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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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
ERIC DOLPHY
4.62 | 51 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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CECIL TAYLOR 3 Phasis Album Cover 3 Phasis
CECIL TAYLOR
5.00 | 3 ratings
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PHAROAH SANDERS Elevation Album Cover Elevation
PHAROAH SANDERS
4.71 | 8 ratings
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PHAROAH SANDERS Karma Album Cover Karma
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4.58 | 30 ratings
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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
GRACHAN MONCUR III
4.69 | 7 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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GRAHAM COLLIER Darius Album Cover Darius
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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
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4.75 | 4 ratings
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PHAROAH SANDERS Live at the East Album Cover Live at the East
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4.83 | 3 ratings
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ALICE COLTRANE Journey in Satchidananda Album Cover Journey in Satchidananda
ALICE COLTRANE
4.48 | 19 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

BONJINTAN Dental Kafka

Album · 2020 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Free jazz sax player Akira Sakata is probably the most significant Japanese still active musician responsible for the the formation of the country's avant-garde jazz scene in early 70s. While still being a marine biology student, he started playing very new for Japan jazz genre in the late 60s. Between 1972 and 1979 he was a member of Yosuke Yamashita trio - the band that raised high the level of avant-garde jazz on the Japanese scene.

After he collaborated with Bill Laswell (playing with his Last Exit band on one album) and releasing a series of Laswell produced albums. Sakata experienced a return to fame during the last decades, being prolific and surprisingly creative, at the same time.

Bonjintan (what can be probably translated as "the simple man diary") is one of Akira's newest projects. It brings together such giants of the international improvisation scene as Italian keyboardist Giovanni Di Domenico and American bassist Jim O’Rourke (plus younger Japanese drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto, who are regular Giovanni Di Domenico collaborators for the last couple years). "Dental Kafka" is the project's second studio release (recorded in Japan).

Differently from many of Sakata's current projects, Bonjintan isn't extremely loud, screaming or explosive. This new album opens with oscillator-like electronic drones, recalling more some early minimalism works than the usual Sakata thunder-like chaos.

Surprisingly enough, Sakata doesn't play any reeds on "Ape Huci Kamuy" at all. Predominantly a keys/bass/drums electronics soundscape piece that is scented with his recitative voice (not screaming singing as often, but more an old times fairy tail movie's storytelling, Far East edition). Perfectly fits for imaginary adaptation of "Lord Of The Rings" for Far East market.

As a balance for opener, "Dental Kafka" opens with Sakata's soulful screaming sax soloing, returning the listener to more usual for Sakata music sound.

"Koro Koro Donguri" is a more meditative song again, with Akira playing clarinet with busy but very gracious participation of all the quartet's members. Far not so easily accessible music sounds almost chamber here.

"Bonjin" - the album closer and shortest song (still over ten minutes long) is a beautiful, almost dreamy ballad, started by piano and drums, Sakata comes at one moment with a beautiful, slightly melancholic tune, soloing. It recalls renown Prokofiev "Peter and the Wolf" theme and Akira's early band, Yosuke Yamashita trio works from the early 70s at the same time.

"Dental Kafka" represents more lyrical/philosophical side of a seasoned veteran's music, and does it pretty well being complex, hardly expectable and accessible all in one. Great artist at his mid 70s and is still extremely creative and capable producing great new music, not just enjoying his fame from the previous years.

SAM RIVERS Sam Rivers trio - featuring Cecil McBee and Norman Connors : Emanation

Live album · 2019 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Reedist Sam Rivers was one of key figures in New York loft jazz, but before that he did his name playing as a member of Cecil Taylor's group. Rivers left only a limited amount of recordings coming from the 70s, so any archival release from that time attracts interest of artist's fans.

"Emanation" comes from 1971 Rivers' Jazz Workshop residency in Boston and contains just one 76-minutes long track, divided in two parts because of physical vinyl album space limitations. "Emanation" represents a rare recording of early Rivers' trio with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Norman Connors, which has been documented only once till now - on excellent (and as well live) "Stream", recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973 and released same year on Impulse!.

Trio format for Rivers usually was a platform for his most freer experiments and "Emanation" is no exemption. The album opens with inspired sax soloing tuneful and playful, and high energizing all at once. Sound quality is quite acceptable for such sort of recordings, but the mix is a real problem here. Drums fill the sound mix with lot of cymbals, but what is even worse - at 11:25 Rivers leaves the scene for McBee's almost five minutes long bass solo improv, during which the listener hears almost nothing, especially during the very first minutes. Bass is placed far behind the scene on the sound mix, and it's a real pity since McBee does a really great job here.

At 16:00 Rivers returns with flute, and then switches to piano (sounding a bit out of tune and too far behind the scene in the mix as well). Still in whole the recording demonstrates pretty well the spirit and energy of the time, and evidences Rivers great ability at playing post-bop rooted free jazz in his own inspired and quite accessible way.

"Emanation" is a great addition for Rivers (who was under-documented, especially during his early solo period) fans. Not really a place to start for newbies, it is a valuable evidence of this great artist's legacy and in general - the spirit of the time.

MUHAL RICHARD ABRAMS Celestial Birds

Boxset / Compilation · 2020 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
It is almost an axiom that no-one likes compilations in jazz (and rock music as well). Still, there are hundreds and thousands of them, predominantly with the openly commercial reason of trying to sell old as new, usually collecting all the most successful pieces in one place.

"Celestial Birds" is oppositely different. It contains some more unusual Muhal Richard Abrams compositions, with a strong accent on early electronics sound.

Avant-garde jazz never had a commercial potential as musical genre, and it has even less in the 20's. The risk of releasing such albums is moderately high, but thanks to zeitkratzer series director Reinhold Friedl and German label Karlrecords the world got the rare possibility to refresh (and for many newcomers - to find out) this lesser know side of AACM founder.

Vinyl album's side A is dedicated to 22+ minutes long "The Bird Song", which originally filled whole side B of Abrams debut, "Levels and Degrees of Light", released in 1968. The composition opens with recitative Chicagoan poet David Moore's poem and continues with dominating analogue synthesizer's vibes scented with minimalist saxes(Anthony Braxton & Kalaparusha), bass(Leonard Jones), drums (Thurman Barker) and violin (Leroy Jenkins). Differently from later and more regular use of electronics in jazz, here the whole music sounds quite cold, technological and close to minimalist composers pieces. It's interesting, that for this compilation the original version of the song has been used, with reverberations removed from the CD reissues.

"Conversations With The Three Of Me" is taken from much later, 1989 album "The Hearinga Suite", released in Italy. Here we found Abrams playing solo, first on piano and then - on synth. Piano part sounds as neo-classic dry composition which ends as spacey synth improvs. "Think All, Focus One" is another Abrams solo composition, played solely on analogue synths (comes from 1995 album of the same name). Abrams sounds not much different from Frank Zappa playing Synclavier on his unorthodox album "Jazz From Hell". The closer, "Spihumonesty", is recorded with a larger combo, including Roscoe Mitchell on reeds among others. Dominating synths sound here is mixed with free jazz small orchestra.

Early recordings presented on this compilation are coming from the time when synthesizer meant actually an extremely expensive studio, which were rare and hardly accessible for the jazz musician. Abrams was among very first jazz musicians experimenting with synthesis of jazz and electronics, and his works sound interesting even now.

GEORGE RUSSELL Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature

Live album · 1971 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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Igor91
George Russell's Electronic Souls Loved by Nature is one of the severely underrated jazz releases from the late 1960's/early 1970's. I, personally, would put this up there with Miles Davis' Bitches Brew as far as its inventiveness and uniqueness for the time. The recording is actually from April of 1969 (not released until 1971), which predates the Bitches Brew sessions by about 3 months! This is a very European sounding release, due to the musicians involved in it hailing from Norway, most notably the young Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal. The use of tape noises and sound collages with a live band, and recorded in a live setting was innovative for 1969. The musicians performed the piece impeccably and with conviction. There are two, side long tracks that combine cool, repetitive jazz grooves, free jazz, and touches of jazz rock, mostly due to Rypdal's occasional Hendrix-inspired shredding. It has a kind of psychedelic vibe, but in that dark, Norwegian style in contrast to Bitches Brew's very American sound. This one should really be recognized for what is - a groundbreaking jazz classic.

YOSUKE YAMASHITA Yosuke Yamashita Trio ‎: Dancing 古事記

Live album · 1969 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
"Dancing 古事記" is respected Japanese piano player Yosuke Yamashita's debut album, coming from the time he was a student of musical college in Tokyo. A bassless trio, coming from behind the barricades during the student occupation of Waseda University in July 1969.

The years 1968 and 1969 were both a breaking point in Western world, with counterculture peak, explosion and start of decline as well (ie Woodstock, barricades in Paris' Sorbonne, etc, etc). The world will never be the same again, and what is probably much less known, these events catalyzed the reaction in Japan as well.

Three tracks, of which first 50-seconds long one is not a music but recorded on barricades agitator's speech (on Japanese). It introduces the atmosphere of the moment and two upcoming long free jazz pieces perfectly.

What in a Western world of the time is a rock revolution of late 60s, on Japanese ground has it's equivalent in avant-garde jazz, extremely radical music for the time.

Yamashita plays with his early days trio, containing drummer Takeo Moriyama and sax player Seiichi Nakamura. Their music here still doesn't reach the level of aggression known from Peter Brötzmann's "Machine Gun", but despite of some tuneful inclusions, it sounds as perfect soundtrack to the actions in a student campus that's for sure.

Later same year Yamashita will release with same trio his first studio album "Mina's Second Theme" which bring him first success, still as underground jazz artist for the beginning.

Quite aptly titled "Dancing 古事記", this album represents both the spirit of era and a music of the short-lived but very creative moment of Japanese jazz history.

P.S. There is still available short filmed video from this concert on youtube which is very recommended for those interested in catching the spirit of the moment

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