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 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 dissapeared, 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.

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ALICE COLTRANE Ptah, the El Daoud Album Cover Ptah, the El Daoud
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DAVE HOLLAND Conference Of The Birds Album Cover Conference Of The Birds
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avant-garde jazz Music Reviews

CECIL TAYLOR Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz)

Live album · 1975 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
If you had to pick three architects of modern jazz piano, you could just about cover everything with Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor. Despite his phenomenal talent, Taylor may have seemed like the lesser influence at first, as most of his followers were relegated to the avant-garde end of things, but over the years his influence has grown and these days you are liable to hear Taylor type assaults on the piano from guys like Craig Taborn, Jason Moran or others, while they perform with modern fusion and post bop groups.

If you are not familiar with the piano playing of Cecil Taylor, he is one of the most intense musical performers ever, jazz or otherwise. His music is relentlessly energetic, full of jarring dissonances and unbelievable flurries of atonal notes unleashed at super human speed. Although his music may seem like noise to some, to the fan of avant-garde composition, there is an incredible logic and flow to Taylor’s music. I use the term “composition” on purpose, because although there is much improvisation in his music, the overall effect is more similar to an avant-garde concert hall piece, rather than a ‘free jazz’ workout. Taylor’s music does tend to get grouped with the free jazz crowd, and he has performed in free settings with others, but on his own, Cecil’s ability to logically assemble ideas comes through just as much as the force and volume.

“Silent Tongues” is a live recording that captures Taylor at his best, playing solo. Along with the constant antonality, you can sometimes hear bits of familiar music, blues riffs chopped to pieces or flowery classical romanticism gone berserk. It seems Taylor tries to avoid the ‘modernisms’ of the Evans/Tyner sound and draws more from early jazz piano players from Jelly Roll and Eubie Blake up to Art Tatum. Sometimes I feel like I’m listening to ragtime run through a blender. Some might try to draw comparisons between Taylor and the piano work of Sun Ra, but I’m sure those two were well aware of each other and managed to stay somewhat polar opposites within the avant-garde realm, ha. The one thing that is hard to describe though, is these certain moments where Taylor draws so much thunder and lightning out of the piano, you find it hard to believe one human can do this. If you are fan of modern music, you will want to pick up “Silent Tongues”. Cecil Taylor’s piano playing is a miracle.

WILLIAM PARKER Painter's Spring

Album · 2000 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
New York acoustic bassist William Parker started his musical career in jazz as far back as the early 70s, collaborating with Don Cherry and, more notably, Cecil Taylor. Still, it was already the 90s when he became one of the main figures in the down town avant-garde jazz scene, experiencing hard times once again - this time being deeply in the shade of fashionable-again mainstream jazz.

A prolific leader and collaborator, he became a real star (and probably the leading acoustic bassist on the avant-garde jazz scene) only in the first decade of the new century. Being very physical and muscular, his bass usually sounds tuneful and even lyrical, which is what often makes his music attractive for a wide audience.

With busy drummer Hamid Drake, William Parker played together in one of the most successful Peter Brotzmann projects from the 90s, Die Like a Dog (initially born as an Albert Ayler tribute project). Now, as a trio with the lesser known reedist Daniel Carter, they have recorded a collection of muscular but tuneful, almost catchy compositions, "Painter's Spring", quite straight (by William's standards). All but two of the songs are William's originals, and they all generally sound like a mosaic of paintings (it's a rare case where the album's title means a lot). There is no obvious leader and the music is a product of equal collaboration between all three musicians.

With all of its accessibility and beauty, this album is probably the best entrance to the usually more complex and quirky, but always colorful world of Parker's music.

JOHN HÉBERT Floodstage

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Thinking about modern avant-garde jazz, we usually expect noisy, quirky, atonal, scratchy music - as if to sound listener-friendly is a sign of bad manners. Lousiana-born acoustic bassist John Hebert's third album breaks this rule - fortunately!

"Floodstage" is a piano trio album, mostly acoustic, dark, slow and lazy, rooted in New Orleans traditions. John Hebert is better known as the collaborator on many modern American jazz albums (Uri Caine, Fred Hersch and Mary Halvorson among others). Two of his trio colleagues are established jazz masters: Gerald Cleaver is probably the busiest drummer around New York's "new avant-garde scene", working with Tim Berne, Michael Formanek, Craig Taborn and many others; while French pianist Benoît Delbecq is a fast-rising star, probably the most interesting jazz pianist in the modern Paris jazz scene.

Quite surprisingly for a modern avant-garde jazz album, there are a lot of tunes, moods and soul on "Floodstage". Being a collaborative work of three equal musicians, there is enough space for each trio member. Louisiana atmosphere is surprisingly organically mixed with chamber piano on some songs, it continues with bluesy-rooted fusion like compositions where Delbecq plays vintage analog synth. Tasteful use of prepared piano doesn't destroy American South's atmosphere on quite cinematographic tunes, sounding almost like movie soundtracks.

Can't remember the last time I listened to a whole new album from beginning to end with such pleasure. With no doubt this album is another Clean Feed label success. Recommended - not only for adventurous listeners, but for every jazz fan interested in the best modern releases.

WILDFLOWERS Wildflowers 1: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions

Live album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Free jazz being almost synonym of Jazz during short period of late 60s-early 70s disappeared from American jazz scenes blown away by fusion.Yesterday stars trying to survive changed their music to more accessible (as Archie Shepp)or moved to Europe where free jazz stayed alive founding its niche in small clubs for years.In late 70s though American free jazz experienced some renaissance in a form of so called "loft jazz scene" - avant-garde jazz musicians activities based around New York Soho district former industrial lofts, refurbished to musicians studios. One of central such studio was Sam Rivers Studio Rivbea. Lot of concerts took a place there and some cult albums were recorded as well.

Probably most representative document of loft jazz era was five vinyl set "Wildflowers", recorded during May 1976 at Rivbea Studio and released on tiny Douglas Records in 1977. Decades after this release received almost cult status and was reissued on CDs. Each of five albums contains collection of compositions recorded by different artists.

Wildflowers: New York Loft Jazz Sessions 1 opens with great sax player Kalaparusha's trio (he passed away last year leaving a very few solo albums,coming from 70s). Soulful free sax improvisation,supported with pulsation from rhythm section."Jays" aren't presented on any other Kalaparusha album.

Second composition "New Times" is played by alto sax player Ken McIntyre,better known by his debut album "Looking Ahead" (recorded with Eric Dolphy). If McIntyre early works are deeply rooted in hard bop, "New Times" is fast, screaming quite free composition based on African rhythms.

Drummer Sunny Murray played and recorded with Albert Ayler in 60s among others.His quintet plays "Over The Rainbow" here, with sax player David Murray obviously taking on Ayler's soulful side here.

Rivbea Studio's owner Sam Rivers plays "Rainbows" as trio leader,his fast sax soloing is without doubt "Wildflowers 1" crown.Explosive, with heavy duty rhythm section, Rivers adds power and drive into quite relaxed release atmosphere. Since all material is recorded live, one can hear crowd screaming at some Rivers solos' top.

Album's closer is surprisingly muscular Henry Threadgill's Air composition "Usu Dance". Usually more tuneful, Threadgill shows here different side of his music - high energy of live show.

It's known that some best jazz comes from live recordings. And two very important factors for recorded music quality are the time and the place. "Wildflowers" aren't just compilation - it's very precise historical document from short-lived loft jazz era, recorded at its best time in it'e best place. Each of five series' albums is unique and excellent on its own way, now re-issued as 3 CD set they are easier accessible. Everyone interested in first meeting with loft jazz must start here (old fans already own this set for sure).

MACHINE MASS TRIO / MACHINE MASS Inti

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
“Inti” is the second album by avant-garde jazz group Machine Mass and finds them returning to similar devices as their first album, but with a little more aggression, noise and freedom this time around. Michel Delville returns on guitars and electronics, while Tony Bianco continues to fill the drum chair, but woodwinds player Jodi Grognard has moved on to be replaced by long time avant-fusion superstar Dave Liebman. Bringing Dave on is a nice touch, especially considering his broad experience and roots in this kind of 60s/70s influenced psychedelic free fusion. I can remember when I was young, older jazz fans would speak longingly about the sound of Coltrane’s tenor horn. I suppose if that generation had Coltrane, then mine had Wayne Shorter and Liebman, and certainly when Liebman’s beautiful soprano tone makes its first appearance on “Inti“, its hard not to get memories of those heady days when this sort of experimental music first opened the minds of young listeners.

Dave’s finest moment on here happens during the intro to the cover of “In a Silent Way”. “Silent Way” is a very risky piece to take on and most should leave it alone, but during the poignant intro Delville presents a pad of floating tambouras over which Liebman plays a timeless melody on the wood flute before they move on to Zawinul‘s classic tune. It’s a sublime moment which leads to possibly the best cover of this tune I’ve heard. Elsewhere throughout this CD, Dave and the Machine Mass guys present a variety of free form jazz fusion, often swing based in a post bop style, but sometimes in a jagged avant-funk manner as well. The band is very skilled at this kind of imoprov, so your enjoyment will probably depend on how much you appreciate free improvisation in the first place. Generally speaking, fans of modern free jazz have been very pleased with “Inti”. If there is one possible problem that persists here, it’s the occasional use of looped bass and/or keyboard parts. Obviously Machine Mass has no bass player, and the lack of bass on many tunes presents a pleasing open sound to their mix. On the other hand, the tunes that utilize something that sounds like a repeating bass loop as a sort of bass part can sound cluttered.

Fans of modern avant-garde jazz will want to get this, Delville and Bianco are very thoughtful and careful in their approach and Liebman sounds like nothing less than a sage.

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