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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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
ERIC DOLPHY
4.62 | 50 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
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CECIL TAYLOR 3 Phasis Album Cover 3 Phasis
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PHAROAH SANDERS Elevation Album Cover Elevation
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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
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CECIL TAYLOR Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz) Album Cover Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz)
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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

MUHAL RICHARD ABRAMS Celestial Birds

Boxset / Compilation · 2020 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
It is almost an axiom that no-one likes compilations in jazz (and rock music as well). Still, there are hundreds and thousands of them, predominantly with the openly commercial reason of trying to sell old as new, usually collecting all the most successful pieces in one place.

"Celestial Birds" is oppositely different. It contains some more unusual Muhal Richard Abrams compositions, with a strong accent on early electronics sound.

Avant-garde jazz never had a commercial potential as musical genre, and it has even less in the 20's. The risk of releasing such albums is moderately high, but thanks to zeitkratzer series director Reinhold Friedl and German label Karlrecords the world got the rare possibility to refresh (and for many newcomers - to find out) this lesser know side of AACM founder.

Vinyl album's side A is dedicated to 22+ minutes long "The Bird Song", which originally filled whole side B of Abrams debut, "Levels and Degrees of Light", released in 1968. The composition opens with recitative Chicagoan poet David Moore's poem and continues with dominating analogue synthesizer's vibes scented with minimalist saxes(Anthony Braxton & Kalaparusha), bass(Leonard Jones), drums (Thurman Barker) and violin (Leroy Jenkins). Differently from later and more regular use of electronics in jazz, here the whole music sounds quite cold, technological and close to minimalist composers pieces. It's interesting, that for this compilation the original version of the song has been used, with reverberations removed from the CD reissues.

"Conversations With The Three Of Me" is taken from much later, 1989 album "The Hearinga Suite", released in Italy. Here we found Abrams playing solo, first on piano and then - on synth. Piano part sounds as neo-classic dry composition which ends as spacey synth improvs. "Think All, Focus One" is another Abrams solo composition, played solely on analogue synths (comes from 1995 album of the same name). Abrams sounds not much different from Frank Zappa playing Synclavier on his unorthodox album "Jazz From Hell". The closer, "Spihumonesty", is recorded with a larger combo, including Roscoe Mitchell on reeds among others. Dominating synths sound here is mixed with free jazz small orchestra.

Early recordings presented on this compilation are coming from the time when synthesizer meant actually an extremely expensive studio, which were rare and hardly accessible for the jazz musician. Abrams was among very first jazz musicians experimenting with synthesis of jazz and electronics, and his works sound interesting even now.

GEORGE RUSSELL Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature

Live album · 1971 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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Igor91
George Russell's Electronic Souls Loved by Nature is one of the severely underrated jazz releases from the late 1960's/early 1970's. I, personally, would put this up there with Miles Davis' Bitches Brew as far as its inventiveness and uniqueness for the time. The recording is actually from April of 1969 (not released until 1971), which predates the Bitches Brew sessions by about 3 months! This is a very European sounding release, due to the musicians involved in it hailing from Norway, most notably the young Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal. The use of tape noises and sound collages with a live band, and recorded in a live setting was innovative for 1969. The musicians performed the piece impeccably and with conviction. There are two, side long tracks that combine cool, repetitive jazz grooves, free jazz, and touches of jazz rock, mostly due to Rypdal's occasional Hendrix-inspired shredding. It has a kind of psychedelic vibe, but in that dark, Norwegian style in contrast to Bitches Brew's very American sound. This one should really be recognized for what is - a groundbreaking jazz classic.

YOSUKE YAMASHITA Yosuke Yamashita Trio ‎: Dancing 古事記

Live album · 1969 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
"Dancing 古事記" is respected Japanese piano player Yosuke Yamashita's debut album, coming from the time he was a student of musical college in Tokyo. A bassless trio, coming from behind the barricades during the student occupation of Waseda University in July 1969.

The years 1968 and 1969 were both a breaking point in Western world, with counterculture peak, explosion and start of decline as well (ie Woodstock, barricades in Paris' Sorbonne, etc, etc). The world will never be the same again, and what is probably much less known, these events catalyzed the reaction in Japan as well.

Three tracks, of which first 50-seconds long one is not a music but recorded on barricades agitator's speech (on Japanese). It introduces the atmosphere of the moment and two upcoming long free jazz pieces perfectly.

What in a Western world of the time is a rock revolution of late 60s, on Japanese ground has it's equivalent in avant-garde jazz, extremely radical music for the time.

Yamashita plays with his early days trio, containing drummer Takeo Moriyama and sax player Seiichi Nakamura. Their music here still doesn't reach the level of aggression known from Peter Brötzmann's "Machine Gun", but despite of some tuneful inclusions, it sounds as perfect soundtrack to the actions in a student campus that's for sure.

Later same year Yamashita will release with same trio his first studio album "Mina's Second Theme" which bring him first success, still as underground jazz artist for the beginning.

Quite aptly titled "Dancing 古事記", this album represents both the spirit of era and a music of the short-lived but very creative moment of Japanese jazz history.

P.S. There is still available short filmed video from this concert on youtube which is very recommended for those interested in catching the spirit of the moment

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS No Energy Crisis

Boxset / Compilation · 1974 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
ABC Records compilation, “No Energy Crisis” , features one of the most unattractive and banal album covers ever, yet houses some of the hottest avant-garde jazz from that era. In fact, this may very well be the best compilation of early avant-garde jazz ever as it contains an all-star roster that leaves very few of the big names out. It also helps that almost every track is an absolute smoker as the players enthusiastically dig into the ‘new sound’ of the early days of free jazz. Free jazz is the tie that binds much of these artists together, but there is plenty of variety on here too. John Klemmer plays loose and noisy jazz rock, Gato Barbieri performs wild and chaotic Brazilian grooves, while Marion Brown backs his saxophone explorations with an African percussion ensemble. Side two of this four record set features some imaginative ensemble arrangements by Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler. At least four tracks on “No Energy Crisis” did not appear on any previous recordings, which furthers its value to the jazz vinyl collector.

Like most compilations, “No Energy Crisis” never made it to CD, or even vinyl re-issue, but it still shows up at used record resources for fairly reasonable prices. If you want to hear eleven of the biggest names in early avant-garde jazz history playing at their best, its all right here.

YOSUKE YAMASHITA Yosuke Yamashita Trio ‎: Sunayama

Album · 1978 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
During early seventies, pianist Yosuke Yamashita trio were a front-line power of Japanese avant-garde jazz. Cecil Taylor-influenced high-energy percussive straight-in-your-face piano playing style in combination with Akira Sakata's free sax attacks and drummer's (Takeo Moriyama and later, Shota Koyama)rock-heavy artillery built complex,usually knotted aural constructions of surprisingly well-organized beauty. Their albums,released between 1970 and 1975 all are classics of Japanese avant-garde jazz.

On "Sunayama", Yamashita's work from second half of 70s, one can evidence quite unusual for him instrumentation. Credited to his regular trio, the album contains three pieces,recorded actually by septet/octet when Yamashita's trio is improved with brass section (and an electric guitarist on one track).

Being characteristic for his trio busy high energy free jazz under the skin, in many moments album's music sounds as avant-garde jazz big band with rich brass (and addition of soling electric guitar on "Usagi No Dance - Dedicated To Pepi"). It's interesting to mention, that intentionally or not the combo never sounds as one small orchestra - more like two groups of musicians, the trio and four-piece brass section improvising each their own way.

On paper it most probably sounds as a chaos, but surprisingly enough all album long Yamashita controls the situation well and final music has its own internal order. Not such explosive as on his earlier works, this album's attraction lays mostly in a rare possibility to hear the great master trying something different. Perfectly recorded (as many Japanese releases coming from seventies), "Sunayama" is an attractive release for Yamashita fans, still probably a bit risky try for newcomers.

Being for years an obscurity, in 2009 the album has been reissued in Japan on CD so there is a bigger chance to find it now.

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