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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ORNETTE COLEMAN Science Fiction Album Cover Science Fiction
ORNETTE COLEMAN
4.88 | 9 ratings
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ARCHIE SHEPP The Magic of Ju-Ju Album Cover The Magic of Ju-Ju
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4.94 | 5 ratings
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ARCHIE SHEPP Four for Trane Album Cover Four for Trane
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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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ALICE COLTRANE Ptah, the El Daoud Album Cover Ptah, the El Daoud
ALICE COLTRANE
4.79 | 24 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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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
ERIC DOLPHY
4.76 | 43 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Infinity Album Cover Infinity
JOHN COLTRANE
4.86 | 6 ratings
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ARCHIE SHEPP Live in San Francisco Album Cover Live in San Francisco
ARCHIE SHEPP
4.91 | 4 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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ARCHIE SHEPP Fire Music Album Cover Fire Music
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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

CHES SMITH Ches Smith with Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri: The Bell

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
From the first dozen of albums released in 2016,there is one stand alone release. US drummer Ches Smith,better known as Xiu Xiu and Mr.Bungle member (or John Zorn collaborator, depending on one's background), in the very first days of 2016 released his debut on German ECM label. It is not his first album as leader, he already has released series of solo drums albums in US and few more - with collaborators in Europe (on Portuguese Clean Feed and Polish For Tune labels), but his appearance on ECM is still quite surprising.

Respected chamber jazz (and sterile European ambient/world fusion in a past) label doesn't look like proper home for ex-Mr.Bungle guy. Still things are changing though.

On "The Bell" Smith leads acoustic trio with pianist Craig Taborn and violist Mat Maneri, both are far not a newbies for the label. Besides of playing drums,vibraphone and bells Ches Smith are composer of all album's material (part of it is obviously improvised, but generally the line between composed and improvised is extremely thin on this album).

So, surprisingly for Ches Smith but expect-ably for ECM release,music on "The Bell" is kind of chamber jazz,spiced with improvisational elements, but strongly influenced by modern classical composition. Both pianist and violist feel very comfortable with slow,often dark and calm atmosphere and, more surprisingly, Smith himself finds right place in this quite unusual for him environment.

First half (bigger) of "The Bell" represents similar by its tempo and atmosphere dark chamber jazz, the last third (starting from Wacken Open Air) is faster,sharper and moves towards contemporary jazz avant-garde.

A bit risky release,since its target is hardly Mr.Bungle fans nor ECM chamber safer chamber jazz lovers, it opens new interesting page in Ches Smith musical biography. "The Bell" contains interesting music,but it is even more curios what can come next from same or similar concept Ches Smith' projects.

THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO Fundamental Destiny

Live album · 2007 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Art Ensemble of Chicago were probably more cultural than purely musical act. Their jazz-circus was a part of revolution - both in jazz and on Paris streets in late 60s where they resided for few years. Having equal number of hot fans and haters,band's music always was free and catchy at the same time,traditional (pre-bop) jazz rooted and often placing entertaining/relaxation element above virtuosity.

Ensemble's phenomena till now is there are much more people knowing about them than those who really listened to their music.One of the reasons is there are only few really strong albums among their legacy. As rule, regular Art Ensemble Of Chicago's album is a bulky collection of few catchy tunes, marching dixieland,lot of directionless improvs ("different noises" are probably better tag), their trade mark "small instruments" sounds plus gospel singing,funny at their best moments and almost kind of self-parody at their worst.

"Fundamental Destiny" is one of the last band's released albums,recorded live in Germany still in 1991 though.Self-released by band in 2007 only it contains their usual relaxed eclectic mix. Main album's attraction is it represents one of unique for the band moments when they have piano player on board. And her it is not just a piano player, but renown Don Pullen, who adds some new colors to generally quite expect-able band's sound.

Just four long compositions with their signature "People In Sorrow" coming from their debut album,released in 1969. Same whistles and "small instruments" noises, which don't sound as avant-garde (as it was in late 60s) or as cheap traveling circus (as it sounded in 80s or 90s) anymore. Their attributes after more than half of the century looks like a part of historical event titled "Art Ensemble Of Chicago". Fans will like it, haters will find here another reason for their jokes, in all cases this is already history, nothing else.

On positive side,"Fundamental Destiny" is quite essential as for band's standards, album demonstrating band in a good form. Band followers will like it, but most probably this release wouldn't recruit them new fans.

CHRISTOPH IRNIGER Octopus

Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Swiss tenor Christoph Irniger plays unconventional avant-garde jazz. Leading the trio with compatriot double bassist Raffaele Bossard and American drummer Ziv Ravitz, Christoph plays dry short tuneful snippets constructing well controlled almost minimalist compositions.

Differently from dominating noisy and very free sax players on today's avant-garde jazz scene, Irniger's music develops Jimmy Giuffre (and Lennie Tristano)tradition coming from mid 50s.It is rooted in cool jazz / chamber music giving to it lot of freedom. Irniger doesn't use continued saxophone soloing techniques, he blows short clear tunes with support of free but extremely precisely tuned rhythm section. "Octopus" music is easy accessible and often sounds as freer cool jazz from the very first look.

The only disadvantage here is all compositions are similar mid-tempo songs with bassist and drummer working as Swiss watch - no changes happen till the very end. On the album's second half it can initiate some sameness feel but generally "Octopus" is great album, containing different look on advanced jazz.

MATTHEW SHIPP Matthew Shipp Trio: The Conduct of Jazz

Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
Possibly one of the most prolific producers of new CDs in the world of jazz, Matthew Shipp seems to be coming up with almost three or more albums every year. With such an abundant flow of output, one is tempted to question the quality of Shipp’s work, but if “The Conduct of Jazz” is any indicator, Matthew continues to hold high standards for each and every new CD he puts out. “The Conduct of Jazz”, like much of Shipp’s music, falls roughly into an area we can call ‘avant-garde jazz’, but this music really does not sound much like any one else who might fall under the same genre umbrella. Instead, Shipp and his trio continue to make music that exists in a world all its own.

There is so much variety on here, each track opens a door to a unique musical universe. After the opening procession of “Insensitive Touch”, the CD’s title track follows with some obvious references to Monk’s music, but mixed up with Shipp’s trio’s ability to play in different, but related tempos at the same time. The following two cuts are almost more like concert hall pieces, but not in any formal way, but more in the fact that we are far from be-bop here, or anything that most people would call ‘avant-garde jazz’ for that matter. Both of these tracks display constructions that suggest structure mixed with improv.

On track five, “Stream of Light”, Shipp plays something that you could almost call jazz-rock, his piano pounding on this one might have something in common with some recent work by Robert Glasper. Track six is a real treat as Shipp plays piano alone and produces a lush, almost romantic ballad that sounds like Art Tatum run through a blender. Album closer, “The Bridge Across”, is familiar territory for most fans of ‘free jazz’, if there is such a thing as “traditional” avant-garde jazz, this would be it.

“The Conduct of Jazz” is yet one more outstanding album for Matthew Shipp this year, and is highly recommended for his fans, or the curious wanting to check out his music for the first time. Its also recommended for those who want to hear modern innovative music that sounds like no one else.

ITARU OKI Iroha-Uta: Volume 1

Album · 2006 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Japanese trumpet player Itaru Oki represents one of the very first country's jazz musicians generation. During late 50s-early 60s he played in local big bands and with bop artists, in late 60s he switched to just born Japanese free jazz. Since that he played with many leading jazz musicians with big variety of genres. From mid 70s he resided in Paris for decade,traveling Europe and Japan and organizing Japanese jazz artists concerts in Europe. He is still active till now (I saw him playing live with Japanese band Hikashu just few months ago in my hometown).

Itaru Oki Unit is musician's first all-Japanese band for few decades,formed in 2000. Band's debut, "Vol.1" has been recorded in Japan and contains collaboration with two well known jazz artists of mid-generation - pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura (among others). Itaru himself besides of his regular trumpet plays fluegelhorn and bamboo flute here.

Album's music represents modern Japanese avant-garde jazz, eclectic and saturated with ethnic elements,quirky,free form but containing lot of melodic snippets.

Six-piece band often sounds as real small orchestra with lot of brass,muscular rhythm section and very high energy music in general. All material is a band members originals,dominating sound is two trumpets soloing against each other with heavy support from rhythm section (bassist Hiroshi Funato is known by his work in Japanese jazz-rock bands Sights, Bidziliba, O.A.D. and Wilkinson Brothers). In contrast,there are pieces with flute and free piano soloing, characteristic Japanese theatrical vocalize,etc. Unfortunately, sound mix quality is only average and far from legendary Three Blind Mice or just average Japanese jazz recordings from early 70s standard.

Since big part of Itaru Oki Unit (including himself) spend big part of their time and are heavily influenced by European and US jazz,it's difficult to speak about "Vol.1" as about a characteristic example of Japanese jazz coming from the edge of the centuries. At the same time,that cosmopolitanism,eclectic mix of different traditions,aesthetics and techniques besides of necessarily presented folklore elements represents modern Japanese jazz in a best way. In all cases, musically rich and multilayered music,requiring repetitive listening and truly entertaining.

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