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
HENRY THREADGILL
4.92 | 5 ratings
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CECIL TAYLOR 3 Phasis Album Cover 3 Phasis
CECIL TAYLOR
5.00 | 3 ratings
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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
GRACHAN MONCUR III
4.77 | 6 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Last Performance at Newport July 2 1966 Album Cover Last Performance at Newport July 2 1966
JOHN COLTRANE
5.00 | 2 ratings
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WILLIAM PARKER William Parker Quartet - Sound Unity Album Cover William Parker Quartet - Sound Unity
WILLIAM PARKER
5.00 | 2 ratings
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SUN RA Live at Montreux Album Cover Live at Montreux
SUN RA
5.00 | 2 ratings
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BILL DIXON Intents & Purposes Album Cover Intents & Purposes
BILL DIXON
5.00 | 2 ratings
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BEN MONDER Amorphae Album Cover Amorphae
BEN MONDER
5.00 | 2 ratings
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GRAHAM COLLIER Darius Album Cover Darius
GRAHAM COLLIER
4.88 | 3 ratings
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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
ERIC DOLPHY
4.63 | 47 ratings
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PHAROAH SANDERS Elevation Album Cover Elevation
PHAROAH SANDERS
4.71 | 8 ratings
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CECIL TAYLOR Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz) Album Cover Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz)
CECIL TAYLOR
4.78 | 4 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

SADAO WATANABE Round Trip

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
“Round Trip” is an album that is quite a bit different from the music Sadao Watanabe is usually known for. Although not exactly a household name in the West, Sadao has been one of the top jazz saxophonists of the last six decades, putting out many albums as a leader while working as a sideman with almost every top name in the business. Watanabe is usually known for his sweet Charlie Parker influenced tone on the alto sax which he has used to cut many top notch post bop albums, as well as more commercial type fare too. “Round Trip” is a whole nother trip altogether, on here Sadao plays the soprano sax with a biting and harsh sound as he and his band mates play high octane avant-garde fusion. The band mates, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Miroslav Vitous had all been playing similar over the top free fusion at this time, with DeJohnette and Corea fresh from some insane gigs with Miles at the Fillmore.

The album opens with the title track, which is an out and out free jazz barn burner with unbelievably high speed drumming from Jack, plus Sadao’s piercing soprano that seems to be mimicking traditional Asian reed instruments. This track covers most of side one and also features a top notch solo from Corea, who at this time was still playing at his youthfully intense best. His solos during this time revealed an interest in Afro-Cuban jazz, as well as the avant-garde, with the end result sounding like a cross between Eddie Palmieri and Cecil Taylor. In a short time after this recording, he will loose some of his early fire. The only drawback to this track is some occasional hyper attacks from someone on a vibraslap, not really sure who is responsible for this bothersome sound.

Side two opens with Jack pounding out an energetic fractured jazz rock beat while the rest join in for a very 70s jam. Whereas as side side one was atonal, on this new track the band settles into a D Mixolydian modal jam, a scale with a Celtic/Indian sound that was very popular with the hippie generation. Sadao continues with his odd soprano sound that now sometimes seems to mimic a bagpipe. Chick’s piano solo takes the music way outside the modal scale for some crazy adventures and Jack follows him every step of the way before Sadao leads the way back to the original groove. The final track, “Sao Paulo”, is some sort of Brazilian jazz gone berserk. Ulpio Minucci joins the band on piano for this one and he and Chick pound out intense interlocking rhythmic patterns while Sadao joins Jack in the percussion section.

This is an okay avant-garde jazz record circa 1970, you can find worse, but you can also find better. As far as Jack and Chick playing music like this, I would check out Miles live at the Fillmore. For Miroslav, check out his first album, or the first Weather Report album. If you are looking for a first Sadao Watanabe album, I would not go with this, find one where he is playing alto sax, his playing on that instrument is sublime. As for those who appreciate the experimental excesses of the late 60s to early 70s, "Round Trip" has enough good moments to overcome the lesser moments. In accordance with the time period, they get fairly crazy on here at times, and often in a good way.

ANGLES Angles 3 : Parede

Live album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Swedes Angles started a decade ago as sax player Martin Kuchen-led sextet playing modern mix of avant-garde jazz, Balkanica and electronic jazz. Very tuneful,emotionally colored and politically sharp songs made them one of most popular Nordic jazz band right after their debut in 2008 (on Portuguese Clean Feed label). They grew up from sextet to octet (Angles 8) for their third album and till nonet(Angles 9) for their fourth one (all - recorded live).

Band'sound became more orchestrated (possibly as the answer to success of their colleagues another Nordic super-group Fire! who grew up from power trio to progressive big band) and more sharp on Angles' two studio albums,recorded in 2014 and 2017. Being a classy band, their formula became a bit too predictable so the year 2018 gives their fans a radical change.

Angles' new album "Parede" (yes, live for sure) is recorded by Angles 3 - and they are really a trio now! Based predominantly on the compositions from their last studio album "Disappeared Behind The Sun", new Angles model is rooted on Albert Ayler free jazz tradition. Sax player Martin Kuchen with old drummer Kjell Nordeson and new Norwegian drummer Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (a member of The Thing power super-trio together with reedist Mats Gustafsson, the leader of above mentioned Fire!) instead of Angles' original Johan Berthling play bare-naked versions of of well-arranged Angles 9 originals.

The difference in music comparing with any previous Angles line-up is significant even if there still are some Balkan tunes, melodies snippets and soulful Kuchen sax soloing. Trio Angles play free jazz of old school, it radiates energy, emotions and live listeners participation is right in place here.

Probably, more Angles side-project than logical continuation, Angles 3 released truly unexpectable album at a moment when it looked they became too predictable. Not every "bigger" Angles fan will stay happy with this new music but I believe they will find some new listeners too with this step.

SUN RA Astro Black

Album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
Sun Ra’s “Astro Black” came out in the early 70s when Ra was still heavily immersed in electronic sounds, and still a few years away from his re-interest in performing big band charts. This is the version of Sun Ra that appeals to those who discovered his music via psychedelic rock and fusion. There isn’t a lot of ‘jazz’ per se on “Astro Black”, but there are plenty of imaginative dronish jams with signature Sun Ra sounds and approaches. There is no acoustic piano in site on this one, as Ra devotes himself to synthesizer, organ and electric piano, and conjures up plenty of exotic sounds with this set up. There is an odd sound mix on here that heavily favors Ra and bassist Ronnie Boykins, but in many ways this makes perfect sense in that its Boykins’ repeating bass lines and Ra’s persistent electronics that frame these songs. The horn players and percussionists are free to come and go, while Ra and Boykins provide a constant backdrop. All the tracks on here are good, but possibly the best is “Hidden Spheres”, which opens with a very well recorded African percussion ensemble laying down a heated groove before the rest of the band joins in.

“Astro Black” makes for a good addition to any Sun Ra collection. Its not one of his best, but far not near his worst. The way in which the bass is used to anchor every track makes this one unique in the Sun Ra discog. Those casual fans who prefer the electronic Sun Ra will want to get this too, there are plenty of other worldly sounds on here.

GANELIN TRIO/SLAVA GANELIN Live In East Germany (aka Catalogue)

Live album · 1980 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
It's quite paradoxical that Ganelin Trio, most probably the only European band which played free jazz by the same way and on the same level of creativity and virtuosity as genre's American leaders, have deep Eurasian roots. Founded in early 70s in Vilnius, capital city of then Russians occupied Lithuania, it included three emigrants from Russia motherland.

Band's leader pianist and composer Vyacheslav (Slava) Ganelin was born in a family of Russian Jews not far from Moscow in the end of WWII and moved to occupied Vilnius with his parents being 4 years old boy. Sax player Vladimir Chekasin born in Sverdlovsk (now - Yekaterinburg), Ural's industrial town right on the border between Europe and Asia. He graduated as classic clarinet artist in his hometown conservatory and moved to Vilnius already being young perspective musician at 24. Drummer Vladimir Tarasov comes from Russian sub-Arctic city of Archangelsk, important Russian Navy port in the Far North, where he played jazz in local clubs still being teenager. At 19 he started music studies in St. Petersburg Conservatory but has been dismissed same year because of propaganda of jazz(!).He didn't return to Archangelsk but moved to Vilnius, where he started playing jazz with pianist Ganelin in legendary Vilnius' "Neringa" restaurant.

So, in year 1971 in Vilnius, town where I was born and grew up (ok, I was only 8 years old boy in 1971), three future avant-garde jazz giants founded the trio which influenced all Lithuanian jazz scene for decades ahead. For outsiders, it's almost impossible to imagine in what world trio's music was born. As a century before that Russian Empire banned the use of Lithuanian language in a territory of occupied Lithuania in any form,other than spoken word (i.i. books,newspapers,schools and University education on Lithuanian all were under the ban), their successors Soviet Empire banned on all controlled territories any forms of Western culture, different than some classical music. Rock music was a main target as it sounded as a right danger for Communist regime, jazz (since there as rule is no lyrics) was classified as "rotten Capitalism" propaganda and was under pressure and strict control as well. Vilnius (besides of Tallinn in Estonia, another Russian occupied European country) was a true mecca for semi-underground jazz since the town during Soviet rule became a quite isolated place, kind of sleepy province far from Moscow and Leningrad where everything was under strict control of KGB eyes. There in Lithuania of that period even existed a jazz studies in State Conservatory (established not in capital Vilnius, but in Klaipeda - smaller town 300 km west on Baltic coast, even more far from Big Brother's eyes).

So, there were some fresh air for jazz musicians in Vilnius with possibility to play in restaurants, Universities halls and even on local radio/TV in rare cases. From other hand, Vilnius was in same isolation from internal world (read - world outside of USSR) as any other place in Empire of Evil. There was no possibility to buy jazz recordings or to hear modern jazz played on radio (rare exception was a Polish radio often plying pop jazz, it was possible to hear it in Vilnius). The only source of musical news was a contraband vinyls coming from West which were extremely rare, banned and as a result unbelievable expensive (to buy one I often needed to pay my young graduate engineer two weeks' salary).

There were active exchange of used vinyl and home-made tapes between musicians and jazz fans as well which often was main sources of any new information. In that atmosphere three young musicians with classical music education and underground street-wise new jazz information started playing music never heard here before. As a result, Ganelin Trio,especially on early stage, sounded as fresh and unexpected European version of Art Ensemble of Chicago: they played lot of instruments (often sounding as much bigger combo than real trio) mixing American free jazz with their classic music formal roots and in part Russian folklore.

There are lot of recordings coming from late 70s - early 80s recorded by trio, but almost all of them are bootleg level live tapes, smuggled through the border and released in UK by another Russian Jew emigre in UK Leo Feigin on his Leo records. "Live In East Germany" is a good example of such release - rare foreign gig (recorded in Eastern Germany), as usually - one long composition divided on two vinyl sides. Trio sounds as much bigger band (Ganelin even plays some distorted guitars closer to the end of the gig, Chekasin plays multiple saxophones simultaneously), there is lot of freedom, lot of melodies, hyper-energy of their live shows and lot of humor and circus as well.

All music sounds fresh and unexpected and surprisingly well organized what evidences classical musicians' education. Don't be fulled by the year of the concert - because of Iron Curtain free jazz came to this part of Europe much later and there are one of very early evidences of it. Taking in account the time correction because of political reasons, they are as fresh as US free jazz of mid 60s.

One great (and for many jazz fans unexpectable) music, it is easier acceptable now because of some re-issues around. Ganelin left for Israel in 1987 disbanding the trio, he teaches music in Lithuanian Music and Theater Academy and plays regular concerts in Vilnius till now. Chekasin teaches in same Academy and runs students big band, Tarasov switched towards avant-garde audio-visual arts, one can hear/see his new installations regularly.

KATE GENTILE Mannequins

Album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Kate Gentile is New York-based drummer who already played with Anthony Braxton, John Zorn and more important - Tony Malaby,Kris Davis,Matt Mitchell and Chris Speed, among others. "Mannequins" is her surprisingly mature studio debut leading a quartet playing her compositions.

Tim Berne's pianist Matt Mitchell is probably best known of quartet members (he's doubles on Prophet 6 synthesizer and electronics here).Two other members are acoustic bassist Adam Hopkins and tenor/clarinetist Jeremy Viner.

Being a classic jazz quartet by line-up, Gentle's band plays far not so classic jazz though. Complex,mostly groove-less and swing-less songs by their aesthetics fit well somewhere between contemporary classical music and (non-jazz) avant-garde, that's improvisation and soloing what gives this music the right to be classified as "jazz".

Comparing with other modern days recording of similar genre (starting from some Tim Berne works to "New York new avant-garde jazz" to same Matt Mitchell solo works), Gentle's music sounds cooler,better controlled and more ... calculated. Fortunately, there are lot of internal emotions in playing and cold surface always hides internal tension and energy.

Surprisingly enough, "Mannequins" sound quite similar to post-rock - just played by very technical jazz musicians converting genre's simplicity to modern jazz complexity but leaving post-rock "static" atmosphere and rational calculated sound.

Excellent album for everyone with open ears and interested in most current creative jazz.

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