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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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
ERIC DOLPHY
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JOHN COLTRANE Infinity Album Cover Infinity
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ORNETTE COLEMAN Science Fiction Album Cover Science Fiction
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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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ARCHIE SHEPP Four for Trane Album Cover Four for Trane
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WAYNE SHORTER The All Seeing Eye Album Cover The All Seeing Eye
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ARCHIE SHEPP Fire Music Album Cover Fire Music
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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
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ARCHIE SHEPP Mama Too Tight Album Cover Mama Too Tight
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SUN RA Atlantis Album Cover Atlantis
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avant-garde jazz Music Reviews

STEVE LACY Prospectus (aka Clichés)

Live album · 1983 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Some people say Steve Lacy played few same tunes all his life. Speaking formally about compositions, it's difficult do not agree with that,even more - playing few same tunes lot of times he tried to record them again and again,so his really extended discography partially contains of ten or so his own "standards".But - everyone more familiar with Lacy music will agree that one can hardly find on his releases these compositions sounding too similarly. Even on his sax solo recordings (there are quite a lot of such type of releases)same songs usually sound very different.

Here on double vinyl,coming from early 80s (who said 80s were a dark time for adventurous jazz? Lacy simply doesn't care about time's fashion)Lacy plays mostly compositions from his "golden fund", as often. But what an album it is! If for many fans (including myself) Lacy's music usually associates with tuneful but ascetic/minimalist sound,usually played by small band (from solo to duo to trio),here Lacy leads sextet improved with George Lewis on trombone. And from album's music one can easily hear that here plays really small orchestra - sound is full-bodied,richly arranged,with muscular bluesy rhythm section. Interplay between band members are telepathic,they obviously enjoy their playing so all quite a long album sounds as one jazz fiesta (material is recorded live in France and live informal atmosphere adds a lot, on weak side recording's sound quality is only average).

So, Steve and Co. play his "Stamps" and "Wickets" and "The Dump",side-long "Clichés"(with "Cyrille Few and his friend"(?!)on percussion), "The Dump" again, but all same songs sound totally different played by this powerful band (often all this music sounds just like freer and more atonal and distorted. Lacy on soprano and unusual alto together with Lewis's trombone on front of sound demonstrate fantastic playful soloing anchored by more conservative rhythm section. Irene Aebi sings (in her specific classic-influenced manner) on few songs as well.Hour and half of very enthusiastic musicianship doesn't continue too long,one can hardly find even short boring moment here.

Reissued in 1999 on CD,original album lost part of its content (there was not enough place for two wholly filled vinyls on single CD),but generally became a bit more concentrated and better edited.Both versions are excellent place to start for everyone interested in Lacy's bigger bands music.

WADADA LEO SMITH The Great Lakes Suites

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
"The Great Lakes Suites", trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith's new release, is one more success. If some his more current recordings come as monumental works for orchestra, "Suites.." is quite different. Although it is a large-scale project by length (released as a double CD, which is quite normal for Wadada), it is recorded by only quartet.

It doesn't always sound like just a quartet though - more of a mini-big band sound (not by intensity of musical flow but by the manner of playing) and often quite close to Wadada's big orchestras. The music flows without peaks and extended solos, but as a complex, even if minimalist, well-balanced wave. Bassist John Lindberg is Wadada's most regular collaborator, drummer Jack DeJohnette already recorded some music with Smith as well. Henry Threadgill (on saxes and flutes) is probably less involved in the trumpeter's most current works, but his music is rooted in the same Chicagoan AACM tradition as Leo's for decades.

I am familiar with all of Wadada's most current releases, and even if his composition manner is obvious on them all (which is only for the good, since he is one of the most original of all living composers in large-format jazz music), "Suites.." is different from his other works in at least one thing - nothing is bombastic here.

Dedicated to the five Great Lakes (one composition to each) plus one more (the final composition, titled as "Lake St. Clair) dedicated to a different Lake - musician Oliver Lake. All of the music on here has that atmosphere which one always associates with big northern waters; geological history, cold water masses, glacial stones and never-ending flows. Nothing is slow in this music, but nothing is nervous, quirky or explosive as well. All four of the musicians build well-balanced complex and often beautiful (as nature itself - without even a touch of sentimentality) music, never pathetic. Here one can hear how Wadada, trumpeter and composer, sounds at his best.

Excellent work, one of Wadada's best for years.

TOSHIYUKI MIYAMA & THE NEW HERD Yotsu No Jazz Composition aka Four Jazz Compositions

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Toshiyuki Miyama is a key figure in Japanese progressive big band music. He started playing jazz with his band before WWII. After the war, his big band was a hot name in the US Navy clubs in Japan. His first recorded albums contained big band classics and popular tunes of the time up to the late 60s, when the avant-garde jazz invasion (mostly introduced by young Japanese jazzmen returning from jazz studies in the States) revolutionized the country's scene.

Starting in 1967-68, Miyama adapted a new sound playing with leading genre local musicians. "Four Jazz Compositions" is not his band's first advanced release, but one among a few very early such albums, and one of the rarest. Still, its rarity is not this album's main attraction (unless you are collector), the presented music is quite unique, even for that extremely advanced time.

It's a public secret that discussions about originality (or better to say its absence) in Japanese jazz had long decades of history. Here, on "Four Jazz Compositions", the listener will easily find some early evidence of what can be tagged as "original Japanese elements".

The album's opener, the ten-minute long "Mumyoju", is composed by Japanese leading avant-garde pianist and composer of the time, Masahiko Satoh, (he plays on it as well, but percussion, not piano). It begins with silence pierced with ascetic needles of percussion, minimal brass splashes and koto. Still silence (or "free air", as it is often called in Japanese avant-garde music) is the largest and most important composition component. The music here is near static, in moments meditative, but more often - quite dramatic and recalls early Western contemporary avant-garde compositions, just with an Eastern touch.

The second composition,"Shirabyoshi", opens as if it's just a continuation of the previous one, but very soon piano, bass and the brass section take their part - here one can be sure that all the Orchestra is in action. From meditative slow tempos, it grows fast to an orchestral jazz-rock sound, but on the four minute mark, Miyama cuts the sound. What follows sounds like a well arranged pop-tune, or movie soundtrack. It doesn't last long though, at the sixth minute the orchestra moves toward a full-bodied big band sound with a muscular rock-influenced rhythm section and brass fireworks. Growing tensions explode close to the ten minute mark and continues as nervous mid-tempo orchestral "Ikisudama", recalling a more contemporary avant-garde piece than any form of jazz. The listener shouldn't be bored though - somewhere in the middle the music somehow naturally transforms to a full bodied big band sound, something that could be played by Mingus. As if it would be not enough, the orchestra explodes with distorted sound, a lot of almost cacophonous brass soloing and at the end returns back to base - slow down till almost meditative, even if still nervous in moments, avant-garde chamber orchestra sound.

The fourth and final composition opens with a drum solo and rolls ahead as a tuneful richly brass arranged jazz-rock song, very cinematic, but still with some small distortions here and there. At the end this forty minute long album, it stays in your memory as a gallery of musical pictures, some more organically related than others, but never boring.

Miyama will continue releasing advanced big band releases for some more years, but "Four Jazz Compositions" (together with "Yamataifu", "Eternity? ・Epos" and few more) will stay as one of the best examples of Japanese adventurous orchestrated jazz.

TRIO 3 Wiring (with Vijay Iyer)

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Trio 3 is a collective made up of veteran sax player Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille, formed in the late 90s for playing at European jazz festivals. In the beginning of the new century they found their home at the Swiss Intakt label, which regularly releases their music up to today.

Lately the trio has adapted an interesting format, playing with guest pianists, a different one on each studio album (they started playing with Irène Schweizer, and continued with Gerri Allen and Jason Moran). Here on "Wiring", their new guest is rising US star Vijay Iyer. For European listeners, Vijay is well known by his series of excellent contemporary/world fusion releases on the German ACT label, and his ECM solo debut this year.

Oliver Lake is one of the BAG (Black Artists Group, organization similar to AACM) founders and a key figure in New York's 70s loft jazz scene. Reggie Workman has played with John Coltrane and Art Blakey among many others. Andrew Cyrille is best known as one of Cecil Taylor's band members. So no big surprise that Trio 3 plays advanced improvisational jazz, covering decades of its evolution. All of them (and particularly Oliver Lake) are too large of figures to stay just co-members of this project, so generally all the music on here is played by this Lake-led trio, but with plenty of possibilities for the younger Iyer to participate, fortunately he has enough space and freedom for that.

Still very much Lake's album, it represents his stronger side as a blues and hard bop rooted free improviser with attention to melody and structure. all of these songs all are well-made and executed, and sound fresh enough and non-boring even on an almost 70-minute long album. The rhythms and moods change to avoid sameness,the only problem is some sense direction-less which starts to be noticable during the second half of the album. Better editing and probably some shortening of the album length would help to make it more dynamic and inspired.

In all, very competent modern sounding music with deep roots, one of the better jazz releases this year.

BILLY BANG Billy Bang / John Lindberg : Duo

Live album · 1981 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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This album, recorded at KPFK Radio in Holywood in 1979, contains three free form improvisations that were a revitalization of some of Dave Holland's early works ("Music For Two Bases", etc), released a decade earlier.

Acoustic bassist John Lindberg studied with Holland and played with Anthony Braxton among many others. Together with guitarist James Emery and Billy Bang, they founded The New York Strings Trio in the late 70s (as an alternative to the World Saxophone Quartet) with the intent of participating in New York's loft jazz scene, a re-incarnation of the free jazz scene of the late 60s. Lindberg had already released a solo bass album in 1979, and later Billy Bang released a solo violin improvisation album in 1980.

So this Lindberg-Bang duo album, called "Duo", could be placed between their solo albums and The New York Strings Trio music, all released at about the same time. Without any big surprises, listeners can find on this album perfect interplay between two young and very innovative artists, playing music full of life, emotions and even tunes and soul - not always a characteristic case for some free form string duo releases.

Lindberg's physical bass is obviously influenced by early Dave Holland, but he doesn't sound like a clone at all; the late 70s was a short but very grateful period for those searching for their own voice and willing to explore. Billy Bang, who will soon after this release become an almost free jazz celebrity, mixes adventurous free improvisation with blues and more traditional jazz forms, and shows how great the violin can sound in free improvisational jazz (without being scratchy, noisy or openly dissonant).

This is a perfect album for fans of string driven free jazz (Dave Holland, Barre Phillips, etc) - adventurous and accessible at the same time, there are just a few such albums around.

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