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.

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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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4.94 | 6 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Infinity Album Cover Infinity
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ARCHIE SHEPP Fire Music Album Cover Fire Music
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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
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4.88 | 5 ratings
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avant-garde jazz Music Reviews

GANELIN TRIO/SLAVA GANELIN New Wine

Live album · 1983 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
"New Wine..." is an album in voluminous series of Lithuanian Ganelin Trio albums, released by UK-based Leo records in early 80s. Actually, Leo label has been founded by Russian Jew Leo Feigin,who left Soviet Union for Israel in 1974 and soon find himself working in London for BBC Russian Services, mostly to promote unknown in the Western world free jazz from Soviet Union.

Ganelin Trio were main artists pushing Leo Records ahead at label's early stage. Since there were no legal possibility for artists (at least - jazz and rock musicians)from Soviet Union to release their recordings outside of Soviet Block, almost all Leo releases of that time are actually an authorized bootlegs, mostly semi-pro live recordings from different,often underground gigs. Recorded tapes crossed the border usually in an illegal way to become later vinyl albums which were not available for purchase in Soviet Union.

"New Wine..." contains one long composition (divided on two parts because of vinyl album's limitations) recorded in Latvian capitol Riga (part of Soviet Union at the time of recording) in summer 1982. Even usually tagged as "free jazz" band, Ganelin Trio always played well organized music, their own mix of classic composition, complex virtuosic improvisation and almost childish Art Ensemble of Chicago-like playfulness. Trio sounds as bigger combo here, it's almost unbelievable that this complex high intensity music is played by three musicians. In addition to Tarasov's drumming machinery, Ganelin besides of his usual piano plays electric guitar,horn and percussion when Chekasin demonstrates unique abilities combining two saxophones (simultaneously),trombone,horn and clarinet.The very same year I (still a student) saw Chekasin playing live solo concert in my University (I have been lucky to live and study in the same town where Ganelin Trio has been founded and based), he played simultaneously two saxophones and electronic device-based highly improvised night which made me,originally AC/DC and Deep Purple fan, an jazz adept for life!

"New Wine..." isn't trio's best gig (they sound a bit too formal here and sound quality could be better as well)and one can find them playing same material on some other releases. But at the same time this album is another great evidence of excellent musical occurrence, unexpected and unique in their own way,when repressive regime can initiate a birth of extremely free and impossible to control music which than becomes a part of the all world's cultural legacy.

YOSUKE YAMASHITA 嵐 (Arashi)

Live album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
"Akashi"(嵐)is exceptional album in history of Japanese avant-garde jazz. Recorded in September 1976 and released next year, it is kind of swan song of country's free jazz golden era.

Pianist Yosuke Yamashita beside of Masahiko Satoh is a key person in Japanese avant-garde jazz piano. Heavily influenced by Cecil Taylor, Yosuke has his own sound though - not so heavy,very fast,colder(more mechanical?)and kind of sliding. Still main "Akashi"'s hero is not him, but excellent sax player Akira Sakata who at the time was regular member of Yamashita Trio. With third trio member Shota Koyama and guest reedist Gerald Oshita band surprisingly often sounds as much bigger orchestra. Being a direct recording from live show with 13-piece Butoh dance troupe, double album contains some places where not much happens (at least musically) what made it a bit inconsistent (obviously video version could fill that gap), but it doesn't destroy the overall impression too much.

Starting from catchy cover art (with one of dancers pictured in action)and very first opener's sounds the listener can expect something non-ordinary and he wouldn't be disappointed. Almost twelve-minutes long opener "Moonlight Desert" is perfect tuneful song with one sax playing almost straight beautiful melody and the other jumping and squawking all around with unbelievable speed and intensity.

In longer than one and half hour concert there are everything you want - free jazz sax acrobatics, characteristic Eastern percussion,ethnic Japanese elements and ambient noises,blended with dancers steps on the scene's floor,which can be well heard in moments and than become part of rhythm section. There are trio's very own version of Albert Ayler's "Ghosts"(Ayler was a very strong influence to sax player Akira Sakata) or better to say - two versions, which cover vinyl version Side A and opens Side B. The later contains screaming vocals (in Japanese) by its intensity and emotional level beating highest Japanese standards.

Central album's part (partially sides B & C) are filled mostly with short minimalist piano-led miniatures, sometimes almost groovy, in moments - near classic, almost all - elegantly beautiful,which most probably serving dance troupe actions. Still two longer pieces (between 18 and 21 minutes long) return band on the front of the scene.

Very variable, this album has that cinematic feel when the music is of so good quality that being formally a soundtrack for theatrical action is successfully living its own life. And even more - all this is played and performed live - and that real-time atmosphere is perfectly presented.

Even late 70s already weren't so great for such music in Japan, it's just a miracle how such a large-scale show/recording ever happened. Very soon domestic free jazz stars will go low profile playing small underground venues or re-switching to always popular on Japanese scene hard bop.

Being a Japanese-only release, this album stayed in a shade for decades. Reissued by Super Fuji Discs as double CD set, it became more accessible (but not all that cheap still). For fans of Japanese free jazz or/and Akira Sakata's sax playing it's worthy of every euro spent though.

PETRAS VYŠNIAUSKAS Viennese Concert

Live album · 1989 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
It's a great fortune that still in 60s Lithuania has become one of the main center of experimental jazz in big territories east from Berlin - Vienna axe. Being occupied by Soviet Russians,it was one of rare places in all former Soviet Union where jazz wasn't under formal or informal ban. As a result,Moscow-born Lithuanian Conservatory graduate Slava Ganelin founded here one of the most radically experimental jazz band of the time,coming from that part of the wold - Ganelin Trio. Trio's activities as well as all members teaching in different Lithuanian music schools initiated serious growth of interest to that music in a country as well as established very influential domestic jazz tradition.

Reeds player Petras Vyšniauskas,who born in small Lithuanian provincial town and played on weddings from his early teens, became a leading sax player of mid generation jazz musicians, formed under Ganelin trio influence. During late 80s and 90s he became a main figure on domestic stage with very realistic ambitions to become a new Vladimir Chekasin (Ganelin Trio's sax player). Unfortunately, Petras didn't. Already in 90 he almost abandoned avant-garde jazz scene concentrating on teaching work in Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater and growing interest in collaboration with academic and neo-folk artists(he still plays rare jazz concerts till now though)

Still his works from late 80s - early 90s contain some excellent examples of quite original advanced jazz. "VIennese Concert" is Petras first ever live album and as well his debut on Western label. Recorded during concert in Vienna, this album contains in fact two different collectives music,recorded same day. First part is played by regular Vysniauskas trio (with Lithuanians pianist Kęstutis Lušas and drummer Gediminas Laurinavičius).It opens with Petras sax soloing - very Steve Lacy-like,but more lyrical,a bit dreamy and philosophical. Vyšniauskas has been always strongly related with his roots,provincial small town atmosphere and his music,being very modern by form just radiate that natural way of life. It's fantastic how being free-form dissonant trio leader, using synthesizers and unorthodox rhythm constructions,in depth Petras stays same small boy playing on the village weddings.

On the second part of concert,trio is joined by pianist Slava Ganelin himself and second drummer Mika Markovich (unknown name for me). Improved band left relaxed and almost dreamy atmosphere in past and jumps ahead with quirkiness and high energy of modern nervous urban world.

Vyšniauskas playing is excellent here, on the level of Steve Lacy but more personally colored and unique.It's pity there stayed only a few recorded evidences from that time, and all them are generally obscure.

P.S. Album opener's "Plunge" doesn't mean what you most probably expect - it's just a name of Petras hometown. Third and fifth compositions' titles come from Lithuanian small places names as well.

TIM BERNE You've Been Watching Me

Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Tim Berne's Snakeoil was first released as his ECM debut,"You've Been Watching Me" is third band's album (all - on ECM) and first where line-up was improved with guitarist Ryan Ferreira. I know that some old Berne's fans were seriously disappointed with his ECM deal and music recorded on this label. Comparing with Berne's early avant-rock chaotic energy, his new music sounded too polished or even conformist for them.Here on third Snakeoil album adding young and generally explosive guitarist will disappoint them again - it's still obvious Snakeoil,not Berne's previous years Bloodcount with Marc Ducret.

Produced by David Torn,"You've Been Watching Me" still contains lot of rock aesthetics,more prog than brutal avant-rock though. With Snakeoil Berne from rebelling alternative jazz idol turned to mature composer still using same techniques and methods. His music now sound less scratchy and noisy, but the tension and his way of thinking are both transformed to multilayered and knotty constructions,sometimes even with obvious academic music influence.

Of all three Berne's ECM albums,this one is most collective work without obvious leader. Ferreira guitar's addition is more liquid and very controlled in quantity. As both previous Snakeoil works this one isn't easy listening even if it contains some modern rock elements.

Surprisingly,I've been a bit disappointed with sound quality,usual ECM strong side. Sound is clear and well-balanced, but somehow compressed to the level almost killing its all vitality - huge disadvantage for such kind of music.

Great album if you liked two previous Snakeoil releases, not all that much different if you didn't.

DON CHERRY Dona Nostra

Album · 1994 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
American trumpet/cornet player Don Cherry came to advanced jazz music scene in late 50s - eraly 60s, when he played on such cornerstone albums as Ornette Coleman's "The Shape of Jazz to Come"(1959) and "Free Jazz"(1961)and John Coltrane's "The Avant-Garde"(1961). Starting from mid 60s he released series of famous albums as leader (on Blue Note), later moved to Europe where became one of a cult figure for years.

Starting from late 70s besides of other best world jazz artists as Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock,Cherry experienced serious decline of popularity partially related with the end of success of jazz fusion - chronologically the last jazz genre still enjoyed cult status and major following around the world. As both above mentioned giants,Cherry tried to find a new place in music,flirting with electronics and acid jazz,but he still stayed mostly a "Legend from the past" till his last days.

"Dona Nostra" is Cherry's last studio album,released just a year before him passing away.German ECM produced and distributed,this album surprisingly didn't receive any significant attention,and probably one of reasons was the time around wasn't right for music like that.

Another reason of modest popularity most probably was album's music itself. Recorded in ECM usual Rainbow Studio in Oslo,"Dona Nostra" contains mostly characteristic Nordic jazz (often known as "ECM sound"). Even if Cherry is stated as leader, in reality he is a guest of highly professional band,led by pianist Bobo Stenson(Jan Garbarek early band's member and,later,regular Tomasz Stanko pianist).As one can expect, great Nordic band plays great Nordic jazz here - ECM type(down-tempo, cool, aerial, generally groove-less) with Cherry trumpet soloing here and there. Some reprieve from comfortable sameness is Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz (who played with Cherry on his many early European world fusion albums from early 70s) - where possible he adds North African and Middle East rhythms which works as fresh blood for refined but very often lifeless music.

The standing alone piece is center-placed Coleman's "Race Face". This song,full of groove,Cherry trumpet soloing and true jazz energy sounds as it was added here by mistake after it slipped under strict ECM boss control.

In all,far not a bad album,especially for those loving quite safe ECM sound from 90s, it sounds as a requiem to Cherry. He was a great musician and he left us lot of good music,even if time requirements and musical fashions around not always were on his side.

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