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.

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ALICE COLTRANE Ptah, the El Daoud Album Cover Ptah, the El Daoud
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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
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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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avant-garde jazz Music Reviews

ROSCOE MITCHELL Conversations I (with Craig Taborn & Kikanju Baku)

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Seventy-three year old Art Ensemble of Chicago legend Roscoe Mitchell experiences one of his most creative periods during last years. "Conversations I" is one of his most current albums and differently from some his more contemporary classic-related recordings it contains improvisational jazz.

Besides of Roscoe,trio contains two musicians of young generation: well known pianist/keyboardist Craig Taborn(who already collaborated with Mitchell on some recordings) and virtually unknown drummer Kikanju Baku,who in my eyes is real hero of this album. Seventy-something minutes long free-form improvisational release could sound as danger in many listeners minds,and not without reason - too often even talented musicians enjoy playing what they like to play with each other and using the modern technologies' possibilities offers all that endless noise to public,searching on new "New Things".As a result more and more even enthusiastic experimental music fans starting to avoid everything what is attractively tagged as "free form improvisational suite presented in full without editing..." etc,etc.Fortunately, "Conversations" are not that kind of beauty,even more - this music in many senses is right opposite to thrillers,described above.

From very first seconds "Conversations"' listener feels like he's presented on good old friends meeting - each musical instrument is extremely close to speechless hunam voice here, not always by its sound but more important - by the way it's used. Roscoe plays relaxed but very active story-telling saxes and flute,changing every minute,with million of intonations,subtle emotions and unusual warmness. Fantastic drummer Baku demonstrates true miracles - his quirky and technical drumming doesn't sound as mechanical device produced sound at all. Extremely percussive album could be described as collection of dialogues, and even those who don't understand the language,are involved and really enjoy the process of conversation.

Craig Taborn's keyboards are important but only supportive instrument here; its sound as youngest friend in a meeting who enjoys listening to dialogues of two his friends and adds some comments trying to be tactic and doesn't destroy great atmosphere.

The main miracle is still how beautiful and easy-accessible sound this quirky and complex music. Most probably it happens because all album long things changes every moment: one can hardly find two same tricks or steps here. Telepathic communication,warm and stylish atmosphere,tasteful balancing between beauty and complex - all that ingredients makes this album one of the best recordings I listened for quite a long time.Sound quality is excellent - listener feels like sitting between the musicians on scene.

And - if you will like this album and will feel like it's not enough, there are "Conversation 2" released by same trio, similar but a bit different second part of the real joy.

SABIR MATEEN Holidays In Siena

Live album · 2011 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Probably not of real star status,American sax player Sabir Mateen has serious reputation,partially in Europe,as one of strongly representative American free jazz reedists of mid-generation.During last decade he released just one album in States,but near ten in Europe(mostly in Italy,but in Poland and France as well).I had a pleasure to see him playing live just two months ago - during excellent concert where he played duo with younger Lithuanian guitar improviser Juozas Milasius. That has been almost stolen by extravagant poser Milasius by his Sharrock-meet-Bailey guitars accrobatics. Sabir demonstrated his usual American jazz-rooted but far not so explosive (and externally effective) sax impovs which successfully anchored guitar extravaganza though.

Here, on one of Mateen latest live releases, situation is almost oppositely different. Sabir plays in Italian Siena,hometown of his musical partner - acoustic bassist Silvia Bolognesi.Virtually unknown outside of her homecountry,Silvia played with Butch Morris Orchestra,participated in Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton masterclasses.

Sabir is in great form here - he is obvious leader, and his sax fills all the space of Teatro dei Varii. As usual, his soloing isn't sharp,more thinking and even lyrical in moments (Sabir plays flutes and clarinet as well).From very beginning Silvia's bass is on (quite straight) rhythmic support, she will have her solo moment as well though. Generally all recordings sound more as solo reeds recital,with sax or clarinet telling stories, building quite comfortable and intelligent atmosphere,without tension,screaming or distortions,but far not polished or conformist. Sabir demonstrates here what he does best - almost forgotten free jazz tradition without noises,sound attacks and playing on listeners nerves. And it works perfectly - Silvia isn't really on his league but Sabir's playing is warm and informal enough to save the situation. With better bassist (or let say - as a sax/reeds/bass acoustic trio) it most probably would be a really great night.

CHARLES TYLER Mid Western Drifter

Album · 1992 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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Kentucky-born bari sax player Charles Tyler met Albert Ayler at age 15, and later relocated to New York to play with him. Tyler participated recording Ayler's "Bells" and "Spirits Rejoice",in 1966 released debut as leader (on ESP-Disk).In late 60s he moved to California to study and teach, played with Arthur Blythe and David Murray among others. His albums,released in late 60s - early 70s contain tuneful and energetic free bop, non-nonsense one, but even at that time he haven't been widely recognized.During 70s he played in New York lofts (incl. Sam Rivers Rivbea),collaborated with Cecil Taylor and Billy Bang,

In 1982 traveling Europe as Sun Ra Archestra's member he decided to stay in Denmark, at the end of the decade relocated to France. During his European period he recorded few more albums,played with local musicians and American ex-repatriates as Steve Lacy. His European releases,all on tiny labels,are even less known than his earlier American works, and it's a shame,since he stays one of rare baritone sax player-band leader with characteristic tuneful free-bop playing,recalling Ayler explosive and noisy but very trad-jazz rooted free jazz.

"Mid Western Drifter" is second of two Tyler released French studio albums,coming from the last decade of his life.Both released in 1992,they contain far not as explosive playing as could be find on his American recordings from early 70s. First of two,"Folly Fun Magic Music" has been recorded with team of young French jazz musicians and even if contain some interesting moments,in whole sounds as lion playing with cats (all obviously enjoy the music they play though). Second, "Mid West Drifter", recorded just some weeks after, contains more mature music, played by trio (with Didier Levallet on bass and Curtis Clark on piano). The album opens with narrative poem of the same title and continues with mid-tempo boppish,bluesy and even trad-jazz influenced compositions, moody,even melancholic,but almost always with freer Tyler's soloing. Even if quite different by expression, all music and Tyler playing in partial recall some Archie Shepp late-70s freer hard bop album. From one hand this music has not much in common with big jazz scenes of early 90s, but from other hand it demonstrates that rare,near unique feel of authentic free-bop,which could be find probably on best 60s recordings only. It's obvious that being almost isolated from contemporary jazz stream of the time, small Scandinavian and France club scenes were that place where that originally American authentic early free bop spirit survived almost till the end of the century not in revival,but in original form.

Steve Tyler passed away in Toulon,France just less than three months after he recorded this his last album,from heart failure at the age of only 51.The only one more album he released during the last decade of his life,besides of two mentioned above",is obscure "Autumn In Paris"(1988) recorded and released in Sweden (on Silkheart)with local Brus Trio(I had a great pleasure to listen them live already as "Brus Sextet" in 2010 in Birstonas Jazz Fest - they played highest probe nu jazz that time).

Closing "Mid Western Drifter" Tyler sings "'Round Midnight" - with melancholy and touch of sadness in his voice.Great album for fans of accessible,soulful and tasteful free bop,it's shame Steve Tyler's name is almost forgotten. He requires more exposition, especially his earlier innovative albums. Fortunately there are some CD releases on market, I would recommend Tyler's European recordings to everyone who like Archie Shepp hard bop music.

JIMMY GIUFFRE Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4 New York Concerts

Live album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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Jazzarcheology during last years had become quite a popular and hot fans of one or another legendary artist really enjoy of this growing fashion.But to be honest big amount of attic issues hardly attracts more casual listener - as rule all the best recordings are already released and well known, and what comes now usually has more historical not musical value. Fortunately, there are some exemptions, "New York Concerts" are one of them

Reedist Jimmy Giuffre was criminally under-appreciated jazz musician who started like cool jazz sax player but from very early 60s switched towards his own unorthodox jazz avant-garde, free but chamber music influenced music very different from what came from Ornette Coleman,Albert Ayler or late-60s John Coltrane. Jimmy released three experimental albums in 1961, of which third "Free Fall" just initialized his broke-up with major label,Columbia. And after that Giuffre didn't release a single record tlll early 70s. Two mid 70s albums were still quite free but inconsistent, and he returned back in early 80s with strong band, playing fusion.His most interesting period of 70s stayed undocumented till now, fortunately this new double release fills this vacuum in full.

Double CD-set contains two Giuffre concerts,recorded same year but with different line-up. And the year is 1965, the year of "New Thing"!Both concerts are recorded in same place - Columbia University, but first set's CD contains later one,recorded in September. Giuffre plays as trio leader here,with drummer Joe Chambers and bassist Richard Davis.From very first seconds,everyone familiar with Jimmy's music will be surprised how free and how muscular the trio sounds here!Five originals and Ornette Coleman’s “Crossroads” all played very loose but still have that specific Giuffrean chamber feel.Sound is surprisingly clear and well balanced for such archival material.

Second CD contains quartet recordings coming from May concert. Here Barre Phillips changed Chambers on bass and pianist Don Friedman is added. More quirky and intense quartet sound is less chamber and sounds closer to what sounded around at that year, with Giuffre playing faster and in moments sharper solos.It works well on more energetic moments,but fails in some silent pauses, lasting for too long.

In all, this release is a holy grail for Jiuffre fans opening for listeners the curtain from almost decade of silence. For casual listener there are some great places, but some historically important concert evidences could sound as filler as well. Released as double CD, this set contains eighty-and-a few minutes of music,and such kind of package looks more as commercial trick.Well edited version,combining best moments from both concerts (most probably up to one hour long) would be a great gift for everyone interested in best early American avant-garde jazz.

CHICK COREA Circling In (Circle)

Album · 1975 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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“Circling In” is one of those thrown together albums made up of different recording sessions, and because of that it doesn’t get a lot of attention, which is a real shame because this is actually one of the better Chick Corea LPs out there. Chick has stated that sometime in the early 70s he decided to change his approach to the piano in an attempt to ‘communicate’ better with the audience. Fortunately, all of the recordings on “Circling In” come from that time before his conscious change and feature the young fiery Chick Corea who combined elements of Monk, Cecil Taylor, Eddie Palmieri and Bill Evans into one of the most notable piano styles of the late 60s. Certainly Corea continued to be a great player for the rest of his career, but his early playing will always be his best.

Side one opens this double LP set with recordings left off of the “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs” LP with Roy Haynes on drums and Mirsolav Vitous on bass. I’m not sure why these recordings were left off the original “Now He Sings“ LP, because they are all excellent and are now included in the CD re-issue of the same LP. Generally these tunes are of the modern post bop variety that move in and out of free sections. The material ranges from an imaginative reading of “My One and Only Love”, to the more fragmented and dissonant “Gemini”. Side two continues with the same trio until we hit “Blues Connotation”, a fierce outside hard bop number with Dave Holland on bass and Barry Altschul on drums. The rest of side two, as well as sides three and four are filled with recordings by Corea’s short lived avant-garde group, Circle.

In keeping with the spirit of this album being an overlooked gem, the group Circle is one of the more under appreciated ensembles to ever play improvised music. The music they present on this album ranges from blistering free jazz assaults, to carefully constructed pieces that recall leading 60s concert hall composers such as Berio, Boulez and Stockhausen. Having the multi-talented Anthony Braxton on board doesn’t hurt as he and Corea both are able to easily move from the bar-room world of jazz to the highest of academia without any loss of integrity. Every track by Circle has its own unique flavor and vision, and often their performance carries a sense of de-constructive humor as well.

This was one of the first jazz albums I ever bought and its still one of my favorites. Chick was just a different pianist at this time, and after he decided to change his approach, I eventually lost interest in his playing. Because “Circling In” is a mixed bag, it does not command a high price. I would imagine some might prefer the post bop styled cuts with Roy Haynes, while others might prefer the more avant-garde Circle, but really, every track on here is excellent.

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