#1
I don't even have a jump off point here, but I really want to have a decent conversation about free Improvisation and free form music. So perhaps I'll start out with some history of these things in the jazz world, and see where it goes from there.

Free Improvisation

Back when Cool Jazz was in its later years, you had all these "hip cats" who would do whats called "taking it out". This is when you take your solos outside the harmonic form to achieve some musical goal. The goal is whatever you're trying to convey. So this happened over your blues forms and your rhythm changes and your basic circle of 4ths patterns, but when modal jazz really started coming out to the scene people started going out as almost a profession. Staying in key through a modal offered plenty of possibilities, but going out offered even more. So this method of improvising continued (and continues) to develop, and musicians started really making it their own. You can hear it in late Davis, early Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Herbie, and continue to hear it in arrangements by Jim McNeely and works by many other contemporary Jazz artists.

Free Form Music

This is so incredibly broad and undefined that its really difficult to give an accurate description. Sort of stemming from the development of Free Improv and long drug fueled jam sessions, artists began direct free improvisation sections in their music. Some started to bag the idea of just the soloist being free and started to toy with the idea that the whole band should improvise the tune. Ornett Coleman, Sun Ra, Anthony Braxton, Late Trane, et al. With jazz already breaking down the bounds of theory that was considered law and the fluctuating and changing social environment, this relatively new train of thought started to draw in people who enjoyed the creative opportunities this allowed. It was no longer absolute taboo for artists to use completely different notation or even no notation at all. Scratch Music by Cornelius Cardew offers and excellent look at some of the possibilities in this realm of thought.

If any of this seems off or if anyone has something to add please say something, I'm just trying to jot down a quick history of the art form, so I most certainly have overlooked at least a couple things. So lets hear your thoughts and opinions, there is a ton to be learned from discussion of abstract thought.
The hip cat says; "Mhm, okay, I can groove wit' this"
#2
Especially compared to many of their contemporaries the artists from this movement are lost in an historical limbo - they are known of, adored by some (many?), but their place in the history of the music, while often acknowledged as significant, seems perpetually undefined and is never concrete (fitting, like the music?). This could be partially do to the influence of the Wynton Marsalis, Stan Crouch, we-made-THE-documentary-with-Ken-Burns-school (Julliard & Lincoln Center is their controlling Domain) who, while acknowledging the existence of the music write it as a fringe movement, a dead end, that was of no real importance (then again - I wasn't there ... maybe they're closer to the truth than I know?). I think it's a shame that joe six-pack (ha) has no clue who Ornette was and thinks that Don Cherry is an admittedly funny, (and I will probably cry the day he leaves Hockey Night in Canada), pugnacious, sometimes racist sportscaster who likes to wear ridiculous suits with massive collars.

Maybe the world needs an "Avant-Garde Jazz appreciation Day". We could all wear black turtlenecks, horn-rimmed glasses, no socks. Or maybe, just like so many seem to take pride in their anger at "Modern Art" (seems now to be a blanket term for things people don't understand. What if not understanding is sometimes the best part?), it will always be a fringe art for weirdos, but hey, aren't normal people terribly boring?

I've made my choice.
#3
So, Nick, whats your favorite approach to the Avant-Garde style?
The hip cat says; "Mhm, okay, I can groove wit' this"
#4
I'd say that the true legacy of the avant-garde, and the actual established harmonic concepts that were celebrated in free-form is in the schools. If you want to learn about Louis Armstrong, you can read a couple of books and buy his albums. But whenever you want to get to the core(s) of jazz harmony, you HAVE to go further then Miles and Coltrane. I think every Jazz Studies curriculum enjoys making what many older jazz musicians to this day think of as a messy "I'm just gonna be weird" kinda movement into a substantial and technical course for academic study.

The fact that this is being done only goes to prove that the Avant-Garde, with time will be able to draw parallels and sit alongside Schoenberg's adherents and the "The Rite of Spring" in the eyes of aristocrat academia--in which I believe Julliard-Lincoln Center as Nick mentioned dominates. The new generation of jazz-heads are continuing the tradition of free-form concepts. It simply not being called that anymore. Everything ends up being called fusion...or sometimes progressive. Come to think of it, everything that's not a direct imitation of someone's style is called fusion these days. Anyway, just imo, but a I thought this was an interesting thread topic.

And I'll admit, the first time I saw Sun-Ra on YouTube, I laughed...But I didn't laugh when I first heard his music(tho I'm not a fan). Maybe that says something about the unneeded extremes of the "official" avant-garde movement and why it is so easily ridiculed.
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#5
Quote by fusionsan
So, Nick, whats your favorite approach to the Avant-Garde style?
In my unworthy opinion, music should be written first with ideas gained from pure creativity and than perfected with cold logic and a near perfect ear.

When you only apply creativity you get true avant-garde art (which in my definition is art without obligatory boundaries). This is stuff most people don't actually enjoy. Honestly, the only jazz I can't listen to is Kenny G (just cause he sucks) and "free jazz."
#6
I have to say, my favourite thing to do is just get some musicians I like, and start playing music. If you need more than a sentance to explain it, then you shouldn't be jamming with them.

I recently had an awesome jam with an excellent bassist who teaches at the same music school as me. Results are the first three mp3s on my profile, if anyone's interested. (barely jazz at all, btw)
#7
^ +1 to FP

most of my friends and i , i just drag a guitar over to their place and they plug in and we go. rarely is there a "this is in the key of....." cuz several of them wouldn't know what to do even if they knew the key. so we just go and jam and sometimes its weird and sometimes its funny but it always kicks ass.
#8
There is a certain beauty to two or more musicians improvising together. Without boundaries or rules, you just pick up an instrument and play.

Unfortunately this can be rather difficult in the modern day 'band' situation. Typical improvisation does require a few things. You have to be willing to back up some people, fall in line with others, know what you're playing without thinking about it and know what your partners are playing.

It is hugely instructive in the world of music just to play with somebody who has a similar style. Even more instructive is to play with somebody of a different style and do so well.
#9
It has its ups and downs.
For me, one of the greatest things to listen to is a soloist just closing out a fine solo, and then everything falling back into somewhere that i recognize, with recognizable tunes, etc. Going to listen to something with no real form is not unenjoyable, but certainly not preferred.

But on the complete opposite, the best jam ive ever had came in a free form setting.
#10
Personally I'm a devoted fan of Eric Dolphy, but let it be said that nothing I have ever heard carries the power of (Coltrane's) Ascension.

My vision of the free approach as I want to hear when I listen to it and wish to play is strangely enough closer to what Miles was doing with his second quintet at the Plugged Nickel sets. My angle towards art is similar to minimalism in its original sense: I do not pare for the sake of it, but simply reduce to essences. What I really admire about the Plugged Nickel was the way they improvised the form itself - they cued each other, and only based on the melodic and harmonic ideas they took those ideas, pushing and shoving, and brought them places, wherever they wanted to go. I want a completely improvised performance to become so free it sounds almost as if it was through composed, an original document. Of course, Miles' band still was showing considerable restraint next to what Coltrane was doing that year, who was that much closer to reducing the music not even to harmonies melodies but pure sound and rhythms. That is what I want, just sound: The improvisation is how this sound orders itself, becomes something.
#11
Quote by Nick_
Personally I'm a devoted fan of Eric Dolphy, but let it be said that nothing I have ever heard carries the power of (Coltrane's) Ascension.

My vision of the free approach as I want to hear when I listen to it and wish to play is strangely enough closer to what Miles was doing with his second quintet at the Plugged Nickel sets. My angle towards art is similar to minimalism in its original sense: I do not pare for the sake of it, but simply reduce to essences. What I really admire about the Plugged Nickel was the way they improvised the form itself - they cued each other, and only based on the melodic and harmonic ideas they took those ideas, pushing and shoving, and brought them places, wherever they wanted to go. I want a completely improvised performance to become so free it sounds almost as if it was through composed, an original document. Of course, Miles' band still was showing considerable restraint next to what Coltrane was doing that year, who was that much closer to reducing the music not even to harmonies melodies but pure sound and rhythms. That is what I want, just sound: The improvisation is how this sound orders itself, becomes something.


Have you checked out Miles' "Call It Anything"? It was performed at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970. Jack DeJohnette on drums, Dave Holland on bass, Chick Corea on synthesizer, percussion by Airto Moreira, Gary Bartz on sax, Keith Jarrett on keyboards. A video of it can be found on the DVD "Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue" and probably on youtube as well. Completely free, all about the groove and feel, and awesome beyond description. Its one of those performances you absolutely must see.
The hip cat says; "Mhm, okay, I can groove wit' this"
#12
Is that Bill Evans in your avatar?

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#13
Quote by Xiaoxi
Is that Bill Evans in your avatar?


Yes. Yes it is.
The hip cat says; "Mhm, okay, I can groove wit' this"
#14
Sweet.


...modes and scales are still useless.


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#15
Watching it now. Damn but Miles was a stylish dresser. And the playing is great.


To me the presence of the steady, rock-inspired groovin' beat takes away a lot of the possibilities of the free sound, but makes it make so much more sense to play whatever they want over it.

In my head the instruments work together to create the rhythm, the drums just another colour and texture to be used melodically.
#16
Well the Miles set is definitely free, but the difference between that and the stuff people call "noise" is that Miles was looking for a jam to freely groove in but it still had some harmonic structure. When you have the stuff that barely sounds like music at all is when people drop harmonic structure and concentrate on creating some feeling with the sounds you make. A trumpet doesn't have to be a tonal instrument in free music, it can be a percussive sound depending on what you intend to do with it. I think thats the coolest part about this art form.
The hip cat says; "Mhm, okay, I can groove wit' this"