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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HENRY THREADGILL Henry Threadgill & Make A Move ‎: Everybodys Mouth's A Book Album Cover Henry Threadgill & Make A Move ‎: Everybodys Mouth's A Book
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CECIL TAYLOR 3 Phasis Album Cover 3 Phasis
CECIL TAYLOR
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GRACHAN MONCUR III Some Other Stuff Album Cover Some Other Stuff
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BEN MONDER Amorphae Album Cover Amorphae
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5.00 | 2 ratings
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WILLIAM PARKER William Parker Quartet - Sound Unity Album Cover William Parker Quartet - Sound Unity
WILLIAM PARKER
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
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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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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

KATE GENTILE Mannequins

Album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Kate Gentile is New York-based drummer who already played with Anthony Braxton, John Zorn and more important - Tony Malaby,Kris Davis,Matt Mitchell and Chris Speed, among others. "Mannequins" is her surprisingly mature studio debut leading a quartet playing her compositions.

Tim Berne's pianist Matt Mitchell is probably best known of quartet members (he's doubles on Prophet 6 synthesizer and electronics here).Two other members are acoustic bassist Adam Hopkins and tenor/clarinetist Jeremy Viner.

Being a classic jazz quartet by line-up, Gentle's band plays far not so classic jazz though. Complex,mostly groove-less and swing-less songs by their aesthetics fit well somewhere between contemporary classical music and (non-jazz) avant-garde, that's improvisation and soloing what gives this music the right to be classified as "jazz".

Comparing with other modern days recording of similar genre (starting from some Tim Berne works to "New York new avant-garde jazz" to same Matt Mitchell solo works), Gentle's music sounds cooler,better controlled and more ... calculated. Fortunately, there are lot of internal emotions in playing and cold surface always hides internal tension and energy.

Surprisingly enough, "Mannequins" sound quite similar to post-rock - just played by very technical jazz musicians converting genre's simplicity to modern jazz complexity but leaving post-rock "static" atmosphere and rational calculated sound.

Excellent album for everyone with open ears and interested in most current creative jazz.

AKIRA SAKATA Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi with Masahiko Satoh : Proton Pump

Live album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
On the new "Proton Pump", two Japanese living legends - reedist Akira Sakata and pianist Masahiko Satoh, perform with the younger generation American rhythm duo of Chikamorachi (bassist Darin Gray and drummer Chris Corsano) - live in Tokyo.

Satoh was a key figure in Japanese free jazz in the late 60s-early 70s, who later flirted with fusion and still releases albums time to time. Akira Sakata was another Japanese celebrity, playing with Yosuke Yamashita trio for years, later he started a solo career and is surprisingly active till now - he's possibly the best avant-garde jazz sax player in modern Japan.

Americans Chicamorachi were founded in 2005 and are very prolific, playing with the world's leading free improv artists, such as Jim O'Rourke, Merzbow, Keiji Haino among others.

"Proton Pump", recorded more than two years ago, is a classic avant-garde album of the old school. Starting from the cover art radiating the spirit of the early 70s, and finishing with a clear perfectly mixed worm sound. Sakata is the dominating figure here, with his mad genius screaming sax solos and shamanic vocalizations, but the whole quartet is simply of the highest class. Satoh plays high energy piano out of his trade-mark "science as significant part of the music" which sounded revolutionary in 1969, but too often destroys many of his later albums. Chicamorachi sound muscular, young and hungry - they add strong modernity scent to the surprisingly unsentimental music of two Japanese veterans.

Just four songs (vinyl album's size - as if CD format still doesn't exist!), perfectly played, well executed, all the time variable, but under full control of the band. A lot of tunes have almost lyrical sax timbres at moments - and not even the smallest trace of nostalgia.

This album is a really rare example of when generally over-explored and too often repetitive music sounds fresh, as if half of this century hasn't already passed.

TON-KLAMI Paramggod

Album · 1995 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
Three years after their debut at the German Moers Festival (recorded and released in Japan in 1993), the Ton-Klami trio returned to the studio to record their first (and only) studio album. The same line-up (Japanese avant-garde legend pianist Masahiko Satoh, leading Korean reedist Kang Tae Hwan and lesser known Japanese percussionist Midori Takada) are improved here on three songs with New York downtown unorthodox reedist Ned Rothenberg (on alto sax and bass clarinet).

Ton Klami generally play the same music they presented on their debut album, just here on "Paramggod" it sounds more mature with better interplay - and a much improved recorded sound. In the early stages of Japanese jazz, one of the more important (philosophical) problems was whether Japan could have its own unique take on jazz, or would they just be copying Western artists. Besides percussionist Masahiko Togashi, pianist Masahiko Satoh was one of the first Japanese artists who was trying to find a specific Japanese way of playing jazz. In the mid 70s, a lot of those experiments were quite formal, but here on this album, one can hear that Japanese (or being more correct - Far Eastern) jazz exists with no doubt. Thanks to the very original Tae Hwan and his sax improvisations (very "out", cool and dzen, at the same time being very close to Western free jazz traditions), this trio's music sounds as unique as you can only imagine, a true Asian take on free jazz. Satoh himself plays in his usual manner, combining European (German) technocratic/teutonic piano sounds with some Japanese meditative atmosphere.

Guest reedist Ned Rothenberg's participation on three compositions gives some additional attractiveness, fortunately his improvs are ascetic and fit well with the main trio's building atmospheres.

One of better Satoh albums from the 90s, it's just a pity the Ton-Klami trio didn't recorded more music after this release.

TON-KLAMI In Moers

Live album · 1993 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
After some more or less successful fusion releases and a series of neoclassical piano albums released during the late 70s and 80s, Japanese early avant-garde jazz legend Masahiko Satoh returned back to his roots in the early 90s, forming Ton-Klami trio with Korean reeds player Kang Tae Hwan and lesser known Japanese percussionist Midori Takada.

The trio's debut album is their live recordings from the Moers Festival in Germany 1991, released that same year by Nippon Crown in Japan. Without a doubt, besides Satoh, the other interesting musician on this recording is Tae Hwan (playing exclusively alto sax here). Korea isn't a jazz friendly country even now, in the early 90s there were very few musicians playing jazz there at all. Reedist Kang Tae Hwan is probably the best known of them all, at least outside of the country. His sax sound is very different from any Western sax player, dry and very "out", strongly influenced by East-Asian musical traditions and Buddhist culture. At the same time, he is a real free jazz musician without overt sounds from other music.

Masahiko Satoh is known for his cold, technical piano playing. Here on this album he is even more formal, combining "teutonic" free improvisation with academic musicianship. Percussionist Midori Takada is obviously in the supporting role to the two leaders, who don't always interplay successfully. It's even more strange that here in this live recording, in fact all concert long, Satoh and Tae Kwan exchange with each other on solos almost without having a common ground for their music.

A few years later this trio will release their next album, a studio one this time, with guest New York reedist Ned Rothenberg, who demonstrates a much better communication and really better realized potential. Still, on "In Moers", they demonstrate some raw ideas more than real musicianship.

For Tae Kwan though, this collaboration was an important step towards his quite successful international solo career.

ELTON DEAN The Cheque Is in the Mail

Album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
The year is 1977 and synthesizer still isn't a every band's (boring) toy as a decade or two after. There are two kind of jazz albums incl. synthesizer coming from seventies - rare very creative,almost unique works combining new sounds possibilities with improvisation in a true jazz tradition key and others - where musicians are openly fascinated by their expensive toys and enjoy their possibilities more than care about the music they produce.

"The Cheque Is In The Mail" unfortunately belongs to the second category. Two of leading British scene's reeds players saxist Elton Dean and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler are part of the trio with American drummer/percussionist and keyboardist Joe Gallivan. Dean has already released few suite successful albums as leader (demonstrating very own combination of avant-garde jazz and tuneful, even sentimental rock-songs influenced composition). His solo career is radically different from the music known from his previous band - Soft Machine. Gallivan was a Soft Machine member too (he replaced Robert Wyatt in a band), but as Dean is obviously attracted by free jazz here.

Unfortunately, nothing works properly on trio's album. Credited to Dean as leader, "The Cheque..." is in fact an evidence of how much Gallivan enjoys his synthesizer. Playing extremely free (or better to say - demonstrating the possibilities of his expensive toy in a form of free improvs) on whole album, Gallivan doesn't care much that both reeds players can't find the way how to play and most of time just add some minimalist solos here and there without even expecting of having a chance for true musical collaboration.

Nothing happens till the very end - ten-songs album stays in reality a bag of bulky unrelated sounds. Probably at the time of release it has some special attractiveness containing those spacey early analogue synths' sounds, but from distance of time it doesn't sound attractive anymore. Obvious collectors item, hardly more.

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