So you'd like to...

hear some avant-garde/free jazz/improvised music

A guide by J. Cantor "jbcinnyc"
(REAL NAME)   

Products sampled from this guide:
Time Lapse
Evan Parker's circular breathing is just awesome. And this recent offering on Tzadik shows that he has lost none of his power or thirst for creating new and challenging music. This CD sounds a bit like a dawn chorus directed by Philip Glass during a manic episode. And it's really very good indeed.

Expansion
Rhythmically dazzling piano trio of veterans (Dave Burrell, William Parker, Andrew Cyrille) who integrate a wide variety of styles (stride, bop, free jazz etc.) into a relentlessly inventive and engaging record. Burrell is especially brilliant. Knotty, mournful, swinging, funky. It twists and turns like a twisty turny thing. I really really like this.

23 Standards (Quartet) 2003
20 Standards (Quartet) 2003
An outstanding band which knows this music like the back of its hand, one of the greatest living jazz musicians, and recordings of transluscent clarity. These 8 CDs of standards combine old jazz traditions with fresh, creative thinking to make music of unrivalled power, imagination, and quality. I defy anyone to name a better 21st century jazz album. Now I'll get off my soap box.

Live in the World
Three complete European live sets (1998-2003) from a modern avant-garde supergroup (Ware, William Parker, Matthew Shipp) with three different drummers (Hamid Drake, Susie Ibarra, Guillermo E. Brown). This is a juggernaut of a record with multiple extended compositions and intense, emotional playing. Powerful, sometimes exhilarating, and difficult music that is worth the effort.

Inside- Outside Reflections (1974)
Begins with short, strange, very quiet tracks that have a quality that I can only describe as ancient. This feels like music of our early ancestors. Made by intense Germans in a 1974 VW van, though.

Norrkoping
Bracing and passionate Nordic trio album. This music is highly aquatic, calling to mind rain, tiny rivulets, turbulent oceans, etc...no, really.

Koln (1986)
Heavy. This is storming all-star bluesy punk rock jazz. And funny too.

Double Sunrise Over Neptune
A highly successful attempt at walking the tightrope of big band free jazz. Swinging, funky, and unusually successful at incorporating "non-jazz" elements such as classical Indian vocals. This is one of the real high points of this list. Thanks to Steven Joerg for recommending it!

Renunciation
This wonderful, muscular quartet's jewel of a farewell concert at the 2006 Vision Festival. I was there and I have rarely been as moved by live music. Superb.

New World Pygmies 2
From Eremite Records, one of the best labels in jazz, this captures two live shows by Jemeel Moondoc, William Parker, and Hamid Drake. It is alternately bluesy and "primitive", consciously attempting to evoke an ancient sound world from prehistory. Parker's use of Breton and Spanish reed instruments (bombard and gralle) is highly effective.

Door
All-star avant trio's 2008 album. Great compositional and improvisational chops with intense energy. I hesitate to say this, but they rock.

And Now
An extraordinary and powerful record. Three old men make gripping contemporary music with violin, bass, and drums.

Spiritual Unity
Marc Ribot's Albert Ayler labor of love tribute band with Roy Campbell, Henry Grimes, and Chad Taylor. Fierce and beautiful, this record heaps rewards on the repeat listener.

Lanquidity
Highly accessible slabs of free-jazz-funk. Medeski, Martin, & Wood's secret playbook, I'll bet, and heresy of heresies, funkier than all Miles's '70's output. This is just a stone groove, man.

That/Not
Low key, intense, and endlessly inventive double CD debut from New York drummer and composer, Tyshawn Sorey.

Actions: 1966-1967
A strange and beautiful Danish album. The only jazz record I've ever heard featuring the bowed saw as a primary instrument. Clearly influenced by Albert Ayler, yet very original. Imagine ambient free jazz.

The Color Of Memory
I saw this band play a blistering and joyful show to a sold out home town crowd in Chicago while they were promoting this record - I've never heard a tougher, tighter, more intense jazz band. That intensity (and the endless Tom Cruise jokes) is not quite as evident in the studio, but this is still one hell of a record.

Alarm (1981)
Another fascinating document from the invaluable Atavistic records Unheard Music Series, proving that even in the 1980's, jazz wasn't dead. Frank Wright joins Brotzmann and pals for a good natured anti-nuclear improv session with brass/reed sirens and an abrupt ending due to a bomb scare in the studio. Good stuff.

Song X: Twentieth Anniversary
My first exposure to this music. It's amazing how well these artists work together. Pat Metheny's finest hour and radically different from almost everything else he's done. Essential.


Touchin' on Trane
Everyone is perfect on this very speedy record. As good as jazz gets.

Live at the Royal Festival Hall 2004
Cerebral avant-garde chamber jazz that still manages to sound fresh and exciting. But then it's Anthony Braxton, so that's not really surprising.

Inspiration

Porto Novo
Late sixties and early seventies bluesy alto blow fests (evidently recorded in a bucket somewhere) with moments of real lyricism and many nods to MB's jazz forebears. Han Bennink appears to be playing twelve snare drums full of cutlery on the 1967 cuts. Fabulous.

50th Birthday Concert
Career highlight from Britain's greatest sax player.

Duo Victoriaville 2005
Extraordinary and intimate live set. Mixes great delicacy with raging emotion and noise. Beautiful.

Saxophone Improvisation Series F


AMMMusic
Whoa! Overwhelming and like nothing you've ever heard. Sort of like staring at the sun. With your ears. Ok, it's a crappy simile but you'll see what I mean.

Schwartzwaldfahrt (1977)
Two strange gods of free jazz (one German and one Dutch) disappear into the Black Forest and create bucolic nature music with instruments and found objects on bitter, windy May days.

Soul Search
An intimate and often dissonant electric guitar/electric violin duo album that grows on you with each listen. A very good record.

Birth & Rebirth
Although he's one of the titans of free jazz, Anthony Braxton has always kept one foot firmly planted in jazz traditions. Max Roach was an innovator and envelope pusher his whole life. He was also an endlessly creative and funky drummer. This 1975 set recommends itself.


On the Beach
A strange and very forward thinking sixties entity that combines elements of African music with swinging grooves and "energy music". Extremely funky. Your open-eared friends will be impressed.


Ask the Ages
Very rock and roll feel to this one, despite the allstar jazz lineup. This is what fusion should have become.

Spirit House
Rollocking 21st century big band free jazz from the wonderful yet unsung Jemeel Moondoc and friends.

Free Jazz
Likely the best selling free jazz record ever. Arguably, it all begins here. Chaotic, exciting yet surprisingly conservative in some respects.


Urban Bushmen

Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy / Art Forms of

Scrapbook
The wonderful violinist Billy Bang with arguably the best rhythm section in jazz today (William Parker and Hamid Drake). This is a fun, swinging record with lots of bite.

50th Birthday Celebration 4

Charlie Parker Project

Saints

Jazz Loft Sessions

Purple Night

Black Gipsy
A wild session recorded by a group of US expatriates (including Leroy Jenkins on viola and Dave Burrell on piano)in Paris in the early 70's that captures an atmosphere of inventiveness, rebellion, anger, and possibility. A lot of humor too.

The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings

Mingus at Antibes

Conference of the Birds

Magic City

Americans Swinging in Paris
AEOC at their funkiest and most subtle. The opening track (Theme de Yoyo) is a storming piece of joyful bizzarro free soul. The last two cuts (People in Sorrow Parts I & II) are a magnificent work of great delicacy and power.

Interstellar Space
A duo of Coltrane and Rashied Ali. A groundbreaking, relentless record.


This is a somewhat daunting area of music; in part because much of it is likely to alienate those around you and leave you to a lot of solitary listening. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing. I find this music very intense and emotional and thus, personal. So it's suitable for enjoying alone. Yet it has a very communal spirit to it. For many musicians it's about a group of people making a joyful noise (often unto the Lord). It highlights the individual but at the same time it is democratic in its distribution of musical responsibilities and limelight. It's full of blues and soul and humor, of basic human and natural sounds and rhythms: drums, flutes, birdsong. It feels very ancient in some respects yet intensely modern. And it usually swings. What follows is not comprehensive or even essential. It covers the period from 1960 to 2009. But these recordings are all wonderful in their own ways. Some are exceedingly free e.g., AMMMusic, others are much more conventional and only veer off the rails in places e.g., Coltrane's thrilling "Chasin' the Trane" from 11/2/1961 or an incandescent "India" on the Sunday night of his Village Vanguard run, or Mingus's jubilant and chaotic Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting at Montreux. Others combine both straight ahead and free approaches e.g.,Braxton's Saxophone Improvisations Series F. Many records that I would have like to have included are not here because amazon.com does not sell them or because they are out of print. If you care about this music, make sure to visit the Destination Out website too!

Products mentioned include:
1.  Time Lapse  by Evan Parker
$19.86 Used & New from: $7.49
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2.  Expansion  by Dave Burrell
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3.  23 Standards (Quartet) 2003 [Box set]  by Anthony Braxton
$52.52 Used & New from: $39.96
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4.  20 Standards (Quartet) 2003 [Box set]  by Anthony Braxton
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5.  Live in the World  by David S. Ware
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6.  Inside- Outside Reflections (1974)  by Dieter Scherf Trio
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7.  Norrkoping  by Gush
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8.  Koln (1986)  by Last Exit
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9.  Double Sunrise Over Neptune  by William Parker
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10.  Renunciation  by David S. Ware
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11.  New World Pygmies 2  by Moondoc
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12.  Door  by Fieldwork
$16.98 Used & New from: $3.87
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13.  And Now  by Revolutionary Ensemble
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14.  Spiritual Unity  by Marc Ribot
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15.  Lanquidity [Original recording remastered]  by Sun Ra
$15.03 Used & New from: $11.55
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16.  That/Not  by Tyshawn Sorey
$30.19 Used & New from: $17.17
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17.  Actions: 1966-1967  by Contemporary Jazz Quintet
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18.  The Color Of Memory  by Vandermark 5
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19.  Alarm (1981)  by Peter Brotzmann
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20.  Song X: Twentieth Anniversary [Import]  by Pat Metheny
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21.  Touchin' on Trane [Import]  by Charles Gayle
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22.  Live at the Royal Festival Hall 2004  by Anthony Braxton Quintet
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23.  Inspiration  by Sam Rivers
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24.  Porto Novo  by Marion Brown
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25.  50th Birthday Concert [Live]  by Evan Parker
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26.  Duo Victoriaville 2005 [Import]  by Anthony Braxton
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27.  Saxophone Improvisation Series F [Import] [Limited Edition] [Original recording remastered]  by Anthony Braxton
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28.  AMMMusic  by Amm
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29.  Schwartzwaldfahrt (1977)  by Brotzmann/ Bennink
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30.  Soul Search  by Joe Morris
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31.  Birth & Rebirth  by Anthony Braxton
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32.  On the Beach  by Philip Cohran & the Artistic Heritage Ensemble
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33.  Ask the Ages  by Sonny Sharrock
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34.  Spirit House  by Jemeel Trio Moondoc
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35.  Free Jazz  by Ornette Coleman
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36.  Urban Bushmen [Original recording reissued] [Live]  by Art Ensemble Of Chicago
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37.  Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy / Art Forms of  by Sun Ra
$20.31 Used & New from: $9.97
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38.  Scrapbook  by William Parker
$18.18 Used & New from: $6.00
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39.  50th Birthday Celebration 4  by Electric Masada
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40.  Charlie Parker Project  by Anthony Braxton
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41.  Saints  by Marc Ribot
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42.  Jazz Loft Sessions  by Various Artists
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43.  Purple Night  by Sun Ra
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44.  Black Gipsy [Import] [Limited Edition] [Original recording remastered]  by Archie Shepp
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45.  The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings [Box set] [Live]  by Elvin Jones
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46.  Mingus at Antibes  by Charles Mingus
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47.  Conference of the Birds [Original recording reissued]  by Dave Holland
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48.  Magic City  by Sun Ra
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49.  Americans Swinging in Paris [Import]  by Art Ensemble Of Chicago
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50.  Interstellar Space  by John Coltrane
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J. Cantor "jbcinnyc"
(REAL NAME)   
Qualifications: Fan of the same
Last updated: 2/3/10
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