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 | 60 min. caching

ORNETTE COLEMAN Science Fiction Album Cover Science Fiction
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4.86 | 10 ratings
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ALICE COLTRANE Ptah, the El Daoud Album Cover Ptah, the El Daoud
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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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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

SUN RA The Sub-Dwellers

Album · 2011 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
There was a time when Sun Ra recordings were rare and fans and collectors had to look far and wide in obscure places to locate them. Somewhere in the mid 80s, all this changed as certain small labels found there was a market for Ra’s strange music, and thus began an outpouring of all sorts of previously unreleased Sun Ra music, some of it of fairly dubious quality, which leads us to the 2011 archival release of “The Sub-Dwellers” on a vinyl LP. “The Sub-Dwellers” consists of recordings of Sun Ra reciting his poetry in a very low-fi setting. Hardcore Ra fans may find this interesting, but probably not too many others will.

Side one of “The Sub-Dwellers” was recorded in 1982, while side two was recorded in 1966. On side one Ra’s voice is backed by incidental music played by synthesizers and the whole orchestra. The sound is ultra low-fi as it sounds like the music is coming from a portable cassette player that Ra may be holding while he recites his words. On side two the accompaniment seems to come from two or three performers on African instruments. The sound on side two is even more low-fi than the previous side. The poetry itself is an acquired taste, sometimes very clever and profound, while other times it seems like Ra may be pulling our leg. Much of Ra’s content has similarities to ancient holy books like the Bible, Koran or I Ching, other times he seems to delight in word play, almost child-like in its repetitive petulance, like Dr Suess run through a LSD blender.

There is definitely an audience for this future obscurity. First of course are fans of Ra’s poetry and collectors who need everything Ra ever recorded. Also, there are those who seek particularly odd recordings and low-fi field recordings who will find this record to be a treasure. Finally, home recording artists looking for s spoken word snippet to go on their latest spaced out groove will find plenty of quotable quotes on “the Sub-Dwellers”.

AKIRA SAKATA Sakata Orchestra ‎: 4 O'Clock

Album · 1981 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Japanese reeds player Akira Sakata (born in Hiroshima in 1945) for last decade is on the top of most requested internationally country's jazz artist,playing and recording in States,Europe and Japan. He started his career in early 70s as highly respected Yosuke Yamashita Trio's member,but switched to solo career in early 80s. In mid-80s he played with short-lived but significant Peter Brotzmann's Last Exit (noisy supergroup with Sonny Sharrock,Ronald Shannon Jackson and Bill Laswell on board), and he met new Millenium playing with most radical experimenters around.

Still in early 80s Akira was more anchored to composed music, his short-lived but great Sakata Orchestra are a great example. "4 O'Clock" is the only band's studio album, released in 1981.

Massive reeds section (incl. future star Kazutoki Umezu),two drummers,two bassists,percussionist and two piano/keyboards players (plus uncredited operatic vocals on side B) build true orchestral feel on four pre-composed musical pieces. Differently from Sakata's current dominance of very free forms and often chaotic soloing, Sakata Orchestra were perfectly organised progressive big band with well-framed rhythm structures and arrangements. Main attraction were constantly changing soloists demonstrating truly free improvisational abilities.

Trying to use all most advanced trends of the time (incl. some cosmic electronic sounds and operatic vocals),Akira doesn't lose jazz orchestra's ground even for a second. It makes all music sound accessible,but very fresh and modern.

Well recorded (I missed more lows in mix though), this album sounds really attractive even today - great place to start one's journey researching rich legacy of living Japanese adventurous jazz legend.

RODRIGO AMADO Lisbon Improvisation Players : Motion

Album · 2004 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Sax player Rodrigo Amado was one of the key figure of new Portuguese adventurous jazz during first decade of new Millennium. On the wave of his homeland avant-garde jazz scene popularity explosion, Amado's lead projects won respectful reputation around Europe and partially in States. Still, differently from series of recordings under his own name, Rodrigo's earlier project Lisbon Improvisation Players stays in the shade,and it's a shame since Player's music is right on the level of any Amado's later band, and in moments even overtakes many of them.

For "Motion" Rodrigo forms Portuguese-American quartet where he plays tenor and baritone in a company with American soprano/tenor Steve Adams with support from Portuguese drummer Acacio Salero and American double bassist Ken Filliano.

All album's material is pure improvisation, but same way as with many other Amado's works it sounds well organized,full of tunes and generally quite accessible. Based on so-called "improvisational composition" techniques,Amado adds lot of tuneful snippets to his music and even if each of four quartet's members are soloist here nothing sounds too chaotic or extremely "out". Even more - the opener "Perpetual Explorers" is a n improvisational composition of rare beauty containing lot of lyrical tones,fragile grace and in all sounds quite close to modern academic composed music. "Motion" coming after has more muscles and is more free-jazz rooted stil having all that melodic charm.

If only all the album was like these two songs it could be crowned as modern creative jazz masterpiece. Still album's central part loses this highest level of sharpness a bit still staying an excellent example of truly reflective high-class musicians collaboration.

Lasting near an hour,this album's doesn't leave a feeling it's too long or too complex what is quite a common case with improvisational music. The main reason is Rodrigo's ability to make even quite quirky music to sound attractive and accessible (this ability with no doubt is a main reason of success of many his other albums as well).

More relaxed, more experimental and surprisingly enough often more beautiful music than one can find on other better known and more popular Rodrigo Amado albums, it can become a great surprise for Amado's later works fans and with no doubt is a "must have" release for everyone with interest to Portuguese creative jazz.

MAL WALDRON Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy : Live At Dreher Paris 1981, The Peak Vol. 2

Boxset / Compilation · 1996 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Second double-CD set, released right after the first one and containing live material,recorded during two last nights of soprano Steve Lacy and pianist Mal Waldron duo gigs at Paris' Dreher. First set is based more on first of three nights recordings and has been released under Steve Lacy name as leader (what is more a marketing trick since first set,released under Lacy's name, contains predominantly Waldron compositions, and second - predominantly Lacy's, in both cases completed with Monk standards)

Bigger part of presented music has been already released on earlier vinyl albums, but them all are real rarities so "The Peak" is with no doubt most accessible possibility to listen duo's legendary concert.

First set's CD contains four well-known Lacy's originals plus three Monk standards (incl. "Epistrophy" - the composition which made Lacy famous at early stage of his career). Second set opens with two Lacy compositions, switches to Waldron's "Hooray For Herby" and closes with three Monk standards.

The year is 1981, and Paris listeners are still enthusiastic listening to tuneful but quite quirky music. Both Lacy and Waldron are known by their love to clear melodies and minimalist touch in combination with deep bluesy roots. So no surprises here - Lacy's vibrato-less soprano sax dominates in most of the time quite often reminding his famous solo soprano concerts. Waldron piano can be heard mostly on the background (in big part because of untoward sound mix) with only better moments when Waldron soloing. Compositions are mostly well-known from other recordings, still here them sound inspired and perfectly played.

Generally often described as best duo release, this set is probably a bit overrated. Obvious Lacy domination (in sound mix and in music generally) too often makes "The Peak" just another Lacy's album, there are more interesting Lacy's solo soprano recordings and better releases as leader with band. Waldron is too often overshadowed here and sounds more as accompanist than a co-leader. Still great evidence coming from early 80s Paris jazz scene and one accessible way to listen two among most significant American expatriate jazz musicians who's career for decades has been related with Europe.

AKIRA SAKATA Arashi : Semikujira

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
70 years old veteran of Japanese avant-garde jazz reedist Akira Sakata leads furious acoustic trio with two young Scandinavians - Swedish bassist Johan Berthling and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The name of the trio is Arashi("Storm"), and their second album,released two years after their self-tittled debut,recorded in Swedish studio and released on Austrian label, is titled "Semikujira"("North Pacific Whale").

Paal Nilssen-Love is extremely prolific artist and producer pushing all Nordic adventurous noisy jazz ahead, bassist Berthling is known as Swedish super bands Angles and Fire!/Fire! Orchestra member, so one can expect really muscular and quirky rhythm section work here - they fulfill expectations in full. Still main star of the show is Akira himself,who not only plays alto sax and clarinet, but adds lot of vocalize (which hardly can be called "singing").

Differently from many other Akira's more abstract works, Arashi is power trio which plays well framed muscular free jazz in New York of 80s tradition, but on very Japanese manner. Over the tight rhythm basis Akira blows some attacking if quite soulful sax soloing, but much more impressive is his absolutely shamanic vocalizes in Japanese,repetitive,hypnotizing and very organic.

From songs titles it's obvious that Japanese folklore, or better to say - ritualistic songs were taken as source of inspiration, and the result is not less than fascinating. Without loosing trad songs structure and some melodious component,power trio reworks them right to free jazz shamanic compositions which surprisingly enough don't lose their relation with shamanic nature of originals.For sure Sakata's voice is not for everyone taste, but those familiar with Japanese brutal avant-rock or experimental radical free jazz (which was a main source of inspiration for John Zorn series of early releases),or fans of Diamanda Gallas' singing will accept Akira's vocal pyrotechnics without big problems.

Arashi's debut two years ago received lot of positive critics, their second work is even better.

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