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.

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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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CECIL TAYLOR 3 Phasis Album Cover 3 Phasis
CECIL TAYLOR
5.00 | 3 ratings
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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
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GRAHAM COLLIER Darius Album Cover Darius
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WILLIAM PARKER William Parker Quartet - Sound Unity Album Cover William Parker Quartet - Sound Unity
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5.00 | 2 ratings
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5.00 | 2 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Last Performance at Newport July 2 1966 Album Cover Last Performance at Newport July 2 1966
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PHAROAH SANDERS Elevation Album Cover Elevation
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ERIC DOLPHY
4.62 | 48 ratings
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CECIL TAYLOR Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz) Album Cover Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz)
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4.78 | 4 ratings
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KENNY WHEELER Kenny Wheeler / Lee Konitz / Dave Holland / Bill Frisell : Angel Song Album Cover Kenny Wheeler / Lee Konitz / Dave Holland / Bill Frisell : Angel Song
KENNY WHEELER
4.83 | 3 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

ARASHI Semikujira

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
74 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.

DAVE HOLLAND Uncharted Territories

Album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
Possibly “Uncharted Territories”, and its emphasis on free improvisation, is a bit of a nostalgia trip for Dave Holland. Back in the late 60s, Holland had performed with saxophonist Evan Parker in John Steven’s Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and although Holland would go on to leave the ‘free scene’, Parker made a career of it. Some time in recent years, Holland contacted Parker about the two of them recording some free duets like back in the day. As Dave reflected on this proposed endeavor, possibly he was drawn to another avant-garde memory, the group Circle he performed in with Chick Corea and Anthony Braxton, because when Holland decided to add Craig Taborn and Ches Smith to he and Evan’s recording date, he re-created an ensemble quite similar to the original Circle.

The tracks on “Uncharted Territories” are almost entirely spontaneous improvisations, with just a few tracks featuring some pre-conceived composition. To keep things interesting, the musicians vary the lineups for the sessions into various ensembles of 2,3, or 4 people. The tracks are usually fairly short by free improv standards and feature a wide variety of music. This is a very versatile and talented foursome, so the music can vary from interesting sound sculptures to quiet chamber passages to be-bop gone berserk and all out free jazz explosions. The integrity of the musicians involved shines through as they very carefully interact with each other.

This is a very good modern free jazz album, yet somehow disappointing too. Especially with a modernist like Taborn on board, one might expect something a little different from a classic free session. Electronics are listed in Craig’s instrument arsenal and yet they barely make an appearance. Judging by the musicians and instruments listed, it would be easy to expect some modern sound exploration and compositional constructs, and that does happen occasionally, but as mentioned earlier, this recording may be a lot about Holland’s attempt to re-visit his past.

THE WAY AHEAD (ROLIGHETEN / ALBERTS / BARNO / ALEKLINT / STAHL / HOYER / OSTVANG) Bells, Ghosts And Other Saints

Album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
The Way Ahead is a new Nordic mini-big band in a tradition of popular co-patriots Angles. Their debut's title says a lot about the source of inspiration - "Bells" and "Ghosts" are well known Albert Ayler compositions, and (Marching)"Saints" are both Ayler spirit and his music roots.

Similarly as "Angles" a decade ago (who grew up from sextet till nonet in few years), "The Way Ahead" are a brass-section centered septet with vibist playing heavy-brass arranged soulful compositions in a manner of marching bands. The main difference is Angles's source of inspiration were Balkan rhythms and Serbian Guča Trumpet Fest folk marching bands style, The Way Ahead are inspired by Albert Ayler interpretation of early New Orleans marching bands jazz.

Both play music without trying to sound authentic - both bands' starting point and interpretation method is free jazz first of all. Similarity in sound isn't accidental though - trombonist Mats Aleklint and vibist Mattias Stahl are members of both projects. Swedish trumpeter Niklas Barnö is a member of another extremely successful and influential modern Swedish progressive big band Fire! Orchestra (led by Mats Gustafsson).

No strange that having such genes new project from their very first release sound as very professional and matured collective. They don't try to sound as raw as Ayler or original early New Orleans marching bands, instead they uses their legacy producing more rounded European sound still having lot of fun but partially attracting more sophisticated listener.

"Bells,Ghosts And Other Saints" doesn't sound revolutionary, it is an evolutionary continuation of Angles/Fire! Orchestra works which most probably will attract fans of both above mentioned bands.

DON CHERRY Complete Communion

Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
Recorded in 1966, “Complete Communion” was Don Cherry’s first album as sole leader. Having already spent time as co-leader with the likes of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins, Cherry was more than ripe for his turn to lead things. On board with him is Gato Barbieri, who had met Don in Rome and was interested in trying out this ‘new thing’ called free jazz. Rounding out the band is Henry Grimes on bass and Edward Blackwell on drums. Right off the bat this album bears a strong resemblance to Cherry’s early 60s work with Ornette, which is no big surprise since Blackwell is on drums. Eddie’s drumming with Ornette and Don had helped define the group since he joined them in 1960, and likewise his unique skills also help define this outing giving it some Ornette quartet similarity. Yes, there are those similarities in basic style, but “Complete Communion” is hardly a facsimile as both Cherry and Gato spin their unique take on what can happen within this 60s free bop framework.

The whole album was recorded in one take with every tune butted up against each other without break. In fact its not often exactly clear where one song starts and the other ends, which is a good thing. This one take approach makes for a very imaginative arrangement and it is one of this album’s big pluses. The various tunes that come and go owe a large debt to the work of Bird and Diz, which is also a very good thing. Once the players dig into their solos, they often have a four way conversation going, but also there are times where any one of the performers might step to the forefront, particularly Don and Gato. While Cherry is mostly melodic on here, Gato often goes for an Archie Shepp style barrage of notes and above the normal range high pitched excursions. Despite how well he handles all of this, Gato did not stay in the avant-garde scene for long, which is another feature that makes this album unique.

This is an excellent album that, much like what Miles was playing live at this time, rides that border between free jazz and really out there post bop. Fans of Don’s early work with Ornette will dig hearing another possibility of where that music could end up. It also helps that the recording quality on ‘Communion’ is very good. Some are critical of this album claiming that Cherry will find his true voice as a leader when he starts working with African and Asian influences, but taken on its own merit, this album is one far out be-bop trip.

SATOKO FUJII Kira Kira : Bright Force

Live album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Pianist Satoko Fujii is one among best internationally known creative jazz artist from Japan leading numerous projects (usually incl. her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura). Smaller groups as rule have each own name so Fujii/Tamura quartet with French duo of Peter Orins(drums) and Christian Pruvost(trumpet) is known as Kaze,all-Japanese drum-less quartet with Yasuko Kaneko(trombone) and Kazuhiko Tsumura(guitar) is known as Gato Libre(Satoko plays accordion not a piano here).

Kira Kira is Satoko's newest project to date where usual pair of Fujii and Tamura is combined with renown Australian keyboardist Alister Spence and young Japanese drummer Ittetsu Takemura who is a regular member of Satoko's big bands.

"Bright Force", project's debut, contains two polar parts both coming from same concert recorded at Knuttel House in Tokyo in 2017. Because of problems with sound quality recorded material has been seriously edited, putting the gig's opener meditative micro-tonal three-part suite "Luna Lionfish" to the end of the album and bringing energetic "Because Of The Sun" and "Nat 4" at the beginning. Not like the recordings sound became better but loud explosive two first pieces with soloing trumpet on the front prepare the listener to easier acceptance of knotty but not so catchy suite's entry.

Main music's characteristic on whole album is still a tension, build by Tamura's freer trumpet solos and Spence's Rhodes passages. The drummer is a rock-heavy and Satoko's percussive piano work adds even more muscularity in a sound. Add lot of Spence's electronic effects for full picture.

Fujii,Tamura and Spence previously already played together as quartet(with The Necks drummer Tony Buck)so there is a feel of working band in Kira Kira music.

A bit more ascetic and more complex than usual Fujii's music renown from her American,European or Japanese Orchestras,"Bright Force" is another strong release of prolific Japanese pianist. Celebrating her 60 jubilee Satoko promised to release a new album every month during all 2018(Kira Kira's debut is one of them). Big part of her program is already released, mostly all of them contains an interesting music. Waiting for more to come.

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