Here's a primer on the far-out sounds of free jazz

Originally published at: Here's a primer on the far-out sounds of free jazz | Boing Boing


Still looking for my way in, and I’m from Brötzmann central, so many opportunities to try.

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Getting in is easy.


Yeah, well, no. It goes to places where I cannot follow.

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This is an old favorite of mine but I don’t hear it as free jazz.


I get that. I would call it “spiritual jazz”, but I understand that “free jazz” can be a wide enough territory to include a lot of different styles.

My own list would include many of those listed here, plus Clifford Thorton’s “Ketchaoua”, several Art Ensemble of Chicago albums, and records by the Ganelin Trio, who managed to make some pretty far out but fun albums in the Soviet Union from the 1970’s on.

[ETA: I thought for sure the first World’s Experience Orchestra LP would appear on one of these lists, highly recommended, recently reissued on vinyl and 2cd paired with their second LP, also glad to see Sonny Sharrock’s “Ask The Ages” on one list-- very approachable record for anyone who thinks they don’t like 'free jazz."]


I think Ptah, the El Daoud is more free-sounding, and Universal Consciousness is just… beyond. But given the musicians involved, I’d suggest they’re good springboards/gateways into other free(r) jazz. I’d say the same for Gato Barbieri (who I don’t otherwise see on these lists, although earlier on he did play with Don Cherry, who is). Another might be Wayne Shorter’s Super Nova - not the whole album*, but e.g. the intro/outro of “Dindi” - it’s also the first Wayne album that I got.

*ETA: I meant “not the whole album sounds free…”. I think the whole album’s great.

I haven’t gotten it out in a while, but I don’t remember Phillip Cohran’s On the Beach being free jazz, either.

I might see all of the above as avant-garde, but to me, free means something more specific (which seems contradictory, now that I read it - “that’s not free! It has to be this way!”).

I’m only a bit familiar with them (I have Ancora da Capo) but I thought this was both pretty and far out:

ETA: I like to think I’m not concerned by labels - free jazz, West Coast, swing, bebop, cool etc. - but then something torques me if I see a label used in a certain (to me, inaccurate) way (not by you, I mean in lists like these). Like, if we’re gonna use 'em, do it right. (Another example is Getachew Mekurya - he was an Ethiopian saxophonist whose music was likened to free jazz, and later on he was associated with people who did play it. But he said was previously unfamiliar with it and, to me, his playing sounds very inside an Ethiopian context.) Having said all that, these days I’m much more likely to put on (for example) John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman than Interstellar Space


Yeah. In the linked article the Dolphy/Booker Little album “Far Cry” shows up on one list and that really is more standard hard bop to me.

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I was interested to see Coltrane in Japan in the image but not on the list. Interesting if only because it’s a rare case of Coltrane and Sanders playing alto saxes in some cases.

Can be a hard listen though. 4 CD set with only 6 songs. There’s multiple solos that last longer than some albums from the same era.


It’s true, I do think that I don’t “like” free jazz, or “enjoy” listening to it, despite the fact that many figures in the movement are among the very best musicians in the history of jazz, like Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, John and Alice Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor.

For me it’s not the melodic and rhythmic adventurousness, but primarily the dynamics and the timbre. I have the same problem with a lot of twelve-tone and avant garde classical - one can explore the frontiers of dissonance and melodic wierdness without penetrating the listener’s ear balls with honk-and-squeek cacophany. And sometimes they do, but it’s all-too-rare.

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I listen to free jazz, close my eyes and imagine someone repeatedly pushing a piano down a flight of stairs. I have tried and tried. Maybe I should give it another go.

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You should try Nancarrow if you want to learn to enjoy the sound of a piano being pushed down stairs:


Brötzmann isn’t real free jazz; you need to listen out for spontaneously forming Boltzmann Jazz. :smile::brain::notes:

Them’s are fighting words though, my good man.

Me too! It was a good few years ago I realised that the simple fact was I listened to a lot more Alice Coltrane than John Coltrane.

… clean the house quickly. No? Just me?

When nobody is around I blast it and do the chores.


Thank you for better articulating my thought, “It’s not my jam, man.”

Same! At least at one point.

Two more I would add to my list:

Ronnie Boykins self-titled (aka “The Will Come Is Now”)

Kalapurusha Maurice McIntyre “Humility in the Light of the Creator”

Some of my favorite free improv albums are the Third Person recordings from the 90’s that sit in some middle ground that I don’t really think of as “jazz” anymore, just “sound.”

I was listening to that CD bonus version of “My Favorite Things” recently, clocks in at around an hour, and yet he only briefly plays the melody about halfway through, the rest is just free form.