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)
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4.92 | 5 ratings
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ARCHIE SHEPP The Magic of Ju-Ju Album Cover The Magic of Ju-Ju
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CECIL TAYLOR The Cecil Taylor Unit Album Cover The Cecil Taylor Unit
CECIL TAYLOR
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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

AKIRA SAKATA Akira Sakata & Giovanni Di Domenico: Iruman

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Japanese sax player Akira Sakata born near Hiroshima in 1945.After university studies in marine biology, he switched towards jazz artist's career becoming a part of Japanese explosive free-jazz scene in late 60s.Akira still evidenced best time of this genre in Japan,but in fact since free jazz popularity declined drastically during seventies, he was late just a moment to become a star.From 1972 to 1979 he was a member of well-known Yosuke Yamashita Trio,in 80s he played with Last Exit; Bill Laswell became his albums producer (incl. "Fisherman's.com" with former Miles Davis guitarist Pete Cosey). Still last decades of XX century weren't all that productive and successful for Sakata.

During first decade Sakata became much more popular again, partially on wave of reborn interest to free improvisation in Europe. Here on "Iruman"(Japanese word of Portuguese origin,which came to Japan with Jesuits in 16 century and in original (“irmão”) meaning “brother”) Akira plays duo with twice younger Italian pianist Giovanni Di Domenico,his first duo with pianist ever. Giovanni Di Domenico grew up in Cameroon and plays free improvisations(more often) and classic compositions, sometimes African music-influenced.

Recorded in Tokyo,this album contains mostly free-improvised music,but of quite unusual kind.Sakata,who in his younger years has been known by quite explosive screaming sax attacks,is much subtle here. His playing is often meditative, philosophical and combines Japanese and European classic tradition (in moments he sounds similar to Jimmy Guiffre).Akira sings on few songs (instead of playing sax) as well, surprisingly his Japanese tradition-influenced vocalize fits well and adds lot of additional charm to whole music. Di Domenico plays very free form piano miniatures,but well-structured,tuneful and lyrical - listen to separate fragments often reminds European chamber piano recital,in moments warn,sometimes almost polished.

Probably looking as chaotic bag of unrelated components on paper,all these elements mixed both together work surprisingly well. Album sounds quite easy-listenable,non-boring and attractive. Not all music is of the same level, there are some moments where happens almost nothing,but in whole "Iruman" is the album, interesting not only for fan of Akira Sakata or free improvisations.

MATTHEW SHIPP To Duke

Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
It seems the inevitable Duke Ellington tribute album has become a rite of passage for major jazz performers, so it comes as no big surprise that one of today’s top musicians, Matthew Shipp, has taken on the formidable task of re-interpreting the works of the master on Shipp’s new CD, “To Duke”. Shipp is a fairly diverse and unpredictable artist, so there was no telling which way he was going to take Duke’s music. Would he go totally avant-garde on the pieces, or would he stay somewhat within Duke’s musical language? The answer to both questions is yes as Shipp treats some of the songs to free wheeling de-construction and radical re-make, while others sound fairly close to the original. It’s this varied approach that makes “To Duke” a total success as both a tribute to Duke, as well as an expansion of his music.

The first thing that might hit you about this CD is the song choices. Common knowledge would expect Shipp to pick out interesting obscurities and some of Duke’s more harmonically complex pieces, but instead, Shipp picked the most common and over played songs in the Duke songbook. “Satin Doll”, “Take the A Train”, “Mood Indigo” etc, it reads like one more budget label “The Best of the Duke’s Greatest Hits” type albums. Is this Matthew’s sense of humor at work? Maybe, but possibly they just happen to be his favorites songs to play, or possibly those song’s familiarity made them a bigger challenge to re-interpret. If that is the case, then Shipp and his band-mates meet the challenge with unpredictable approaches and unbridled creativity.

The most radical re-makes take place on “Satin Doll” and “A Train”, as the band takes some of the basic riffs to launch furious assaults that can be very intense at times, and funny as hell other times. Shipp is one of the few performers in today’s jazz world who realizes that much of the great jazz in the past always had a sly wit. Elsewhere on this CD, “Mood Indigo” and “Prelude to a Kiss” stay close to the originals as Shipp expands on their lush harmonies. There are also a couple Shipp originals, with “Sparks” being an excellent high energy avant-bop number.

The person who might have appreciated these pieces the most is, of course, no longer with us. Duke did not care to have his music become museum pieces. His band rarely played songs the same way twice, and re-recordings of songs always featured new arrangements. He also did not like any attempt to write down a definitive arrangement of any of his pieces. Duke preferred that his music continue to grow and change, much like it does on "To Duke".

JOHN TCHICAI Rufus (with Archie Shepp)

Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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There are two great but almost forgotten albums, recorded at early days of free jazz by two great collectives. To be correct,both them were recorded at the same day and in the same studio, even more - them both were released only three years after they were recorded, by same label,just one right after another.

The New York Contemporary Five have been founded by trumpeter Don Cherry after he left Ornette Coleman and sax player Archie Shepp after his departure from Cecil Taylor band. Third reedist Denmark-born John Tchicai was less known but already played with some progressive New York artists. With support of groovy boppish rhythm section (Don Moore and J. C. Moses) the quintet was a all-star collective of sort.

In August 1963 quintet came to studio to record music, heavily influenced by "the New Thing". Besides of original band's session, some additional material has been recorded in studio same day - by the same band but without Don Cherry. Somehow all music recorded stayed unreleased till 1966,when it was released by Dutch Fontana as two separate albums. Full band recordings came as New York Contemporary Five's "Consequences” and music,recorded without Don Cherry came as John Tchicai - Archie Shepp's "Rufus".

If on "Consequences” trumpeter Don Cherry (still all in free jazz and not on his new upcoming interest - world fusion)is obvious leader, Cherry-less quartet represents balance of two quite different sax players - linear European classic influenced Tchicai on alto and African-American jazz tradition rooted Shepp on tenor. Well-framed by rhythm section,them both surprisingly founds way of collaboration successfully enough. Five compositions are all full of energy, tunes and rhythms and are closer to Dolphy's free-bop than to some free-form improvs which will dominate on free scenes some years after.

Not on the level of best advanced jazz releases of the time,this album contains really interesting early free jazz boppish and well structured form which almost disappears with no traces just few years later.Re-released many times (including CD versions)in Europe and Japan,it looks this album has been never issued in States. It's a shame - it not only contains quite original early free jazz but evidences beginning of successful career of two great jazz sax players - John Tchicai and Archie Shepp.

ADAM LANE Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra ‎: Live In Ljubljana

Live album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
American bassist Adam Lane is one among well-known musicians pushing advanced modern jazz ahead. If his small bands music is more a question of taste, his bigger combo Full Throttle Orchestra (actually small big band)is probably his most successful format.

On newest album,titled simply "Live In Ljubljana" Adam & Co demonstrate their best music ever. Recordings are made in 2012 at annual jazz festival in Slovenian capitol, one of oldest such eve in region,existing already more than half of century. Ljubljana itself is fantastic small town,real pearl placed between Alps slopes and Adriatic coastal area. Ljubljana's jazz festival got second breath around a decade ago when switched its program towards more modern advanced jazz. In fact, together with similar (but much younger) annual jazz festival in Portugal them two cover by best modern jazz all Southern Europe every summer. No strange leading European advanced jazz label Clean Feed releases lot of concerts from both festivals on their CDs every year.

On this concert Adam leads eight-piece band consisting of rhythm section and large team of brass musicians: two trumpeters (American Nate Wooley and rising Portugal star Susana Santos Silva),sax players Avram Fefer,Matt Bauder and David Bindman plus Reut Regev on trombone. Excellent if not all-star line-up. And they sound like that.

Differently from many Lane's previous albums, here his band plays more straight music, combining early big bands' fun with virtuosity and complexity of Charles Mingus music. Being accessible,even catchy,music here still contains lot of free improvisation,characteristic for progressive big band. All musicians obviously enjoy playing (as well as listeners - you can hear their reaction in moments as well) - and the result is excellent.All compositions are greatly composed and even better played - nothing sounds too repetitive or static here. Each band's member has space for soloing,but no solos lasts too long - right as long as good artist needs to make music more spiced but without risk to lose listeners' attention. Almost 80 minutes recording doesn't last long - in fact it looks it finishes earlier than you expecting. What again evidences how really good the music is - after more than hour of dynamic small orchestra music's listening you feel like wanting more.

Not really a release for Lane's more experimental sound fans,"Live In Ljubljana" is excellent album for everyone interested in advanced small orchestras' music, most probably the best progressive big band's album released in 2014.

MATANA ROBERTS Matana Roberts & Sam Shalabi & Nicolas Caloia : Feldspar

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
American sax player Matana Roberts,who is best known from her "Coin Coin..." albums series, regularly participates in other projects which are obvious less known.Between second and third "Coin Coin" series albums (2013 and 2015),she recorded and released highly experimental album with Montreal musicians - electric guitarist Sam Shalabi and acoustic bassist Nicolas Caloia.

Both Canadians are part of left-field Montreal scene, it's interesting to hear how their aesthetics work (or don't work) in collaboration with American trad music rooted Matana's jazz. Album is titled "Feldspar"(from my University time classic geology studies I still remember that feldspar is very hard mineral of silicate composition, which contains no ore or other valuable elements and Earth's outer crust is composed mostly of it), each album's song is titled by one of minerals name as well.

Seven improvisations present more or less tight interplay between extended ultra acoustic low bass vibrations, processed electric guitars sounds (from almost metal-rock shredding to synth-like soundscapes)and bluesy and tuneful Matana's clear sax soloing over it. At best, all three musicians find quite reflective if not telepathic interplay and demonstrates really effective and attractive form of free but tuneful jazzy improvs. Still often each of them three plays as he's interested in his own music first of all and don't care much about what happens around. In such moments Matana's sax works as cement molding music from components,which trying to run away each to its own direction. Sometimes it sounds even attractive, but more often just destroys music's integrity.

Not of the same league as Coin Coin albums, "Feldspar" has its moments and are quite interesting release for listeners liking Matana's music. I expect her collaboration with free-improvs artists here (as well as work with different forms of processed sound) influenced Roberts' upcoming third Coin Coin album where differently from her two first Coin Coin releases,she plays solo all instruments with massive use of synths and samples and only accidental use of her main instrument - saxophone.

Matana's new album "Always" is already announced to be released in few months, what will she offer next?

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JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

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'Out to Lunch!' Avant-Garde Jazz
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