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
ALICE COLTRANE
4.84 | 22 ratings
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ORNETTE COLEMAN Science Fiction Album Cover Science Fiction
ORNETTE COLEMAN
4.94 | 6 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Infinity Album Cover Infinity
JOHN COLTRANE
4.92 | 6 ratings
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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
ERIC DOLPHY
4.77 | 39 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 Everybodys Mouth's a Book (Make A Move) Album Cover Everybodys Mouth's a Book (Make A Move)
HENRY THREADGILL
4.92 | 5 ratings
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ARCHIE SHEPP The Magic of Ju-Ju Album Cover The Magic of Ju-Ju
ARCHIE SHEPP
4.96 | 4 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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ARCHIE SHEPP Fire Music Album Cover Fire Music
ARCHIE SHEPP
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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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
GRACHAN MONCUR III
4.88 | 5 ratings
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avant-garde jazz Music Reviews

TONY MALABY Tony Malaby's Tubacello : Scorpion Eater

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
"Scorpion Eater" could be a great title for fiction book or art-crime movie.Using it for avant-garde jazz quartet's album is intriguing but does it has any sense? Sax player Tony Malaby who led two unusual trios few years ago - one with tuba and drums and another with cello and drums - just decided to combine them in more compact quartet,leaving just one drummer on board. "Scorpion Eater" is his second album as leader coming from 2014,this time recorded with exotic sax-tuba-cello-drums quartet Tubacello (first was released with Malaby's more traditional Tamarindo trio).

Album's opener "Buried" just blows the listener out - unusual tuba/cello low frequencies rhythmic duo instead of more traditional bass works surprisingly well in short(just two-minute+)attack,perfect fresh alternative to what could be a power trio's song.But right after things turns to unexpected direction. "Trout Shot",second longest album's composition, is nothing but free form percussive construction of rhythms and sounds but thanks to exceptionally creative drummer John Hollenbeck it is full of tension and changes.In a second half it explodes with almost tribal rhythms and silently-screaming sax,in whole it fits to be used as alternative scene horror movie's soundtrack. Two minutes long "Fur" coming after is a distant desert song,fragile and sounding from far away,with touch of Eastern motif in sax line.

"March" leads us to album's central composition,fifteen-minutes long "Bearded Braid". This meditative ambient piece slows things down telling Eastern fairy-tale which finishes with very short "Scorpion Eater" - full of tension and drama with no unambiguous final.

Far not very often jazz album's title means something or has relation with music it contains. "Scorpion Eater" is a rare exception,even more unique since music it contains is quite abstract and free.Great example how cinematic modern creative music can be.For those experienced in using their imagination Malaby's "Scorpion Eater" is as great as the book or movie of such title could be.

MASAHIKO TOGASHI Bura Bura

Live album · 1986 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
If you're new in Japanese avant-garde jazz, one of the very first names you will hear is Masahiko Togashi.Drummer from his teens,in 60s he played in internationally most known Japanese jazz man of the time Sadao Watanabe's band.In late 60s together with pianist Masahiko Satoh he became one of icon of Japanese just-born free jazz. In 1969 he lost use of his legs as a result of accident,but stayed playing music using his own percussion techniques.Paradoxically, right from same 1969 he started releasing albums as a leader and has been prolific artist up to the end of the century.

Speaking about his musical legacy,his best works are still his collaborative albums,not solo releases,especially those coming from late 60s - early 70s. After burgeoning early 70s avant-garde jazz scene it was declined very fast in a few years after and never returned back even a part of such popularity again.It's common for almost every Japanese avant garde jazz artist of first generation that in mid 70s after some years of glory they stayed out of place and often out of job. Many changed the direction to moment-fashionable fusion,some switched to most respectable jazz form in Japan - hard bop.Many of them tried to return to more adventurous music later but rare succeeded - as rule having no mainstream jazz roots,first generation's free jazzers just got stuck in their youth music without finding any development possibilities.

Togashi,having hands-only drumming/percussion abilities, from very early step developed his own percussive sound combining African tom-tom and meditative Japanese techniques,just using them both in a free manner.It sounded quite unusual and progressive in early 70s but didn't change much after decades. Few his solo (percussion only) albums were quite successful demonstrating early world music-influenced (or pre-new age) aesthetics,but generally quality of almost any Togashi's album heavily depends on collaborators participated. Being kind of celebrity in Japanese jazz,Togashi always has ability to form strong bands, "Bura Bura" recorded concert isn't exception.

On paper,"Bura Bura" team looks like all-stars quartet where Togashi is supported by Steve Lacy on Soprano, trumpeter Don Cherry and bassist Dave Holland.In real life things are a bit different. If Steve Lace (who was most probably more popular in Japan than anywhere else for decades)was regular Togashi's musical partner playing with bhim during his every of twelve Japanese tours,for Cherry and Holland such collaboration is a new thing.As a result all concert sounds more like jam than improvisational collaboration.Of all ten songs,recorded during concert in Tokyo,only four were used on original "Bura Bura" album - two Togashi's originals and two Lacy's. It's quite understandable since at least Togashi and Lacy were both familiar with that material.

Togashi's originals both are tuneful and very percussive, but hardly memorable. Cherry plays beautiful trumpet solos on "Contrast",but it hardly saves all song - feeling of raw jam session stays all album long. Two Lacy's originals are both well known and easy recognizable, "Wickets" and especially "Flakes" were played and recorded by Lacy himself much more often than once or twice."Wickets" even contains insert from John Lee Hooker's blues with Don Cherry vocals! These songs save album, it's obvious how Lacy compositional abilities change music quality for good(even if common musicianship still sound quite raw).

It's interesting that French release of "Bura Bura" contains quite different selection from the same concert's material - adding Don Cherry original "Mopti" and changing Togashi's "Contrast" to his other song,"Spiritual Nature",coming from his one of the most commercially successful album of the same title,recorded in 1975 (with Sadao Watanabe on board,among others). Most probably such choice is an adaptation for European market.

At last,in 2002 all 10 songs were released in Japan as double CD.Probably good choice for collector,this version has its pros and cons. It contain some better songs than were chosen for original LP,but at the same time it contains around 100 minutes of music,10 loose compositions of which only two are shorter than 11 minutes and far not all music is so interesting.It's not the album you will listen too often for sure.

In all, near average Togashi's album where sound names don't generate expected quality, but still nice listening.

TERUMASA HINO Group Everything Everything Everything: Hino's Journey to Air

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Trumpeter Terumasa Hino, the first candidate for best Japanese jazz trumpeter ever,is known quite well outside of his home country,mostly by his Miles Davis-influenced fusion albums. It's less known that during early 70s he was involved in free jazz movement, and almost unknown that during his first ever visit to New York in 1970 he recorded one-shot project's "Group Everything Everything Everything" album (released exclusively in Japan though).

I have no idea if Terumasa has been influenced by Alan Silva "Luna Surface" radical album, recorded and released some month prior to "Group Everything..." session, if not than probably very similar idea just flew somewhere around in that creative and electrified air of late 60s-early 70s. Silva in Paris formed 11-piece band (participating as violinist/conductor) and let musicians to play whatever they want,all at once. Resulted two-sides long track "From Luna Surface" presented kind of organized chaos,collective unframed and uncontrolled improvisation,reflecting creative freedom of the time and having it's own (non-conventional) beauty.

Terumasa Hino formed in New York 12-piece Japanese-British-American band (with Dave Holland on bass,sax players Dave Liebman and Steve Grossman among others)and recorded two-sides long free-improvised composition "Journey To Air" - electro-acoustic tsunami with lot of personal soloing. If Silva's work was more about unlimited freedom, Terumasa's music is better organized,contains more tunes and virtuosic solos and aesthetically is closer to contemporary classic avant-garde than Silva's destructive anarchistic no-wave.

The future of both above mentioned albums are polar different - French BYG-released "Luna Surface" became a cult album (what as rule means everyone heard about it but almost no-one heard the music itself),Japanese-only album "Hino's Journey To Air" became a collectable rarity(in late 70s it was re-released as Terumasa Hino's solo album of the same title)."Luna Surface" was first, "Journey To Air" sounds better - those who like the former most probably will really enjoy the later.

P.S. It's interesting that part of the project musicians (without Terumasa Hino) three months later recorded another similar album (this time as "Everything Is Everything" band,another excellent line-up including guitarist John Abercrombie,bassist Reggie Workman,trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Lenny White besides of Liebman/Grossman duo from initial project). Japanese only release as well.

TONY MALABY Tony Malaby Tamarindo: Somos Agua

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
It took quite a lot of time for me to find out my key to sax player Tony Malaby music, and that key was his Tamarindo project - a supertrio with bassist William Parker and drummer Nasheet Waits. Parker needs no introduction,he's a cult bassist leading his own projects for decades,one of my bass-hero of all times. Nasheet Waits is a New-Yorker who played in pianist Jason Moran's Bandwagon (fantastic band even if a bit too straight for my taste) where I saw him playing live a decade or so ago.

"Somos Aqua" is third Tamarindo album, all released on Portuguese Clean Feed. Power trio plays groovy dense progressive jazz with lots of experimental steps and tricks but never lost the track. Working as one unity,all three musicians demonstrate excellent balance between tunes and space,free and organized. Music is complex,running as river flows,changing every minute but very permanent in its continuity.

Malaby's sax sounds ascetic,often warm and lyrical, sometimes harsh. His power is not in loudness or emotive attacks,but in philosophical talking-like acuity,constant dialogue with bassist and drummer(can't call them rhythm section here - both Parker and Waits are equal soloists and creators on this album).

More concentrated and crystallized than on Malaby's works with bigger bands,Tamarindo's music is the place where his talent shows at its best. One among better advanced jazz albums coming from 2014.

ARCHIE SHEPP Archie Shepp Meets Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio ‎: Conversations

Album · 1999 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Percussionist Kahil El'Zabar born in Chicago and studied music in University of Ghana.He was chairman of the AACM up to 1975 leading his early band Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.

From eighties Kahil runs his another project - Ritual(or Ritual Trio). More concept than stable line-up team, in different time in contained many known Chicagoan musicians,including Lester Bowie,Malachi Favors,Billy Bang and Pharoah Sanders among others.Ritual Trio released all series of albums starting from mid 80's, as rule on almost every album they have new guest musician presented.

Here on "Conversations" Ritual Trio are El'Zabar plus Art Ensemble Of Chicago's bassist Malachi Favors and sax player/pianist Ari Brown. The guest is tenor Archie Shepp (who occasionally plays piano here as well). Being one in a series of many for the Trio, this album is really significant recording for Shepp. Being a free jazz icon from mid 60s to early 70s,he never left the scene, but from late seventies for two decades his music was a sporadic collection of hard bop tunes released on tiny labels. It let Shepp to survive as active musician but not much left from his younger angry avantgardist image.

"Conversations" with Ritual Trio is Shepp's first album on major American label for more than two decades and ,what is more important,is first try to return back playing more adventurous music.Formally this recording is a tribute to bassist Fred Hopklns and AACM member who died in January of 1999.Recorded in Chicago's Riverside studio, this album contains all AACM was and is well known by: African ritual meditative rhythms,tuneful free improvisations,colorful arrangements and most important - that unique free jazz spirit. Being a tribute to passed away friend, music here is melancholic,even sad in moments,lyrical,but never sentimental or dark. In a tradition of Art Ensemble of Chicago quartet plays hymn to life first of all, with respect and commemoration to those who passed away. Percussionist-led band surprisingly didn't record very percussive or rhythmic music though - here is place for everyone,from lot of piano soloing(even if no musician on this album plays piano as first instrument)to liquid sax with some dissonance (as in Shepp's early years). There are even gospel-like vocals on "Brother Malcolm"(title,returning listener back to Shepp's late 60s again).

Music on "Conversations" doesn't open any new horizons - it just recalls and refreshes sound and atmosphere of free jazz great years and it's great to confirm it doesn't sound any retro-like or nostalgic.Released on the edge of the centuries,this album came a little too early to become noticed since wider wave of interest to free jazz (old and new)will come some years later. But for Shepp it became quite symbolic release anyway - starting from here he step by step will return to more adventurous jazz leaving decades of straight playing for being able to pay his bills in the past.

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