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!'
ERIC DOLPHY
4.77 | 39 ratings
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ARCHIE SHEPP Four for Trane Album Cover Four for Trane
ARCHIE SHEPP
4.92 | 5 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)
HENRY THREADGILL
4.92 | 5 ratings
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ARCHIE SHEPP The Magic of Ju-Ju Album Cover The Magic of Ju-Ju
ARCHIE SHEPP
4.96 | 4 ratings
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CECIL TAYLOR The Cecil Taylor Unit Album Cover The Cecil Taylor Unit
CECIL TAYLOR
5.00 | 3 ratings
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CECIL TAYLOR 3 Phasis Album Cover 3 Phasis
CECIL TAYLOR
5.00 | 3 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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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
GRACHAN MONCUR III
4.88 | 5 ratings
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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

MATANA ROBERTS Matana Roberts & Sam Shalabi & Nicolas Caloia : Feldspar

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
American sax player Matana Roberts,who is best known from her "Coin Coin..." albums series, regularly participates in other projects which are obvious less known.Between second and third "Coin Coin" series albums (2013 and 2015),she recorded and released highly experimental album with Montreal musicians - electric guitarist Sam Shalabi and acoustic bassist Nicolas Caloia.

Both Canadians are part of left-field Montreal scene, it's interesting to hear how their aesthetics work (or don't work) in collaboration with American trad music rooted Matana's jazz. Album is titled "Feldspar"(from my University time classic geology studies I still remember that feldspar is very hard mineral of silicate origin,which contains no ore or other valuable elements and Earth's outer crust is composed mostly of it), each album's song is titled by one of minerals name as well.

Seven improvisations present more or less tight interplay between extended ultra acoustic low bass vibrations, processed electric guitars sounds (from almost metal-rock shredding to synth-like soundscapes)and bluesy and tuneful Matana's clear sax soloing over it. At best, all three musicians find quite reflective if not telepathic interplay and demonstrates really effective and attractive form of free but tuneful jazzy improvs. Still often each of them three plays as he's interested in his own music first of all and don't care much about what happens around. In such moments Matana's sax works as cement molding music from components,which trying to run away each to its own direction. Sometimes it sounds even attractive, but more often just destroys music's integrity.

Not of the same league as Coin Coin albums, "Feldspar" has its moments and are bquite interesting release for listeners liking Matana's music. I expect her collaboration with free-improvs artists here (as well as work with different forms of processed sound) influenced Roberts' upcoming third Coin Coin album where differently from her two first Coin Coin releases,she plays solo all instruments with massive use of synths and samples and only accidental use of her main instrument - saxophone.

Matana's new album "Always" is already announced to be released in few months, what will she offer next?

OLIVER LAKE Oliver Lake / William Parker : To Roy

Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Sax player Oliver Lake and bassist William Parker are two of a few still active 70s New York lofts' jazz musicians,true living legends. Here on "To Roy" (album dedicated to trumpeter Roy Campbell,passed away in 2014)them two are recorded together in studio for the first time ever. Even if drumless/pianoless duo isn't a conventional format,music presented is really full-bodied and quite accessible.

Both Lake and Parker represent same former lofters wing - their music has been always well structured,post-bop rooted with great balance between composed and improvised.Here on "To Roy" even quite minimalist acoustic bass/sax duo surprisingly offers lot of melodies and memorable tunes. From very first sounds one can hear that characteristic Lake soulful sax soloing and memorable Parker's vertical bass constructions.

As on many other both musicians' most successful recordings main secret is same on this album - they never let listener to stay bored even for a moment. On a composition which flows like well-cooked song with memorable tune right when one doesn't expect any surprises they add free solo,often quite explosive. What starts as free form improvisation still before you will start loosing your attention switches to beautiful sentimental melody with almost straight rhythm. Eleven members originals take 50 minutes - again not too much to become annoying. Nothing strange though - both Lake and Parker are known as masters of making even quirkiest improvisational music attractive.

Not the album for newcomers - better start form every artist's album where they play with larger band, but really great release for those who already know and love their music.

RUSS JOHNSON Still Out to Lunch!

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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New Yorkers' Mostly Other People Do The Killing release of "Blue" where they just play note-by-note Miles Davis "Kind Of Blue" initiated stormy discussions in musical press last year. Musically hardly enticing this album's concept revitalized almost century-old disputes what is jazz and where all that go.

At the same time Chicago-based trumpeter Russ Johnson's version of Dolphy's "Out To Lunch",released same year, passed almost unnoticed. Less attractive as object for philosophical discussions, Johnson's "Still Out To Lunch!" contains more pretties for listener though. Being more customary one musician take on other artist's music,it doesn't copy the original as in case of above mentioned "Blue" and doesn't try to rework it drastically (after Otomo Yoshihide's 2005 "Out To Lunch" with Mats Gustafsson,brass section,computers and noises this task is hardy beatable).

Russ' formed very strong band play all Dolphy original album's compositions (in different order though)adding two previously unrecorded Dolphy rarities and one band drummer George Schuller father Gunter Schuller's (composer,who worked with Dolphy in his time) composition "Little Blue Devil". Johnson five-piece band don't contain vibraphonist (Bobby Hutcherson on original Dolphy release is changed by pianist Myra Melford), differently from Dolphy's alto,bass clarinet and flute Roy Nathanson plays alto and soprano sax. Johnson band sound more modern, more dynamic and if Dolphy's original is known by its excellent balance between free-bop and almost classical well organized relaxed sound, Johnson version is quite nervous,tight and riven.

Since there is hardly any sense just to copy already existing recorded music, "Still Out To Lunch" works well enough offering different look which probably could be tagged as "new century touch" on Dolphy's classics.With no doubt everyone takes a big risk working with such well-known material but Johnson and band demonstrate huge respect to original here. It's not a competition with Dolphy and not an ambition to make some things better, but more modernized presentation of genius work. Comprehensible like that this album deserves more attention - on its own way it popularizes one of the greatest jazz music ever recorded.

ANNA WEBBER Simple

Live album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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"Simple", Canadian sax player Anna Webber's new album is everything but simple. Differently from her previous bigger combo work, it contains seven perfectly engineered and executed compositions which combine pre-composed and improvised pieces,minimalist,complex and almost lyrical at the same time.

Anna for some time is a part of Brooklyn avant-garde jazz scene, here on "Simple" she leads supertrio with her former teacher and Claudia Quintet founder drummer John Hollenbeck and Tim Berne's Snakeoil pianist Matt Mitchell. No strange music on this album is fractured, percussive and seriously influenced by contemporary classical composition.

John Hollenbeck is main structural architect here building rhythmic pyramids and pushing all action ahead. All album is generally high energized but with enough space for each musician and for silent as part of composition as well. Songs all are composed by Webber, but each composition's construction combines some strictly pre-composed pieces and quite free improvisation as well. Still all music is well-framed and precisely controlled what only improves contemporary classics feel.

Webber sax (and occasionally flute) sounds sometimes as if you listen to loft jazz saxman from 70s, with open, dissonant and almost screaming sound, in other moments she sounds as Anthony Braxton-influenced modern creative player - complex, calculated and almost chamber.As a result, her sax solos,added very sparingly, are main attraction sounding over drums and occasional piano. Each sax soloing is original, right in place and has its own beauty and listener just waits impatiently when Anna's sax will join again.

Really complex music,it sounds surprisingly accessible and attractive, but requires repeated listening. When album was released last fall, it was one of my most beloved music for week or two, and now when I returned back to it, it shows a lot of new and different sides and I really like it as I did before.

One among best advanced NYC jazz scene albums released in 2014.

CREATIVE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY Creative Construction Company

Live album · 1975 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
Although “Creative Construction Company” did not come out until the mid-70s, this is actually a recording of a concert in May 1970. Also, even though this is the first album to bear the name of the group, this is actually a continuation of the same group Anthony Braxton led on his first two albums, only its a slightly larger ensemble this time around. This is an all-star group, with the core trio of Braxton, Leo Smith and LeRoy Jenkins augmented with Muhal Richard Abrams, Steve Davis and Steve McCall. Some critics think that adding a rhythm section to the original trio destroyed some of their more sensitive interplay, and this may be true, but really what is recorded here is just a different type of music than the original trio, but not necessarily worse.

Along with The Art Ensemble of Chicago and others within Chicago’s AACM, the CCC presented a new style of free jazz improvisation. Unlike the more emotive and solo based excursions of the NYC crowd, the new Chicago scene favored group interplay and building ensemble tone colors instead of incendiary solos. This album represents this new style well with a fascinating 36 minute excursion that winds its way through many different textures and distinct sections. LeRoy Jenkins is credited with being the composer, and there does seem to be some sort of loose leadership to point the way from one section to the next.

Several of the musicians on here can play more than one instrument, which adds to all the tone colors available to them as they navigate from quiet string duos, to noise makers and percussion, to shrieking horns and pounding drums. All of this music has a nice flow to it, as if there was a conducted beat as in a concert hall piece. Overall an excellent album and a notch above much of the other avant-garde jazz albums of the time.

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JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

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