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Sputjazz: Steppin' Out

Since I made my other jazz list, I have seen many more people with an rinterest in jazz here rron sputnik, and people are generally giving out more rvaried recommendations which is a rrgood thing. People are expanding rtheir tastes, but still I find many have an aversion to ravant rgarde and rfree jazz. Whether they don't like it, don't know where to look, or just rraren't rcurious because they haven't been exposed to it, I'm here to help. rHere is a guide of rsorts, rthat will hopefully shed some light for those who rdon't know anything at all, or give rfurther rrecs to those with an interest ralready.
1 The History

Some blame that kid from Texas (Coleman), some blame the civil rights
movement, and some just blame the 60's, but really, the avant garde, the 'new
thing', had a number of contributing factors. Here is a brief stylistic timeline.
2Stan Kenton
City of Glass: Stan Kenton Plays Bob Graettinger

We begin in 1951, where a composer by the name of Bob Graettinger had been heading towards Gyorgy Ligeti style
material. Graettinger's compositions were almost not jazz, except maybe for the fact that they were
played by a big band. Third stream was the name the style would take; an
alternative 'stream' to jazz or classical. Graettinger was certainly not the first or
only to try combining jazz and classical, though few were as successful
(artistically, that is). While he was not a direct influence on many avant garde
musicians, he showed that the experimentation in jazz was indeed there, and
very early on. Not many were as 'out' as he was at that stage.
3Charles Mingus
Pithecanthropus Erectus

A familiar face, and another man known for his composition prowess. Back in the
mid 50's, Mingus was toying with ideas that would become the norm in the post-
bop realm throughout the 60's; dueling soloists, noisy sax playing, and a balance
between the composed and the free. He was essentially just playing hard-bop at
this point, but that edge was still there.
4Cecil Taylor
Jazz Advance

In the 50's, there was nobody even close to the intensity of this man's playing.
Actually, you could make a case for that now also. Before saxophonists were
overblowing like crazy, Taylor was just plain ol' beating the shit out of his piano,
with a kind of mad virtuosity and creativity that is seldom seen. This early
recording finds him struggling to connect with the bop idiom, and he certainly
stands out next to the other musicians.
5Sun Ra
Jazz in Silhouette

Another great jazz personality, the ever crazy Herman Blount, aka that guy that
thinks he's from Saturn, Sun Ra. Well, he wasn't sounding all that otherworldly at
this point, but if aliens were trying to imitate late 50's big band and bop, this is
probably what it would sound like. That experimental attitude is there, but it's still
trying to shake off those shackles...
6Ornette Coleman
The Shape of Jazz to Come

And finally, those shackles would indeed be shaken off, in 1959 by a boy from
Texas, showing the New York guys how to party. Prophetic is an understatement.
Coleman's approach was free, yet controlled, and relied heavily and intense
interaction between all members of the group; a group with no harmonic
instruments. Yep, no chords here. The soloist was not the only one working hard
now; the whole group was churning with ideas, propelling the unit forward. This
release was not as intense or as visceral as what it inspired, though some (ahem,
Miles Davis) were bold enough to call it 'anti-jazz'. This album still remains brilliant
however, and is a perfect starting point for anyone looking for a foothold (starting
at the start makes sense).
7Ornette Coleman
Free Jazz (A Collective Improvisation)

Another important title, which gave a name to the movement. This 1961 session
was a watershed moment in jazz; a truly 'free' jam, with many musicians. This is
where it all got noisy, and the intensity shifted up a gear. The group improvisation
methods employed by many others all started here.
8Cecil Taylor
Live at the Cafe Montmartre

Speaking of intensity, that key-bashing maniac Cecil Taylor was certainly
frightening Americans with his uncompromising style, though like many others
later on, he found an adoring audience in Europe. These '62 sessions in Denmark
with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray are moody, spontaneous, and at times,
punishing. This is certainly a good example of Taylor's mad brilliance, and also the
potency of the avant garde.
9Charles Mingus
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

One of the most popular jazz albums ever, and one of the best. Mingus showed
that while improvisation was continuing to blaze new ground in the free circles,
there was still plenty to explore compositionally. Odd arrangements, strange
form, and as moody as the man himself, Black Saint is essential listening for
everybody and anybody.
10Eric Dolphy
Out To Lunch

A man who really benefitted from playing with Mingus, was the strange multi-
instrumentalist Eric Dolphy. Audiences didn't really know how to take him; 'too out
to be in, and too in to be out'. His arrangements were a little odd, then on this
album, they became really quite strange. His soloing was always a little edgier than
his contemporaries, but here, he assembles a fantastic group of like-minded
musicians, creating one of the best albums jazz has to offer. This is essential stuff.
11John Coltrane
A Love Supreme

Coltrane had taken bop to its natural limits with Giant Steps, and was searching
for something more. His technically advanced playing had taken him this far,
but the next part of his journey was to be a spiritual one. He was getting more
and more adventurous live, and pumping out many records in the studio, but it
wasn't until he saw Albert Ayler that he had an idea of where he was heading.
Finally in '64, he reached the apex of his career, and headed into the studio
with the greatest quartet the world has seen (completely unbiased opinion) to
record this suite. A Love Supreme is certainly not the most out there, and
neither was Trane at this stage, but he had the fiery spirit. The most important
thing was that he gave the movement legitimacy. Being a highly respected jazz
figure-head, he became the torchbearer of this 'new thing', whether he wanted
it or not. Oh, and this is also the greatest album of all time.
12Albert Ayler
Spiritual Unity

Yes, the man who Coltrane listened to quite carefully. Ayler was hugely influential
to the new breed of sax player (who were at the moment under the spell of
Coltrane, funnily enough), with his raw tone and overblowing. His rhythm section
was also quite great; consider this the next in the chain after The Shape of Jazz to
Come, though a bit less sophisticated, but by no means lesser quality.
13John Coltrane

Less than a year after A Love Supreme, Coltrane dived right into the deep end.
A large group session much in the same vein as Coleman's Free Jazz, Ascension
is a loud and raucous jam (well, two jams if you have the reissue). What was
most significant about this session, was the people he was playing with.
Coltrane really was the father figure, nurturing all of this talent. People like
Pharoah Sanders, Marion Brown, Art Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Archie Shepp
were all here along with the quartet to create the monumental racket. If A Love
Supreme was the foot in the door, this is him sprinting through it.
14 Sun Ra
The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra

By this point, in the mid 60's, Sun Ra was all about the weird and abstract. It's
otherworldly, plain and simple. Sometimes fiery, sometimes spooky, usually just
fucking strange. The real Sun Ra had begun to turn jazz on it's head.
15Cecil Taylor
Unit Structures

Checking in again with Taylor, by this point he had honed his style and come up
with a classic. Not for the faint of heart, and therefore essential to the free jazz
16Don Cherry
Symphony for Improvisers

Cutting his teeth with Coleman early in his career, Cherry was destined for great
things. Extended compositions, group improvisations, and most importantly, a
growing 'world music' influence, which would take greater shape throughout the
17Alice Coltrane
A Monastic Trio

So here we are in 1968, and the spiritual leader of the movement, Mr John
William Coltrane, has sadly died the year previous, leaving his wife to carry on
the cause. Her style had not yet matured into the meditative bliss of her later
works, but here we have her playing with other Coltrane alumni in a very
spiritual manner, carrying on the legacy...
18Pharoah Sanders

That legacy would also be carried on by Pharoah Sanders. Spirituality was vital to
his music, and by combining the fiery passion of free jazz, with more meditative
jams, Sanders showed that the avant garde was not all about making as much
noise (and seemingly as little sense) as possible. A perfect starting point.
19Miles Davis
In A Silent Way

After spending some time away from the cutting edge of jazz, Miles was ready
for another big change. He had been working those modal ideas with his second
great quintet, and gradually becoming more adventurous (largely due to the
younger players in Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock). He had been listening to
more rock, especially Hendrix, and also soul and funk. Naturally, he headed
towards a more rhythmic kind of jazz, with more electric instruments, and a
new sound: fusion. In A Silent Way is perhaps the most important album at the
back end of the 60's.
20Miles Davis
Bitches Brew

His next one was like a bomb dropping; people didn't know what hit 'em. There
was nothing else like it, and the studio was now a creative element. Abstract,
explorative, drugged out, and electrified.
21Herbie Hancock

Hancock certainly learned a great deal from Miles, and his love of the electric
instruments and spacey sounds certainly got a kick start there. What resulted was
an even wackier approach to fusion than Miles had on Bitches Brew, with spacey
soundscapes and electronic noodling abound.
22Herbie Hancock

Taking his love of the synth, and the growing appreciation of funk in jazz circles,
Herbie went all out with the cheese and created the funkiest shit jazz had seen.
Many of you should know some of these songs already. After this, fusion kind of
stepped well away from jazz and turned to shit for the most part.
23 Europe

European audiences, perhaps due to already accepting radical advances in classical
music 50 years prior, were more than welcoming towards the avant garde jazz
players. Previously, the European influence in jazz was found in the cool jazz of the
west coast in the 50's, or in third stream, but by the late 60's, a free jazz
movement in Europe had begun, which blurred into 'free improvisation'.
24Peter Brotzmann
Machine Gun

Aptly titled. This German saxophonist upped the intensity, and set the tone for
European craziness.
25 Evan Parker
Saxophone Solos

Another intense sax player, who has put out quality material for many decades.
26 Alexander von Schlippenbach
Globe Unity

Pianist who has also long been a force in Europe, playing with Evan Parker
many times.
27Krzysztof Komeda

The Polish had quite a little scene going throughout the 60's and 70's of avant
garde and post-bop, mostly due to this man. He had worked with Roman Polanski
scoring films, but his lasting contribution was this album. Very moody, distinctly
European (whatever the hell that means), and at times visceral. A great starting
28Tomasz Stanko
Music for K

After Komeda died all to early, Stanko was the man to continue the style. Much in
the same vein as Astigmatic, though a little more free.
29 Manfred Schoof
European Echoes

A gathering of many important European players. Think Ascension or Free Jazz.
30 The Diving Board

So while all this crazy shit was going on, regular old bop was also getting a little
weirder, as the boundaries were breaking down. This period in the 60's is a
goldmine for amazing bop, and also a perfect point to start your journey into the
avant garde. I suggest you pick up all of these albums.
31Sam Rivers

An amazing debut. Freddie Hubbard especially is in fine form. One of my
32Andrew Hill
Point of Departure

While everybody was getting more and more out, pianist Andrew Hill tore bop
apart from the inside. Complex compositions and abstract tonalities are the name
of the game.
33Andrew Hill
34Andrew Hill
Dance with Death
35Bobby Hutcherson

Man, vibraphones are so damn cool. He played with Andrew Hill, he played on Eric
Dolphy's Out To Lunch, but he shines strongest here. Great abstract compositions.
36Grachan Moncur III

Not too many well known trombonists, especially in the avant garde, but Grachan
Moncur III showed the possibility of the instrument.
37Jackie McLean
Let Freedom Ring

Saxophonist who played with Mingus early on, who straddled the line between
bop and avant garde. These few albums are fantastic starting points.
38Jackie McLean
One Step Beyond
39 Jackie McLean
Destination... Out!
40Archie Shepp
Fire Music

Kind of a deranged attempt at avant garde, but still rooted in bop.
41McCoy Tyner
The Real McCoy

Post-Coltrane greatness for the influential pianist.
42Wayne Shorter
Speak No Evil

The man that would make a great pairing with Miles, and go on to be a big part
of the fusion movement. Here, his greatest asset was his compositional
43Rahsaan Roland Kirk
The Inflated Tear

Dude was mad crazy, playing multiple saxophones at once. Essentially he was
just a really weird bop player, very quirky.
44Miles Davis

Miles' second great quintet from '65 - '68 is becoming my favourite period of his.
Amazing stuff, all too often overlooked by newer fans.
45Miles Davis
Miles Smiles
46Miles Davis
Filles de Kilimanjaro
47 The Deep End

Further recs, modern stuff, the AACM
48Anthony Braxton
For Alto

Should have mentioned this guy by now. Hugely influential saxophonist, who
has released a ridiculous amount of material over the years. Usually quite
intense, he also liked to do solo recordings (something the Europeans began to
do en mass). He also belonged to the Association for the Advancement of
Creative Musicians, a very important community of musicians which included...
49Art Ensemble of Chicago
Les Stances a Sophie

An influential avant garde group, who were at times primal, sometimes noisy, but
always adventurous. This particular album is a soundtrack, which is a nice gateway
into their style. Very important group.
50Art Ensemble of Chicago
Urban Bushmen
51Art Ensemble of Chicago
Nice Guys
52Noah Howard
The Black Ark

One of my favourites. Ditched America early in his career, living well away from
the spotlight. He didn't enjoy a great deal of success, but left behind some
incredible music. This is the peak of the late 60's free jazz, with a great group.
53Bill Dixon
Intents and Purposes

An important man, not so much for his playing or releases, which were indeed
good, but because he organised the October Revolution in Jazz, in 1964. This led
to the creation of the Jazz Composer's guild, bringing many great underground
players together, and giving support to the avant garde.
54 The Jazz Composer's Orchestra
The Jazz Composer's Orchestra

Formed out of the Jazz Composer's Guild, the Orchestra was an organised mess of
ideas, featuring players like Cecil Taylor and Pharoah Sanders, with many other
younger players.
55 London Jazz Composer's Orchestra

Bunch of copy-cats.
56John Coltrane
Sun Ship

When his quartet really heated up. One of his best.
57Alice Coltrane
Journey in Satchidananda

Her best.
58 Black Renaissance
Body, Mind and Spirit

Really trippy fusion, with heaps of effects.
59Sun Ra

Lo-fi fusion
60Dave Burrell

Two tracks, showcasing the two sides of the avant garde; absolutely
cacophonous, and moody and abstract.
61Marion Brown
Porto Novo

Very big in France, he favoured group improvisations, sometimes including
62Miles Davis

Getting further out there.
63Eric Dolphy
Out There

'Out' was the marketing term. Accessible early stuff from Dolphy.
64Joe McPhee
Nation Time

He's been a part of the avant garde for a long time, and has pumped out many
albums. Free, but not too crazy.
65Pharoah Sanders

More great jams
66Charles Gayle

Intense. One of the big names of the last couple of decades. Time for more
modern stuff.
67Charles Gayle
68David S. Ware

Another big names over the last couple of decades. Not hugely intense, he has a
really strong sense of melody, and keeps things from going too far out there.
Highly recommended.
69William Parker
The Peach Orchard

Bassist who played with Brotzmann and Evan Parker early on, and David S.
Ware later, has been one of the strongest forces in keeping jazz alive. This also
happens to be one of my favourite albums ever. Moody, intense, modern. These
adjectives are getting old.
70 William Parker
O'Neal's Porch

Some more great stuff. Free, but not cacophonous.
71 William Parker
Painter's Spring

Trio work.
72William Parker
Double Sunrise Over Neptune

Accessible avant garde jams, closer to Pharoah Sanders or Alice Coltrance in the
'world music' influence. Trippy vocals too. Strong melodies, nice grooves, can't go
73Die Like A Dog Quartet
Fragments of Music, Life and Death of Albert Ayler

A gathering of fantastic musicians here. Very free, very crazy.
74 Charles Gayle, William Parker & Rashied Ali
Touchin' on Trane

A trio of epic proportions paying tribute to the greatest.
75Sonny Sharrock
Ask the Ages

Crazy guitarist, who brought distortion to jazz in a big way.
76Sonny Sharrock
Black Woman
77James Blood Ulmer
Are You Glad to Be in America?

Guitarist with a somewhat spastic style. Sort of fusiony, out there, sorta funky
free jazz. Also tried doing some blues albums (which fucking sucked).
78John Zorn
Naked City

Obligatory mention of this cooky dude and his fucked up
grind/country/blues/avant garde jazz.
79 Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Orchestra
Out to Lunch

Japanese tribute/interpretation, bringing in a modern touch, with electronics
also. If you thought the original was strange...
80Matana Roberts
Coin Coin Chapter One - Gens de couleur libres

Came out this year. Yes, this shit is still alive and kicking. She's also a member
of the previously mentioned AACM. If diversifying your end-of-year list is
motivation to check some of this stuff out, then I guess that's a good thing.
Start here and work back.
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