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

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CECIL TAYLOR 3 Phasis Album Cover 3 Phasis
CECIL TAYLOR
5.00 | 3 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
4.82 | 6 ratings
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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
GRACHAN MONCUR III
4.77 | 6 ratings
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GRAHAM COLLIER Darius Album Cover Darius
GRAHAM COLLIER
4.88 | 3 ratings
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SUN RA Live at Montreux Album Cover Live at Montreux
SUN RA
5.00 | 2 ratings
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BILL DIXON Intents & Purposes Album Cover Intents & Purposes
BILL DIXON
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
JOHN COLTRANE
5.00 | 2 ratings
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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
ERIC DOLPHY
4.63 | 49 ratings
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PHAROAH SANDERS Elevation Album Cover Elevation
PHAROAH SANDERS
4.71 | 8 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
4.78 | 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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SUN RA Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra : Atlantis Album Cover Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra : Atlantis
SUN RA
4.61 | 12 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

YOSUKE YAMASHITA Yosuke Yamashita Trio ‎: Sunayama

Album · 1978 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
During early seventies, pianist Yosuke Yamashita trio were a front-line power of Japanese avant-garde jazz. Cecil Taylor-influenced high-energy percussive straight-in-your-face piano playing style in combination with Akira Sakata's free sax attacks and drummer's (Takeo Moriyama and later, Shota Koyama)rock-heavy artillery built complex,usually knotted aural constructions of surprisingly well-organized beauty. Their albums,released between 1970 and 1975 all are classics of Japanese avant-garde jazz.

On "Sunayama", Yamashita's work from second half of 70s, one can evidence quite unusual for him instrumentation. Credited to his regular trio, the album contains three pieces,recorded actually by septet/octet when Yamashita's trio is improved with brass section (and an electric guitarist on one track).

Being characteristic for his trio busy high energy free jazz under the skin, in many moments album's music sounds as avant-garde jazz big band with rich brass (and addition of soling electric guitar on "Usagi No Dance - Dedicated To Pepi"). It's interesting to mention, that intentionally or not the combo never sounds as one small orchestra - more like two group of musicians, the trio and four-piece brass section improvising each their own way.

On paper it most probably sounds as a chaos, but surprisingly enough all album long Yamashita controls the situation well and final music has its own internal order. Not such explosive as on his earlier works, this album's attraction lays mostly in a rare possibility to hear the great master trying something different. Perfectly recorded (as many Japanese releases coming from seventies), "Sunayama" is an attractive release for Yamashita fans, still probably a bit risky try for newcomers.

Being for years an obscurity, in 2009 the album has been reissued in Japan on CD so there is a bigger chance to find it now.

JOE MCPHEE / SURVIVAL UNIT McPhee, Rempis, Reid, Lopez, Nilssen-Love : Of Things Beyond Thule Vol 1

Live album · 2020 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
One of the early releases coming in a very beginning of a new year is a collaborative work, recorded by high class free improvisers quintet of seasoned tenor Joe McPhee and cohort of younger creative jazz stars.

Joe McPhee (probably in a pair with Charles Gayle) is one of the busiest veterans of loft jazz around playing with many today's sound names and recorded intensively. His new quintet contains such leaders of modern avant-garde jazz as sax payer Dave Rempis and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, rising star cellist Tomeka Reid (who toured Europe last year as Art Ensemble of Chicago's member) and relatively lesser known New Yorker bassist Brandon Lopez.

Just two compositions, recorded live at Chicagoan The Hungry Brain on December 16 2018. Each lasts less than 20 minutes.Quite surprisingly, there are only a few explosive moments on this album, slow to mid-tempo music predominates. Saxes often sound as bird calls communication with cello vibrations and lot of percussion on the back. Common mood is more philosophical than energizing, and excellent interplay between quintet members builds intellectual and rousing atmosphere. Without leaving a frames of the genre, this album belongs to a more successful examples of live recordings in prolific Joe McPhee discogs.

EVAN PARKER Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton : Concert in Vilnius

Live album · 2019 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Three British free jazz giants playing together already for some decades, recorded live during their gig at Vilnius Jazz Fest in 2017. Three names that are written in gold to European avant-garde jazz history playing in my hometown and I just listen to their playing two years later from my home sound system and not live from the dark scene of the Russian Drama Theater, a regular home for Vilnius Jazz Fest for the last few years? What's wrong with me?

Or - it's not me? In a fast changing world where even my conservatism towards technologies gives up against the comfort of paying for your Saturday coffee and eclairs with smart phone apps and using Google Maps trying to find a shorter way from small countryside town to nearest lake, free jazz, just in one day, turned into a predictable attraction. What was a blowing-your-head new experience in 60s, reinvented in loft culture in the 80s and reborn for a short time at the beginning of the new Millennium, in one day just became an artifact of the past, the world that doesn't exist anymore.

Four free form improves, near an hour of music. Well recorded, with few screams and applause from the public here and there, the music here is competent but doesn't radiate an energy of artists earlier concerts. Not explosive but more philosophically calculated, and often slightly melancholic, somehow it transfers that feeling of paradise lost very well.

As with almost any bigger free jazz artist, all three musicians never repeat same thing twice, but at the same time all what they play sounds already heard for many times. True, the difference is in tons of nuances, but do we are still interested in all these small things?

Anyway, those who love the music of the times when they were young will really appreciate the album. For young folks it will probably sound as a strange thing, but in all cases Parker, Guy and Lytton are those who left their significant footprint in a history of European jazz.

WILLIAM HOOKER Symphonie Of Flowers

Album · 2019 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
William Hooker - one among the most technical and progressive thinking drummers around, who has played with Billy Bang, Thurston Moore, David Murray, David S. Ware and William Parker among many others, comes with his new ambitious work. Double-vinyl album "Symphonie Of Flowers" contains a suite of sorts. Drums are obviously the dominant here, but there are duos (with piano player Mara Rosenbloom), trios, and bigger combo music presented.

The album opens running train-like with Hooker's drumming pushing the music ahead, that rhythm and the feeling doesn't disappear the whole album long. Pianist Mara Rosenbloom plays free piano in a manner of Cecil Taylor. Then there is a trio of Hooker, Rosenbloom and saxophonist Stephen Gauci, with free sax soloing series. On three songs, pianist Mara Rosenbloom plays duets with multiple drummers,and a larger ensemble contains electronic musician Eriq Robinson among others.

Quite a long recording, this album isn't boring or repetitious. The music varies from muscular rock-like avant-garde jazz, to energetic electronics-spiced wizardry. As with many of his previous albums, Hooker works in a class of his own and always offers something new for open ears listeners.

AMIRTHA KIDAMBI Elder Ones : Holy Science

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
New York based singer and composer Amirtha Kidambi just released her third album as leader - on Astral Spirits(Phase Eclipse), already second new album coming this year(From Untruth - just released in Japan, after the US release, as well).

Her debut, released three years ago, Holy Science, passed somehow unnoticed,and that's a shame. Born in US of Indian origin, Amirtha combines in her music some best traditions of India’s Carnatic,American free jazz and modern drone.

Just four lengthy tracks,each as a part of "Yuga" suite,contain Amirtha's (predominantly wordless) vocals recalling Jeanne Lee under strong accompaniment of lesser known but perfectly working sax-bass-drums trio. The music,if a bit ascetic,is complex and multilayered with each listening opening more new details.

Excellent debut on the edge between jazz/non-jazz avant-garde and Indian classic.

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