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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ORNETTE COLEMAN Science Fiction Album Cover Science Fiction
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4.94 | 6 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Infinity Album Cover Infinity
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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
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ARCHIE SHEPP Four for Trane Album Cover Four for Trane
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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 The Magic of Ju-Ju Album Cover The Magic of Ju-Ju
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CECIL TAYLOR The Cecil Taylor Unit Album Cover The Cecil Taylor Unit
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avant-garde jazz Music Reviews

WADADA LEO SMITH Wadada Leo Smith & Bill Laswell ‎: The Stone

Live album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
One of Chicago avant-garde jazz icon, Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) early member (from 1967),composer & musical theorist,trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith during last decade enjoys exclusive attention from advanced jazz and contemporary music fans. Only during last five years he released twelve new albums(including three double and one 4xCD set),all of good or excellent quality. His last year's "Great Lakes Suites"(TUM Records) is one of most often mentioned advanced albums in all possible 2014 year's top lists.

Bassist,sound experimenter and producer Bill Laswell is not less known person in the world of adventurous music. He is one of most respectable musicians in the field of jazz / improvisation related dub, has long lasting history collaborating with John Zorn and other New York down town leading artists.

Smith/Laswell live duo album, recorded during Laswell's residence in New York's The Stone in 2014,can easily slip unnoticed even by attentive fans since it's released as digital file only on Laswell's own M.O.D. Technologies label. It would be a real loss since it contains really great music.

Quite surprisingly for music,recorded and produced by Laswell, this one 38-minutes long composition doesn't contain many electronics and recording studio technological tricks.What we have here is liquid dark Laswell ambient bass pulsation and Wadada's fantastic trumpet piercing over it. Music is dark but far not depressive, even spacious, and all long musical piece somehow recalls Wadada's "The Great Lakes Suite". Same nature's monumental greatness, same almost pathetic simplicity,just in more minimalist form.For my great surprise two excellent but very different artists sound absolutely organic here presenting gorgeous music which is accessible and have a high lasting impact.

This release should not be missed by anyone who enjoyed Wadada's "Suites..." as well as anyone,interested in modern cross-genre advanced music.

MAL WALDRON Mal Waldron-Steve Lacy : Journey Without End

Album · 1972 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Even before one morning somewhere in mid 70's America woke up and decided that all that jazz is not what could be interesting any more (what initiated massive American jazzmen escape from there mostly to Europe),for many US artists European scenes(and atmosphere all around) often looked attractive.There are long list known musicians who spent part of their life in Europe, but probably two of most visible (if not influential) were pianist Mal Waldron and sax player Steve Lacy.

Them both started as hard-boppers, Waldron was Billie Holiday's regular accompanist from April 1957 until her death in July 1959.Steve Lacy after few early mainstream albums switched to his own kind of tuneful soprano sax soloing based avant-garde jazz,staying one of most prolific Monk legacy interpreter. Waldron moved to Paris in mid 60's,from 1967 stayed living in Munich for decades. Steve Lacy relocated to Paris in 1969 (so them both still caught these European arts capital golden age; staying there or around for more than four decades both evidenced Paris sinking to pitiable state what it is now as well though).

Both Waldron and Lacy after relocation to Europe released many albums, here and abroad - mostly in Japan and partially in States. Waldron collaborating with many European artists became one of most prolific post-bop pianist on continent,his once found still in early years piano playing manner didn't evolute a lot, but probably it became his fame main factor - his music stays easy recognizable. Similarly to Mal,Lacy released even more albums as leader, very often returning back to same dozen of tunes he played for decades. Still his each concert and each album is different, at least for those more familiar with his music.

During their European half of life both Waldron and Lacy ways crossed regularly, they have long history of collaborative works.Still "Journey Without End" recorded in Paris in 1971 and released in next year in Japan only is important as their first ever collaborative album as co-leaders. With excellent rhythm section (Kent Carter on bass and Noel McGhie on drums)quartet recorded five advanced compositions (two Waldron's on side A and three Lacy's on side B).

Many Waldron and Lacy music fans will agree that even if each of artists is great leader,their work as duo very often gives better result - clear straight and free Lacy's trumpet is perfectly earthed by Waldron moody,dark and dreamy and always more framed Waldron's piano. Starting from "Journey Without End", Wal-Steve duo will release thirteen more collaborative albums as co-leaders,but their few very first are very best as well.

By its atmosphere "Journey..." is more Lacy's album than Waldron's (two Lacy's compositions "I Feel A Draft" and "A Bone" are presented here for the first time and he will play them again and again for years ahead).Waldron piano with advanced rhythm section anchoring Lacy's free and flying sax soloings well, but still it's Lacy who pushes all the music ahead. His free improvs initiates Waldron's freer,sometimes funkier playing.Groovy rhythm section finishing that tasty mix to very accessible (for such kind of music) but advanced at the same time brew. It's interesting that side A (which contains Waldrons songs) sounds better than more abstract Lacy compositions on side B: Waldron's compositions are stronger here and shine brighter under Lacy more adventurous hand.

Same year duo will record (in Paris again) and release (this time on French America Records)their second collaborative album - just three originals even freer,more Lacy-influenced and equally great music.Their debut as duo isn't well known since it looks it has been never reissued and it's shame - it contains one of the best music recorded by them both.

JACK DEJOHNETTE Made in Chicago

Live album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
One of most respectable of living jazz drummers Jack DeJohnette is best known by his countless collaborative works with pianist Keith Jarrett and partially by his own fusion-oriented Special Edition. It's less known that he was one of the early members of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Together with his former classmates from musical college reedists Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill (among others) Jack plays live gig on 2013 Chicago Jazz Fest,quite surprisingly released by ECM.

Actually, the quintet on this recording is a re-incarnation of never recorded AACM-founder pianist Muhal Richard Abrams' band from mid 60's (adding AACM non-related bassist Larry Gray), DeJohnette is stated as leader most probably because he was an initiator of recorded concert, and because of his long-lasting relation with ECM label as well.

Six compositions come all from band members,plus one song is fully improvised. Album opens with Roscoe Mitchell's "Chant" - high energy almost seventeen minutes long composition with memorable bagpipe-like soloing, it really recalls Art Ensemble of Chicago's(AEoC) music of mid 70's (it was actually written at that time).Very impressive opening continues with "Jack 5" - not DeJohnette,but Abrams composition,quite loose and directionless, especially as for live show. Album loses its dynamic a bit, Mitchell's "Think", already more chamber and similar to his more current complex works, doesn't help much.

"Museum Of Time" is DeJohnette's new song,written specially for this gig, it's most tuneful and straight album's composition,well framed but not all that memorable.Threadgill's "Leave Don't Go Away" is soulful as all his music,well orchestrated; two above songs just return music back on earth (without being simple or easy accessible, no way!);it finishes with Larry Gray bass soloing and together with Mitchell's album opener, "Leave..." is another greatest album's composition.

After announcements (separated on CD in sixth track),the band play "something spontaneous for you" - fully improvised high energy music which sounds quite fresh and moody.Titled "Ten Minutes" it actually lasts only six (probably the result of editing because of physical CD space limitation).

All in all,this re-united all-stars band looks much better on paper than it sounds,even if I believe AEoC and AACM music fans will be really interested to hear this music. I was really surprised realized in early 2015 that there is announced extensive "Made In Chicago" tour,based on this concert's material! It's pity there are not planned gigs near my hometown, I would be really glad to see these great artists playing together, they all are living legends and important influences for last half of century's jazz.

This album,most probably released on wave of increased interest (partially in Europe) to advanced Chicago jazz of Wadada Leo Smith and Roscoe Mitchell,probably wouldn't increase drastically the number of such music lovers,but old fans will find some nice moments here for sure.

BARRY ALTSCHUL Virtuosi

Album · 1976 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Drummer Barry Altschul is one of the most respectable advanced jazz drummers ever,co-founder of Chic Corea's Circle (together with Dave Holland and Anthony Braxton), member of ARC(Altschul-Holland-Corea),long-time Anthony Braxton quartet's member,etc,etc. His career as leader was mostly unnoticed though, fortunately after Finnish TUM label released his trio's strong "3Dom" in 2013 it looks he attracted more attention.

At the very beginning of his musical career Barry played with already respectful Canadian pianist Paul Bley (as his trio members) for five years.Together with Bley,they were two permanent trio members,bassist position was filled with some different musicians as Mark Levinson,Ken Carter or Steve Swallow.Gary Peacock was one of them as well.

"Virtuosi", formally Altschul debut as leader,was released in 1976,nine years after the material has been recorded.In all but the name musicians participated is just a Paul Bley Trio of the moment.Albums contains two long compositions,one on each vinyl side,both written by Annette Peacock (what only enforces the feeling that you're listen to Paul Bley band).It's difficult to imagine why recorded material coming from 1967 Paul Bley trio's have been released after nine years stating Barry Altschul as leader (album was released on Bley's own Improvising Artists Inc.)At least one good thing here is that being in all but the name Bley album from late 60s as almost any other pianist recording from that time it contains quality music.

As one can expect nothing here reminds Circle or Arc or Anthony Braxton quartet's music - complex multilayered avant-garde jazz presented on other Altschul-participated recordings from same period. "Virtuozi" contains dreamy melancholic and tuneful if quite free characteristic Anette Peacock signature's music,similar to what one can find on other Payl Bley trio's albums. The main difference is probably that Bley's piano doesn't dominate here - very often it takes an accompaniment role for leading rhythm section. To say truth,Gary Peacock's physical acoustic bass is even more notable that Barry's drums here(as on many his other earlier recordings,Gary Peacock plays very free here).

Being a pleasant listening (and one of very early recordings predicted upcoming so-called "ECM sound"), "Virtuozi" are a bit bulky and in moments sound directionless; probably it's a reason why tapes spent even nine years in attic before they were released. Not the best album,released under Altschul name, this release still is one valuable evidence of early Bley/Peacocks' music and worth listening especially for such music fans.

NAOJI KONDO Live At The Tarupho

Live album · 1986 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Japan is a big jazz country but for Westerners it always was (and still is) Terra incognita. Sadao Watanabe's international success during late 60s and 70s plus extremely creative Japanese free jazz scene between 1969 and 1972 (with Masahiko Satoh and Masahiko Tagashi) - that's all even experienced European or American jazz fan knows about it. Chick Corea's student Hiromi is great but only Japanese jazz well-known representative on modern international jazz scene.

To be correct,it looks even inside of Japan non-commercial jazz (count all jazz excluding j-fusion and j-pop jazz) starting from late 70s got quite nonconformist underground art's image.The only form which won higher respectful social status is mainstream (mostly hard bop)and for last some decades Japanese gigs and regular releases are one important source of income for best US straight jazz veterans.At the same time creative jazz didn't die on the Far East,it exists in form of plenty of small clubs gigs and some limited edition releases.Living its own life in stone jungles of Japanese cities',modern country's free jazz is quite different from what could be heard on Western scenes. Since one of most influential Japanese post-70s music trend was brutal avant-rock (Ruins,etc),big part of contemporary free jazz is influenced by it. Still there are more different streams,including very interesting eclectic mix of funk,etno-tunes,urban r'n'b and free improvs all in one. Main problem for those interested in more modern Japanese jazz is there isn't possible to find almost any systematic info if you don't speak Japanese. Rare occasional available releases are costly and often aren't all that representative since as rule you have no idea what you're listening.

Fortunately for me,annual Vilnius Jazz Festival contains Japanese artists in their program on annual basis,usually presenting leading creative music,so it helps at least at starting point.Mid-generation sax player Naoji Kondo played here in Vilnius in 2009 as part of Yoriyki Harada - Naoji Kondo duo (with piano veteran Yoriyuki Harada).Short fest's press release informs that Kondo plays free jazz from early age but works as practicing psychoanalyst during day time. He played at Moers Fest in Germany,toured Korea - and it's almost all what is known. On many Japanese clubs' sites one can find he's regularly plays in Japan,often - beside of best domestic artists. As far as I know he released only one album recorded live in 1986.

And this album is great - almost no-one plays like that anymore! Acoustic Kondo-lead sax-bass-drums trio contains another interesting modern Japanese creative jazz artist Daisuke Fuwa on bass (played here on Vilnius Jazz in 2012 leading his own Fuwa Works (with two sax players on board)and lesser known drummer Shiro Ohnuma. Surprisingly enough,Kondo trio plays tuneful,even soulful early free jazz recalling Coltrane's transitional works circa late 1965. All musicianship is based on soloist's (usually Kondo himself,but both bassist and drummer has more than enough time for longish solo improvisations)pushing groovy muscular and very bopish music ahead with support of two rest trio members. Kondo plays lot of themes and tunes,very free but never leaves the ground. It's a real joy listen to his human voice-like sax telling stories, emotive,worm and playful. Fuwa is a bit too modern drummer for that music,slightly too heavyweight and rock-like,but he successfully balances on the edge without destroying Kondo's built fragile beauty. Ohnuma is good bassist,if not too original but very successfully continuing great Isao Suzuki's tradition of deep physical acoustic bass. Lot of tunes,tempos (incl.even marching),very warm and inspired live gig with really enthusiastic public,quite good recording quality - all these makes this obscure release worth time and funds spent.Dedicated listener feels like he participates on concert played in modern days by one of late 60s jazz greats without sense of nostalgia. It like time machine brings you right to New York circa 1966 - no-one plays like that in real world anymore.

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