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
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JOHN COLTRANE Infinity Album Cover Infinity
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ORNETTE COLEMAN Science Fiction Album Cover Science Fiction
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HENRY THREADGILL Everybodys Mouth's a Book (Make A Move) Album Cover Everybodys Mouth's a Book (Make A Move)
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avant-garde jazz Music Reviews

STEVE LACY Disposability

Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Steve Lacy is one among a few jazz star saxmen playing exclusively soprano.His name is well known for jazz fans,but quite surprisingly his music is far not so popular as it could be. I expect one of main reasons is he was extremely prolific musician,often using same musical themes again and again,so his recorded legacy is huge and not all of the same high quality. Inexperienced listener sometimes can be mistaken trying to explore Lacy's music from his not the best place.

For very brief orientation, it's important to note that Lacy's early solo works (he played mostly all the time with greatest jazz musicians of the time as Don Cherry,Mal Waldron,Elvin Jones,Roswell Rudd,etc)are all straight-forward jazz of early 60s up to late 1965.Some critics count Lacy's first four albums as his best music ever,and this point of view is not so strange,at least not for the jazz purists.

"Disposability", Lacy's fifth album released in 1966,is his first trio recordings and and his first album containing original material (together with three Monk compositions,one Carla Bley and one Cecil Taylor's).Recorded in Rome right before Christmas,"Disposability" is first Lacy's album where he switched from hard-bop towards much more adventurous and free music. Rhythm section of heavyweight and extremely quirky Italian drummer Aldo Romano and advanced bassist Ken Carter build very unusual frames comparing with Lacy's previous works. Actually there're them two who push his music ahead. Lacy clear and vibrato-less sax soloing doesn't always fits well over sometimes too-heavy often far not all that subtle drummer constructions, but more interesting and important fact is how well Lacy feels in much freer atmosphere.

Far not his most advanced album,"Disposability" is great border-stone evidence,separating straightforward (and really great) early Lacy music from upcoming decades of his free jazz glory.Still quite accessible album is one of good entrances to Lacy music as well - if it sounds too quirky just go to his earlier music,for those attracted with Lacy's adventurous playing there are lot of excellent later works.

MATTHEW SHIPP Root Of Things

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
The most difficult artists to write about are those whose artistic vision is so unique and personal that it is hard to come up with comparisons and references, and such is the case with pianist Matthew Shipp and his latest trio outing, “Root of Things”. Early in his career Shipp displayed much influence from the high speed jagged and aggressive piano assaults of Cecil Taylor, and you can still hear some of the Taylor influence, but Shipp has distilled and reduced the Taylor approach, taking out much of the extravagance and leaving a more refined core. Is Shipp’s playing a ‘lounge’ version of Cecil Taylor’s pyrotechnics, that would be an odd way of putting things, but it could almost suffice as a layman’s description, but its also a bit shallow because Shipp is much more than just that. If Matthew has a possible reference in today’s world of pianists, Craig Taborn might be as good as any. Both Shipp and Taborn are drawn to thick busy contrapuntal textures that owe much to serial composers, and both favor a tonality that deceptively slips from extended harmonies to atonality and in-between areas that are not clearly one or the other. Apologies are due if this all sounds too technical, but Shipp’s music is not exactly easy listening.

On this CD you get two tracks with busy, but introspective piano work; “Root of Things” and “Code J”, while “Path” centers around bassist Michael Bisio, and “Pulse Code” is for drummer Whit Dickey. The more energetic work-out tracks are “Jazz It” and album closer “Solid Circuit”. “Jazz It” is probably the CD’s top cut. As the title implies, this is the ‘jazz number’ and the only cut that ‘swings’. It opens with a bluesy Monk like groove, but as Shipp goes into quadruple time while soloing, the rhythm section feels compelled to follow and keeps slipping into chaotic high speed romps. Overall, “Jazz It” has more humor and good times slap bang chaos than most of the rest of this CD, which often sounds more like concert hall music than post bop. Dickey’s solo on “Pulse Code” is nice because he goes more for interesting layered poly-rhythms ala Billy Higgins, rather than boring displays of flash. Closing number “Solid Circuit” is probably closest to the old days of free jazz blowouts, but even on this one, the trio shows much care and restraint in their interactions.

This is one of the better jazz CDs to come out so far this year and it should hold up well to many close listens for modern post bop fans, avant-garde listeners and even concert hall devotees who like the jazz as well. If every cut on here would have been as strong and imaginitive as “Jazz It”, this would have been close to album of the year.

WADADA LEO SMITH Wadada Leo Smith / George Lewis / John Zorn : Sonic Rivers

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
John Zorn's prolific Tzadik label started a new SPECTRUM series with an excellent collaboration between three modern creative jazz giants culminating in the album, "Sonic Rivers". Three horn players - trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, trombonist George Lewis and Zorn himself on saxes, play a restrained session full of bursts and free jazz beauty.

I was expecting this album's concept to recall one of the legendary works between George Lewis and John Zorn in collaboration with guitar genius Derek Bailey resulting in the album "Yankees",released on the Celluloid label in 1982. Even if more than three decades separate these two releases, besides the line-up, they have some more things in common. Both "Yankees" and "Sonic Rivers" radiate that adventurous and creative jazz spirit which becomes more and more rare in the current jazz scene.

Wadada Leo Smith and George Lewis are two key artists of Chicago's AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) movement, which began in the mid 60's. Both are not only musicians, but composers as well, known for their experimental works. John Zorn is probably the most influential figure on the NY downtown avant-garde scene for the last few decades, known for his explosive dissonant playing and his many compositions as well.

Here, on "Sonic Rivers", one can find a very successful balance between the non-jazz avant-garde and the non-traditional compositions of the Chicago school, plus the New York eclectic explosive mix of all styles in one. Surprisingly enough, no-one of these three musicians dominates on these recordings. Even Zorn, adding his dissonant sax soloing, leaves a lot of space for the others. In all, this music sounds very aerial, almost minimal in moments, but still full of content - the characteristic by which one can usually separate the best free jazz albums from all the others. Lewis uses some electronic devices on a few compositions, but generally it's three horn players building multicolored acoustic pictures.

Critically thinking, there is nothing revolutionary different or just really new here. Mainly this music's value is that it reinvents that creative spirit which made so many 60s and 70s jazz releases great listening, even till now, and in a big part, almost forgotten in these modern days of music. The modern jazz scene really needs more of this inspiration today.

JAN GARBAREK Til Vigdis

Live album · 1967 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
I believe you have never heard saxophonist Jan Garbarek sounding like this! Nothing strange there, most jazz fans have no idea this album exists!

The twenty-year old future Norwegian saxophone superstar is playing in a student club on "Til Vigdis". The album consists of three very free compositions with enough kicking and swinging to be recognized as post-65 Coltrane music influenced. The rhythm section (bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen) are both future Nordic jazz leading figures as well.

Not particularly memorable or musically exciting, this album is unique as probably one of the earlier European free jazz albums, and it also shows Garbarek's early influences as well. He will show much higher class on his next release, "African Pepperbird", but for those who only know Garbarek as a new-agey contemporary Nordic jazz star, this album could open their eyes (and may be ears). This original limited edition is really an expensive rarity though, with i-net prices up to 1500 euro.

MASABUMI KIKUCHI Poesy : The Man Who Keeps Washing His Hands

Album · 1971 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi is one among this country's best known abroad jazzmen. He studied in Berklee in late 60s and on return to Japan played with many American musicians,touring the country.

I've reed in Masabumi's interview with Ethan Iverson (2013)he never liked his Berklee studies (except for Herb Pomeroy)and in his early years was influenced by advanced artists of the time as McCoy Tyner.He met Paul Bley when he played in Japan with Sonny Rollins,and Paul became his next hero.

Later, Masabumi started playing with bassist Gary Peacock (who palyed with Bley and lived in Japan for some years in late 60s-early 70s). Here 0n "Poesy",Peacock plays excellent deep physical bass on three compositions (I believe Peacock's time in Japan was his most inventive and advanced period), but generally this album is Kikuchi duo work with leading Japanese percussionist Masahiko Togashi.

Masahiko Togashi was one of very first Japanese free-jazz drummer in early 60s, but after accident in late 60s he wasn't able to play drums anymore. He switched to percussion and developed very complex and loose own techniques.Here on "Poesy" Masahiko demonstrates it in whole.

"Poesy" isn't characteristic album for Japanese early 70s jazz scene - it isn't loud,noisy,dissonant and quirky. No-one push music to the limit here. Kikuchi is obviously influenced by American jazz tradition, he plays tuneful and even warm piano,but without sentimentalism or catchy appeal of some his later works.He even doesn't scream a lot when playing on Jarrett's manner(he will develop this techniques later, but you still can hear him here as well what shows that he did it originally,with no relation to this Jarrett's manner; Jarrett will become star after few years).

"Poesy" is a great title for this music,just think about Western-Japanese cocktail,mixing European tradition with American freedom and Eastern Buddhist meditativeness.Music sounds well balanced as rarely,being beautiful,adventurous and stimulating at the same time.

Kikuchi will return back to States soon where he will stay for decades till now.He will release many albums developing his own style (some of them are really successful, others-not so much).Gary Peacock will become a real ECM star playing with Jarrett and Paul Motian among others (his Japanese period collaborations stay one of his most interesting works till now). Masahiko Togashi continued to enjoy Japan's cult percussionist status for decades ahead.

This album (with magnificent full title "Poesy:The Man Who Keeps Washing His Hands")was reissued on CD and became easier accessible evidence of great times in jazz.

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