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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ORNETTE COLEMAN Science Fiction Album Cover Science Fiction
ORNETTE COLEMAN
4.94 | 7 ratings
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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
ERIC DOLPHY
4.79 | 40 ratings
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ARCHIE SHEPP The Magic of Ju-Ju Album Cover The Magic of Ju-Ju
ARCHIE SHEPP
4.94 | 5 ratings
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ALICE COLTRANE Ptah, the El Daoud Album Cover Ptah, the El Daoud
ALICE COLTRANE
4.79 | 24 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 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 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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JOHN COLTRANE Infinity Album Cover Infinity
JOHN COLTRANE
4.86 | 6 ratings
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PHAROAH SANDERS Elevation Album Cover Elevation
PHAROAH SANDERS
4.81 | 8 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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DON CHERRY Complete Communion Album Cover Complete Communion
DON CHERRY
4.88 | 5 ratings
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avant-garde jazz Music Reviews

GARY PEACOCK Tales of Another

Album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Acoustic bassist Gary Peacock's "Tales Of Another" album is significant in many senses. First of all, it's his first ever album as leader released in Western world(two previous Peacock releases come from Japan where they were recorded with local artists in early 70s). Than,it is first ever recorded evidence of his trio with pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette (what later will become known as "Jarrett Standards trio" - his second best band after "American quartet").

"Tales Of Another" is Peacock's debut on ECM, the beginning of his long lasting collaboration with world's most prestigious jazz label and one of representative example of what is known as legendary "ECM sound".

Six Peacock originals are played by trio of equal greats,each has enough space and freedom for his improvisations. Peacock already played with DeJohnette and Jarrett before,and it's obvious how good communication have all three of them. Musically album contains characteristic for early ECM sophisticated mix of (still) groovy tuneful straight jazz,free improvisations and European chamber aesthetics. It doesn't sound as Jarrett American quartet raw recordings from early 70s, but has much more life and groove comparing with his European quartet music (and many other recordings of North European artists on ECM of that time). Peacock and DeJohnette are generally quite muscular rhythm section and Jarrett still doesn't sound as arrogant and formal as on series of his later albums(he "sings" a lot here though what can destroy good impression from this music for some his "singing" haters).

For Peacock,who didn't record lot as a leader,this album is probably one of his best works ever. For Jarrett-Peacock-DeJohnette trio it was a start of long-lasting successful career which still continues. ECM improved their once-found stylistic exclusivity exploring (and over-exploring) once-found formula for decades to come.For jazz fans interested in early (still advanced) label's music it is a good example that ECM hasn't always been the home of safest jazz in the world.

ARCHIE SHEPP Three For A Quarter, One For A Dime

Live album · 1969 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
Although “Three for a Quarter One for a Dime” was not released until 1969, it was actually recorded in 1966 at the same show that made up the album “Live in San Francisco”. Recent CD re-issues of “Live in San Francisco” include “Three for a Quarter” as a 33 minute bonus track, prior to that, it was probably only available in the original vinyl format. On the original LP, the 33 minute piece is divided into 17 ½ minutes on side one, and 15 ½ on side two. Even though it is available on CD now, you may sill want to get “Three for a Quarter” in the original vinyl version because the massive gatefold packaging generously supplied by the Impulse! label is a work of art in itself.

Almost any musical genre seems to enjoy its best years when that style is being invented. The excitement of discovery seems to push a musician’s physical limits beyond their usual capabilities. You can hear this in late 20s jazz and early 40s be-bop, and you can also hear it in the ‘free jazz’ of the 60s. Despite all the attention given to Coltrane and Ornette during this freedom era, quite possibly Archie Shepp, along with Albert Alyer and John Gilmore, were the ones who took the emotional frenzy of this music to its highest level, and “Three for a Quarter” provides an excellent example of Shepp doing just that.

This album opens with Shepp and tromobonist Roswell Rudd leap-frogging an odd melody that’s part bop, part circus music and completely ‘out to lunch’, there is no doubt that we are in for a wild ride. As the band digs in, Rudd and Shepp do some quick exchanges before Rudd backs off and gives Shepp the floor. Archie responds with one of the most intense sax solos you will ever hear anywhere, no shrieks or screams, just an endless assault of notes played with a very gnarly expressive guttural sound. Towards the end of side one, Rudd re-enters and the two soloists raise a wonderful chaos that sounds much bigger than just two. On side two, Rudd takes a solo ride while Shepp backs him on the piano before picking up his horn for one more double solo to close things out. Throughout the precedings, Beaver Harris keeps up a steady roar on the trap set while the two bassists rumble around in the background, although not always particularly distinctively.

Archie Shepp is a restless spirit who has played many styles of music in his career, “Three for a Quarter One for a Dime” is an excellent example of how much furious energy he brought to the ‘new thing’ of the sixties before he moved on to other things.

YOSUKE YAMASHITA Inner Space (with Adelhard Roidinger)

Album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Japanese pianist Yosuke Yamashita built his name as one of the country's avant-garde jazz leader with his bass-less trio founded still in 1969 (with drummer Takeo Moriyama and tenorist Seiichi Nakamura,in 1973 Nakamura has been changed by alto sax player Akira Sakata). Early-mid 70s were all years of trio's fame documented by representative collection of studio and live albums, all containing high energy fast and tight strongly improvisation music.

Year 1977 was a transitional for Yosuke, when he disbanded the trio and started playing in different new formats, from solo to combo with members of Art Ensemble of Chicago."Inner Space" is a small album, coming from that time and it evidences quite unusual for Yosuke music - four duets with groovy acoustic Austrian bassist Adelhard Roidinger.

From very first seconds it becomes obvious that you're listening to different Yosuke album - airy,almost mellow and dreamy tunes would fit well on one of ECM albums of the time. Still sound is quite different from what is known by "ECM sound" - "Inner Space" has warm deep acoustic sound more usual for Japanese Three Blind Mice audiophile label.

By it's atmosphere album reminds some other transitional albums of the era, when duo combines two quite different artists, better example is Archie Shepp and NHO Pedersen's "Looking At Bird", recorded and released in 1980. There on "...Bird" one could hear advanced Shepp's sax soloing contrasting with extremely earthed Pedersen straight bass. Here on "Inner Space" Yosuke plays Cecil Taylor-kind of piano improvisations framed by almost hard-boppish Roidinger bass line. Surprisingly,in both cases what sound suspicious on paper works well in real life.

It took another decade for Yamashita to form his new trio (this time - with Americans bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Pheeroan AkLaff) - so-called New York Trio, which bring him popularity in States at last. "Inner Space" stays Yosuke's most mellow album coming from his early period (late 60s' - 70s), and one of his most beautiful one.

MATANA ROBERTS Always

Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Chicagoan Matana Roberts is better known by her Coin Coin... series of historical/social albums where she combines African-American roots music with free jazz and occasionally classic orchestrations and/or electronics.

Besides of Coin Coin... she regularly works on side projects more or less related with her main line. "Always" is her second album, released in 2015, and it is a very special one. Being a younger generation AACM member Matana demonstrates her Chicagoan avant-garde jazz school's influences very often, no strange that in old AACM tradition she recorded solo sax album (what was quite a popular action in early 70s and have been over-exploited by great Steve Lacy during later decades, but is way not a fashion of the day in the second decade of new century).

Just alto sax and just two compositions are presented on this album - one continues as long as 33 minutes though. Matana plays free improvised music which is deeply rooted in early last century's legacy,mostly gospel and blues. Her sax's soloing recalls human voice, singing simple, sad and very natural story and this way "Always" is seriously related with her "Coin Coin..." music. Minimalistic cover art perfectly conveys quite technically simple and minimalist music which has almost magic influence. This album, being wholly improvised,could become an excellent soundtrack to historical art-movie about American South.

Second,shorter (less than 10 minutes long)track is not a narrative balladry, but more explosive Ayleresque free jazz song, very naturally connected with the album's opener and radiating same atmosphere. Even if fully improvised sax solo music isn't listening for everyone, this album (as almost any Matana's music) is a bit more than just music - it's a true art which works even if its outer form isn't most accessible.

JEMEEL MOONDOC The Zoopkeeper's House

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Jemeel Moondoc is an excellent sax player who at early stage was a member of Cecil Taylor band for two years (in early 70s). Later he moved to New York and formed his first band Muntu (with trumpeter Roy Campbell, bassist William Parker, and drummer Charles Downs (known as Rashid Bakr) becoming a part of city's loft scene.

Later he played sporadically with different rhythm sections and released series of strong albums on Eremite Records in 90s.

On "The Zookeeper’s House",Moondoc's first studio album in more than ten years and only fifth studio recording ever released,Jemeel plays with excellent team of musicians: his current rhythm sections of bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Newman Taylor Baker is improved with trombonist Steve Swell, trumpeter Roy Campbell (it is his final recorded music)and pianist Matthew Shipp.Moondoc who from very early years played bop-based free jazz on his newest work does it even better then before. "The Zookeeper’s House" is that extremely rare case when 70s loft scene artist not only reaches the heights of his music from that period, but even exceeds it.

Not all musicians play here on all songs - Matthew Shipp adds piano on opener and longish "One For Monk And Trane",horns play on "Little Blue Elvira" and almost eleven minutes long Alice Coltrane's "Ptah, The El Daoud". All five album's compositions are free-bop of highest probe, soulful,sometimes bluesy,tuneful,free and well-framed. There are no fillers here and by emotional atmosphere and musical quality this album fits better on list of the best releases coming from adventurous early 70s than from second decade of new century.

Surprisingly, music on this album doesn't sound nostalgic at all. Even well-known Alice Coltrane's tune gets new life, Moondoc originals all are modern and mature offspring of Eric Dolphy's early 60s' free-bop.

One among best albums coming from last decade, there are only a very few such works around.

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