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

Showing only albums and live's | Based on members ratings & JMA custom algorithm | 24 hours caching

ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
ERIC DOLPHY
4.60 | 57 ratings
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PHAROAH SANDERS Karma Album Cover Karma
PHAROAH SANDERS
4.62 | 37 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
HENRY THREADGILL
4.74 | 8 ratings
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GARD NILSSEN Gard  Nilssen's Acoustic Unity : Firehouse Album Cover Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity : Firehouse
GARD NILSSEN
5.00 | 3 ratings
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GRAHAM COLLIER Darius Album Cover Darius
GRAHAM COLLIER
4.88 | 4 ratings
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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
GRACHAN MONCUR III
4.71 | 8 ratings
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PHAROAH SANDERS Elevation Album Cover Elevation
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4.66 | 10 ratings
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PHAROAH SANDERS Live at the East Album Cover Live at the East
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4.85 | 4 ratings
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WAYNE SHORTER The All Seeing Eye Album Cover The All Seeing Eye
WAYNE SHORTER
4.60 | 15 ratings
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CECIL TAYLOR Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz) Album Cover Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz)
CECIL TAYLOR
4.75 | 5 ratings
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ERIC DOLPHY Last Date Album Cover Last Date
ERIC DOLPHY
4.75 | 4 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Last Performance at Newport July 2 1966 Album Cover Last Performance at Newport July 2 1966
JOHN COLTRANE
4.75 | 4 ratings
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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

OLIVER LAKE Life Dance Of Is

Album · 1978 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
Oliver Lake was an early participant in the St Louis avant-garde scene, and later a major figure in the NYC loft scene of the early 70s. By the time the late 70s rolled around, he like so many others in the free jazz movement, were starting to diversify their sound as free jazz was becoming a bit predictable. This leads us to the album, “Life Dance of Is”, a mostly avant-garde collection with a good dose of free jazz, but also some other interesting eclecticisms. It’s a very talented band that Oliver assembled here, many of these musicians he had worked with before and would continue to perform with in the future. We have Michael Gregory Jackson on guitar, Anthony Davis on piano, Pheeroan ak Laff on drums and some tracks include Leonard Jones on bass.

The album opens with the sparse sounds of “Rite-Ing” in which various band members play composed snatches of melody in between long moments of silence. Follow up track “Comous” is a little more in the free jazz tradition, but implied beats give this one a funhouse rowdy nature, like a hard bop jam gone insane. Side one closes out with “Shu-Ful” another fun one that has the band playing to a punky two beat shuffle and laying down wacky solos. Oliver seems to be channeling Eric Dolphy on this one.

Side two opens with “Tfon” and an impossibly difficult ensemble bebop line before the group lays into some free improv. Towards the end, Anthony Davis plays what sounds like a closing phrase but then keeps repeating it as the others join in hammering this phrase to death. “Change One” is a one chord reggae vamp with some weird vocals from Lake and bluesy country harmonica from Jackson. The album closes with a spoken word collage that would sound right at home in a modern concert hall setting. Interesting album, sometimes dry and intellectual, and at other times boisterous and funny. This may not have ever been re-issued on CD or in any other format, so look for it where used vinyl is sold.

WILLIAM PARKER Double Sunrise Over Neptune

Live album · 2008 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
The deep groovy bass line which opens "Double Sunrise Over Neptune", surprisingly doesn't belong to William Parker - who is one among a few still active jazz bassists that is a living legend who made his name in the 90s playing accessible but very creative avant-garde jazz. Here on "Double Sunrise...", Parker conducts a multinational (East-West) orchestra and plays different reeds and the African stringed instrument doussn'gouni.

His 15-piece band contains some of the best musicians from both worlds, including drummers Gerald Cleaver and Hamid Drake, guitarist Joe Morris (who plays banjo as well), sax players Sabir Mateen, Rob Brown and Dave Sewelson, viola player Jessica Pavone plus a Chinese American violinist Jason Kao Hwang, Morrocan Brahim Frigbane and classic Indian Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay among others.

The album contains just four songs, three - long (between 15 and 27 minutes) and one- very short (little longer then half-a-minute). Musically one can hear usual Parker's tuneful groovy compositions framed and pushed ahead by repetitive rhythmic constructions. Still, characteristic William's storytelling-like form is significantly modified by a lot of Indian classical vocals and oud soling.

Predominantly mid-tempo very rhythmic music has enough freedom and space for each artist and group of instruments soloing on the front, interchanging with each other. Elements of different traditions fit together surprisingly organically, musical pictures seamlessly change one with the other, and longer-then-hour album didn't seem long at all.

Everyone familiar with Parker's music will recognize his music quite easily, but the addition of Eastern instruments and vocals brings a lot of new colorful nuances to it. One among best master's work for sure.

P.S. Joe Morris guitar solo on final album's composition, "Neptune's Mirror ", is really impressive.

JIMMY GIUFFRE Music for People, Birds, Butterflies and Mosquitos (aka Night Dance)

Album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Reeds player Jimmy Giuffre started his musical career as a respectable West Coast cool jazz artist, but in the late 50s switched to his own chamber avant-garde jazz. Not explosive, harsh or noisy, as the dominating free jazz of the time, Giuffre built solid ground for a more intelligent and well-balanced stream, which influenced hundreds of jazz musicians for the upcoming decades and partially re-vitalized the more adventurous wing of the so-called ECM sound of 70s and 80s.

After a series of genre-defining albums, Giuffre stopped recording as a leader in early 60s, occasionally playing in rare collaborations. His "Music For People, Birds, Butterflies & Mosquitoes", originally released in 1973 after a decade of silence, wasn't noticed at the time of release, and stayed underrated for decades. This is not particularly unusual, mid-70s was a very different time for jazz.

Remastered reissue released by Candid 50 years after the original release gives the rare opportunity to perceive it now, from the distance of time. Minimalist acoustic trio with both lesser known Japanese bassist Kiyoshi Tokunaga (who played with Giuffre on few more upcoming albums) and American percussionist Randy Kaye plays bare-naked groovy compositions, heavily rooted in bluesy hard bop. Giuffre himself plays tenor sax, flute and clarinet, twelve short compositions all contain snippets of tunes, but are quite free at the same time. More than once the album's music brings an association with Eric Dolphy's "Out To Lunch", just Giuffre's drum-less trio sounds more abstract and chamber comparing with Dolphy's free-bop.

Reissued album's sound is excellent, with rich acoustic bass, well-separated percussion and spacey, but deep reeds. At best, Giuffre builds a bit melancholic but cool atmosphere with his ascetic but tuneful pieces. Still, from some point the album's music can sound a bit repetitive and directionless too.

All in all, "Music For People, Birds, Butterflies & Mosquitoes" is one among the better Giuffre post 60s albums, and an interesting addition for an underrated jazz giant legacy.

NOAH HOWARD The Black Ark

Album · 1972 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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Rexorcist
Noah Howard is someone very few people actually know beyond maybe one album. Usually that album is The Black Ark, which some rank among the finest free jazz albums in the world. I'm a bit shaky on free jazz as it's proved more challenging to find releases that flat-out amaze me, and that much of it is based on general dicking around rather than forming a consistent whole with a strong vibe. Jazz is one of the pinnacle "vibe" musical genres, so if it doesn't have strong vibes.

The way I see Noah Howard's albums, including The Black Ark, is that if this is his absolute best as people and online ratings say, there's at least one certain thing here. Noah Howard has shown himself to be able to progress experimental jazz into shifting territories pretty well. I can appreciate how his songs are shifting into a new kind of rhythm ever couple minutes or so, maybe even every minute, whether slowly or quickly, and these pieces feel like they belong on the same song. Sometimes this is intriguing, but other times the album feels simple and generic. If you transitioned the post-bop of Art Blakey's albums, I think you'd get a similar composition but with more oomph.

This is especially true for the second half, in which the vast majority of tricks have either been done before, or are drawn out longer than their welcome. So this is a blatant sign of an obviously dominant side A. The album's pretty fine, but after having heard much of this not only from other free jazz albums but other jazz albums across the spectrum, I don't really feel the need to go back to this.

RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK Prepare Thyself to Deal With a Miracle

Album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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Rexorcist
Roland switches between more avant-garde pieces and more spiritual pieces. We get an incredible calm on Seasons right after an uneccesarily repetitive and somewhat lacking opener which feels experimental for the sake of it. This ars gratia artis behavior largely succeeds when atmosphere comes into place. But even though Seasons is an improvement over the opener, while the calm is beautiful, sometimes it can be a little too much, as if there's really not much diversification between each part of a song. So in the end our experience is mostly ups and downs. Celestial Bliss is a different track, using a little bit of funk to create a tribal and rustic feel, like listening to some friends play jazz around a campfire. It had its charm throughout the whole track.

The second half is made up of one 20-minute track: Saxophone Concerto, which is also divided into three connected sections. The first of these is Saxophone Miracle, which is hardly miraculous and more standard for avant-garde compositions. It's a nice beat but that's about it. In fact, it feels more like post-bop by complete accident. This is fixed after about six-and-a-half minutes when the music becomes more hypnotic and nocturnal on the second third, One Breath Beyond. Unfortunately, this section eventually just focuses on repitition for mood, and gets overdone. The third act, Dance of Revolution, brings out the free jazz and keeps things both serene and complex, bringing the epic to a good close.

Overall, the whole album was fairly well put together but still left me wanting. The first half gradually got better, but the second half wasn't as well-written as it could've been.

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