say - demonstrating the possibilities of his expensive toy in a form of free improvs) on whole album, Gallivan doesn't care much that both reeds players can't find the way how to play and most of time just add some minimalist solos here and there without even expecting of having a chance for true musical collaboration.

Nothing happens till the very end - ten-songs album stays in reality a bag of bulky unrelated sounds. Probably at the time of release it has some special attractiveness containing those spacey early analogue synths' sounds, but from distance of time it doesn't sound attractive anymore. Obvious collectors item, hardly more.

TIM BERNE Electric and Acoustic Hard Cell Live

Live album · 2004 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Six years ago sax player Tim Berne started recording for German ECM label and his music received much wider distribution (and some additional glance working with most prestigious jazz label ever). He already had a chance to be contracted by major label in States in mid-late 80s, but few albums released didn't satisfy Columbia people,so Tim returned back on half-underground scenes in New York, having cult following from fans of "New York new avant-gard jazz", whatever it was.

For those knowing Berne from most current ECM works he most probably associates with well-composed modern complex jazz, perfectly played but a bit too chamber (or not enough raw - you chose). Then a journey to Berne's 90s and 00s recordings (mostly on tiny labels or his own Screwgun) can offer plenty of pleasant surprises. "Electric And Acoustic Hard Cell Live" is a good example and there are some more with no doubt.

Hard Cell was a short-living super-trio of sort uniting Tim Berne with his regular keyboardist Craig Taborn and Californian drummer Tom Rainey. Just two albums have been recorded, both live (both released on Berne's own Screwgun label). Four tracks (lasting between 7 and 16 minutes each) are raw, muscular tuneful and surprisingly post-bop influenced. Recorded during two different gigs, material presented is of quite good sound quality and contains lot of audience emotional evidences, all for good.

Two track looks like just audience recording,but as on some better bootlegs this fact even adds more blood and adrenaline into music and common atmosphere. No even traces of Berne's later chamber sobriety can be found here and Craig's used electronics only adds effect of modernity. Being energetic, music here sounds far from some noisy free jazz chaos cliche's, is melodic and combines improvisations with well composed material.

One of Berne's better recordings which can be recommended for his more current fans - most probably you will find a lot of things you will like here.

MATTHEW SHIPP Invisible Touch at Taktlos Zurich

Live album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
With such an abundance of talented jazz pianists these days, its hard for anyone to rise above the pack, but more than likely, as we move forward in time, music history will be very kind to Matthew Shipp. A powerhouse performer, Shipp’s improvisations embrace the world of modern jazz and hint at contemporary concert hall composition, while wrapping all this up into a musical language that sounds like no one else. Although Matthew is known to engage in spirited free improvisations with many stars of the free improv world, when playing on his own, his music takes on a different character, not so much free improvisation as spontaneous composition. Much like one of his favorite influences, Cecil Taylor, Shipp’s constructs pour out at a furious pace, yet always seem to contain a sort of logic found in the best of contemporary composers. It’s in his solo works that the true mind of Shipp is able to take shape, and that is one of the many things that make “Invisible Touch at Taktlos Zurich” such a special offering, this is Matthew all by himself in a live setting, a pure un-distilled outpouring from a modern genius.

In his own words, Shipp claims that while he was developing his musical language, he decided to ignore the popular post-bop trio of Bill Evans, Keith Jarret and Herbie Hancock, and instead focused on an older musical language of the bop and pre-bop pianists such as Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington and Art Tatum. Herein lies one of Matthew’s big differences within the modern jazz world, his playing harks back to an earlier age when the solo pianist was meant to be a mini-orchestra with a huge two handed sound that filled up space. This is not the ‘less is more’ approach of the post bop crowd, this is the ‘more is more’, and plenty more where that came from approach. As we listen to the eleven cuts on this CD, our mind becomes occupied by musical ideas that fly by at a rapid rate, yet these ideas never lose a sense of purpose, every note that is needed is there. Along with the aforementioned jazz influences, one can also hear 20th century composers such as Charles Ives, Arnold Schoenberg and Henry Cowell, but this is no pastiche approach, every influence is blended into a seamless whole.

This is an unusual concert in that Matthew does not take a break between songs, which can be a plus or a minus. The plus being that this whole concert becomes like an ocean of musical ideas to immerse yourself in, with the minus being that some of the individual songs loose their individuality as they become swamped by the entire mass of music. Two tracks in particular might have been more powerful had they stood on their own, one being the imaginative reading of the standard, “Tenderly”, in which the original melody battles with a more dissonant counter melody, and the almost romantic “Blue in Orion’, which is quite different from the other tracks. Still, with all the tracks blended, we can see how some similar devices show up in more than one piece, such as Matthew’s thunderous low end tone clusters, and his skittering two voiced scattered polyphony.

For those who have not checked him out yet, this album makes for a great introduction to the world of Matthew Shipp and comes highly recommended for fans of modern jazz, as well as fans of modern concert hall music as well.

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