Piero Scaruffi's
History of Avantgarde Music

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Post-jazz music

The Japanese scene for free improvisers boomed in the 1970s thanks to a group of futuristic musicians. Motoharu Yoshizawa recorded solo acoustic bass improvisations on Cracked Mirrors (1975) but then developed a cacophonous five-string bass for more disjointed works such as Empty Hats (1994). The elegant style of percussionist Masahiko Togashi is documented on Rings (1975), on which he also played vibraphone and celesta. The most influential musician of this generation was probably guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi, who became one of the earliest noise guitar improvisers, recording extremely cacophonous works such as Free Form Suite (1972), with his New Directions combo, and the brutal solo improvisations of Action Direct (1985), Inanimate Nature (1991) and Three Improvised Variations on a Theme of Quadhafi (1991), recorded just before he died. Saxophonist Kaoru Abe (who died at 29) emerged through three galactic duets with Takayanagi: Kaitaiteki Koukan/ Deconstructive Communication (1970), Gradually Projection (1970) and Mass Projection (1970).

London in the 1970s was a strange place for jazz music. The influence of Derek Bailey (Britain's premier improviser) was gigantic, but somehow London developed a surreal and almost self-parodistic take on the whole "creative" scene. The works of some of the most austere improvisers were actually British humour at its best. Lol Coxhill, a saxophonist of the Canterbury school of progressive-rock (a member of Kevin Ayers's group) penned Ear Of The Beholder (1971), a chaotic mosaic of fragments in the British tradition of the nonsense, inspired by the musichall, nursery rhymes, dancehalls as well as free-jazz. An even more explicit tribute to street music, Welfare State (1975), was his political and aesthetic manifesto: avantgarde music for ordinary people. Coxhill's humane and poetic approach surfaced even in his most reckless improvisations: the Duet For Soprano Saxophone And Guitar off Fleas In Custard (1975), Wakefield Capers off Joy Of Paranoia (1978), 11/5/78 off Digswell Duets (1979). Steve Beresford debuted with The Bath Of Surprise (1977), which included pieces scored for toy instruments, bath water, whistles, tubes, euphonium and ukelele (besides piano, guitar and trumpet), and delivered the atonal duets of Double Indemnity (1980) with cellist Triston Honsinger. The British improvisers of this generation often flirted with folk, pop and rock music, emphasizing irony at the same time that they were embracing the most hostile techniques.

British guitarist Keith Rowe, a member of AMM, was one of the improvisers who most contributed to the definition of a new vocabulary for the guitar; or, better, for the "tabletop" guitar, a guitar plugged into the cacophony of the "perfectly ordinary reality" (usually, a barrage of radios and electronic devices). Starting with the chaotic, cryptic and apparently meaningless "guitar solos" of A Dimension of Perfectly Ordinary Reality (1990), Rowe played the guitar virtually in every possible manner and with every possible tool, to the point that the guitar became a mere object that could be used to produce unusual sounds. His body of work, that referenced abstract painting, Dada, Edgar Varese and John Cage, was the quintessence of "noise" guitar music. He updated his concepts to the digital age via the ensemble of of electronic improvisers Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra and their albums MIMEO (1998), Queue (1999) and Electric Chair + Table (2000), plus Rabbit Run (2002), a colossal jam with synthesizers and computers, and the Duos for Doris (2003) with AMM's pianist John Tilbury.

British violinist Jon Rose, debuting with two volumes of Solo Violin Improvisations (1978), experimented with numerous instruments, mostly solo, on Towards a Relative Music (1980), for electronics, vibes, gongs and even furniture, Relative String Music (1980) for solo violin or sarangi, Devils and Angels (1984) for amplified violin or cello. Then Paganini's Last Testimony (1988) for voice and violin marked the beginning of his mock neoclassical phase, continued with Die Beethoven Konversationen (1990) and 2 Real Violin Stories (1992). His surrealistic phase was highlighted by The Virtual Violin (1993), a comic "opera" relying on a rapid fire of samples triggered by more or less random sounds of the violin, and a series of radio works (that often sounded like Dada making fun of Dada making fun of humankind). The Fence (1998) was the first recording of the "Fence" series, suites for giant string installations. It all seemed to come together (John Cage-derived aleatory music, sense of humour, and free improvisation) on The Hyperstring Project (2000), a study on counterpoint for violin and interactive software.

British progressive-rock hero and Keith Rowe's disciple Fred Frith developed a technique of brief vignettes that straddled the border between dissonant and folk music on Gravity (1980) and Speechless (1981). In the meantime, starting with Guitar Solos (1974), he had joined the ranks of the improvisers. Through collaborations with guitarist Henry Kaiser, cellist Tom Cora, notably the folk-neoclassical-atonal fusion of Skeleton Crew's Learn To Talk (1984), harpist Zeena Parkins, saxophonist Lol Coxhill and keyboardist Bob Ostertag, percussionist Charles Noyes, as well as fellow Henry Cow member Chris Cutler, Frith perfected a collage-style art that juxtaposed improvised jams and cells of composed music. The compositional aspect also led him to compose chamber music such as Quartets (1993) and The Previous Evening (1998) that paid tribute to the American avantgarde of the previous decades (such as John Cage and Morton Feldman). The 56-minute suite Impur (may 1996) was performed and improvised by 100 musicians in a large building for an audience that was encouraged to wonder around. He also founded the trio Maybe Monday with Miya Masaoka on koto and electronics and with saxophonist Larry Ochs of the Rova Saxophone Quartet. Their Saturn's Finger (1999) was perhaps his most mature venture into creative jazz, containing three lengthy improvisations that sample ambient, industrial and exotic overtones. Another synthesis of sort was represented by the dance piece The Happy End Problem (2003).

New-age jazz

See also New-age jazz music (Darling, Horn, Shadowfax, Montreaux, Turtle Island String Quartet, Isham)

In the USA, the baroque wing of jazz-rock was the ruling paradigm for a whole generation raised in the post-Miles Davis world. By insisting on the timbres of the instruments and on spiritual atmospheres, they created a music of pure insinuation. It was the American equivalent of ECM's school in Europe. Paul Winter can be considered the catalyst of the movement.

Oregon were an offshoot of Paul Winter's Consort, featuring four of Winter's best discoveries: guitarist Ralph Towner, bassist Glen Moore, percussionist Collin Walcott, oboe player Paul Mc Candless. Their sophisticated interplay of improvisation and composition, jazz and classical music, world an folk music secreted the impressionist vignettes of Music Of Another Present Era (1972) and the complex spiritual journeys of Distant Hills (1973). Oregon continued to refine its baroque calligraphy and lyrical longing on Winter Light (1974) and Out Of The Woods (1978). A touch of electronics and jazzier overtones accounted for the more introspective and hermetic sound of Oregon (1983) and Crossing (1985). Solo works were no less seductive: Glen Moore's May 24, 1976 (1976), Collin Walcott's Grazing Dreams (1977), Paul McCandless' Navigator (1981). and especially Ralph Towner's Diary (1974) and Matchbook (1975), with Gary Burton on vibraphone.

Contrabassist David Friesen ran back and forth between mellow ethnic jazz-rock, such as on Star Dance (1976) or Waterfall Rainbow (1977), featuring Ralph Towner's acoustic guitar, John Stowell's electric guitar, Paul McCandless' oboe and Nick Brignola's flute, and spiritual new-age music, such as on Paths Beyond Tracing (1980).

Minnesota guitarist Steve Tibbetts crafted a dreamy, intimate version of jazz-rock, occasionally bordering on new-age music's spirituality, with Yr (1980) for overdubbed guitars and exotic percussion. On the other hand, Safe Journey (1984) and Exploded View (1986) bordered on psychedelic rock and heavy metal.

Canadian percussion ensemble Nexus launched a new genre for western music, ensemble percussion music, with Music of Nexus (1978).

Brazilian-born percussionist Nana Vasconcelos mixed the berimbau and the symphony orchestra on Saudades (1979), and used percussive sounds of the human body and voice for Zumbi (1983).

Noise jazz


The white San Francisco-based Rova Saxophone Quartet was the alternative, experimental alter-ego of the more famous World Saxophone Quartet. Formed in 1977 by Jon Raskin (1954), Larry Ochs (1949), Andrew Voigt and Bruce Ackley, on respectively baritone, tenor, alto and soprano saxophone it straddled the border between free jazz and classical music of the 20th century. Raskin had already founded several multimedia projects and worked with composer John Adams. Their first concert became also their first album, Cinema Rovate' (august 1978), highlighted by Raskin's chaotic and cacophonous 21-minute Ride Upon the Belly of the Waters After The Bay (december 1978) with Italian percussionist Andrea Centazzo, the noise strategy of the group was perfected on The Removal of Secrecy (february 1979), particularly Ochs' 19-minute That's How Strong. There was method in their madness, but it was not easily detected within the dense structures of their scores. After Daredevils (february 1979) with guitarist Henry Kaiser, and the transitional This This This This (august 1979), with Raskin's eleven-minute Flamingo Horizons, Invisible Frames (october 1981) boasted another peak of their expressionist art, Voigt's 22-minute Narrow Are the Vessels. Ochs' 19-minute Paint Another Take of the Shootpop, off As Was (april 1981), was dedicated to both classical composer Olivier Messiaen and soul vocalist Otis Redding. Rova's style was becoming more accessible while still being abstract, absurd and atonal. After the live double-LP Saxophone Diplomacy (june 1983), with a 24-minute Detente or Detroit, and the Steve Lacy tribute of Favorite Street (november 1983), the Rova Saxophone Quartet sculpted the titanic jams of Crowd (june 1985), such as the 19-minute The Crowd, Ochs' 29-minute Knife In the Times and Raskin's 16-minute Terrains. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.

New York's trio Borbetomagus produced hurricanes of free-jazz music for two saxophones (Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich), guitar (Donald Miller) and electronic distortion. Their delirious improvised bacchanals constituted a sort of "baroque" style of the ugly and the noisy. The devastating early "concordats" of Borbetomagus (1980) and Work On What Has Been Spoiled (1981), the cacophonous symphony Barbet Wire Maggot (1983), perhaps their most extreme statement, the abstract and grotesque soundpainting of Borbeto Jam (1985), that seemed to exhaust the expressive power of the "concordats", and Fish That Sparkling Bubble (1987), a ferocious collaboration with noise-meister Voice Crack (Norbert Moeslang and Andy Guhl), had little in common with the traditional quest for "sound" in jazz, a quest for an atmospheric, romantic and, ultimately, pleasant sound.

Voice Crack, the duo of Swiss musicians Andy Guhl (percussion and bass) and Norbert Moeslang (reeds), made music with broken objects found in garbage cans and adopted the extreme improvisation of free-jazz. Albums such as Knack On (1982) and Concerto for Cracked Everyday-Electronics and Chamber Orchestra (1994) were Dadaist acts of musical rebellion.

Post-jazz creativity in New York

New York experienced a "new wave" of musical creativity around the mid 1970s. Rock music was reborn thanks to a multitude of independent musicians who avoided the mainstream cliches. Jazz and avantgarde music felt the effects of the revolution.

New York-based saxophonist John Zorn emerged from the milieu of the solo improvisers, but his concept of "improvisation" was closer to John Cage's aleatory music than to Ornette Coleman's free-jazz. Game-pieces such as Archery (1979) and Pool (1980) were partially composed improvisations that defined rules within which a cast of improvisers could improvise (improvisation being bound more by mathematical than emotional constraints, as in Anthony Braxton). True to Cage's indeterminate aesthetics, Zorn composed uncomposed music and conducted unrepeatable performances. Zorn embraced the aesthetic of the new wave and punk-rock with the hysterical and laconic fragments of Locus Solus (1983), that employed both jazz and rock musicians plus turntablists. His demented saxophone playing stood out as a major and shocking stylitic innovation. Cobra (1987), originally conceived in 1984, marked another zenith of Zorn's chaotic and abrasive vision, a dadaist symphony that, despite the pretentious premises, was rather the musical equivalent of a Marx Brothers' slapstick. The studio version, a ten-movement suite with neoclassical titles, featured Jim Staley on trombone, Carol Emanuel and Zeena Parkins on harps, Bill Frisell, Elliott Sharp and Arto Lindsay on guitars, Anthony Coleman and Wayne Horvitz on organ, piano, harpsichord and celeste, David Weinstein on sampling keyboards, Guy Klucevsek on accordion, Bob James on tapes, Christian Marclay on turntables, Bobby Previte on percussion. Vestiges of popular music, from Jimi Hendrix's glissandos to cajun accordion, kept surfacing with frantic exuberance from the shroud of random dissonace, perhaps a metaphor for the post-modernist conflict between nostalgia and futurism, amid a concrete collage of power-drills and electronic oscillations, jackhammer rhythms and expressionist overtones. A series of hyper-kinetic collages and Spillane (1986), a melodic fantasia that paid homage to the atmospheres of film noir, announced the new Zorn: the post-modernist (or, better, cubist) artist who "quoted", deconstructed and reconstructed musical stereotypes while injecting the cacophony, frenzy and violence of the 20th century. That artist moved closer to the world of rock music with Naked City (1989), an enterprise with guitarists Bill Frisell and Fred Frith, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz and drummer Joey Baron offering irriverent jazz-surf-punk fusion music that referenced a broad spectrum of musical stereotypes, albeit drenched in urban neurosis. Zorn's works now fully revealed the influnce of the epileptic discontinuity of Carl Stalling's cartoon soundtracks, literally applied on Cynical Hysterie Hour (1990), one of his most ambitious attempts at deconstructing the western musical civilization. Even more uncompromising, Naked City's Torture Garden (1990) and Heretic (1992), that added the Boredoms's psychotic vocalist Yamatsuka Eye to the original quintet, as well as Pain Killer's The Guts Of A Virgin (1991) and especially Buried Secrets (1992), for a "jazzcore" trio with bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Mick Harris, were kaleidoscopic frescoes of unfulfilled semiotic events. Zorn's combinatorial exercises and cut-up techniques were rather pursued in his chamber music, which yielded large-scale works such as Kristallnacht (1993), Redbird (1995), Aporias (1998) and Chimeras (2001), as well as several string quartets.

Hyper-active New York-based guitarist Elliott Sharp was perhaps the most incoherent experimentalist of his age, almost adopting a different technique for each recording, but his wildly multiform activity came to symbolize the ultimate synthesis of dissonance, repetition and improvisation, the three cardinal points of the classical, rock and jazz avantgarde. Sharp emerged from the sociomusical revolution of the new wave of rock music and entered a jazz world that was still recovering from the destructive process of the creative improvisers. His early groups, such as Ism (1981), with Bill Laswell on bass and Charles Noyes on drums, Carbon (1984), with Lesli Dalaba on trumpet and Charles Noyes on percussion, and Semantics (1985), with Sam Bennett on drums and Ned Rothenberg on saxophone, applied cacophony and deconstruction to funk, blues and rock. Soon he was toying with string quartets, notably in Tessalation Row (1986), the computer and the sampler in Virtual Stance (1986) ethnic music in Larynx (1987), and, last but not least, Mathematics, notably in Marco Polo's Argali (1985). By the end of the decade Sharp had returned to his rock roots with the new Carbon, featuring Zeena Parkins on harp and frequent ventures into punk-rock and heavy-metal, as documented on Datacide (1990) and Tocsin (1991). At the same time, he continued to score works for chamber ensembles (particularly string quartets) and digital equipment, such as the wildly dissonant Cryptid Fragments (1993) for cello, violin and computer. Few composers roamed a broader spectrum of the musical universe.

While drawing from a kaleidoscope of rock and jazz guitar techniques as well as from the chaotic structures of Charles Ives' symphonies and Frank Zappa's dadaistic pieces, Eugene Chadbourne was a free improviser whose roots were in rural white music, the kind espoused and expanded by John Fahey's avantgarde folk program. But his demented sense of humour gave Solo Acoustic Guitar (1975) and especially the Collected Symphonies (1985) for guitar, not to mention his pieces for home-made instruments and his covers of rock and folk classics, a tone of punk irreverence. The same tone permeated the piece for orchestra 2000 Statues and the English Channel (1979), featuring an all-star cast of improvisers (Lesli Dalaba on trumpet, Toshinori Kondo on trumpet, John Zorn on saxophone, Bob Ostertag on synthesizer, Steve Beresford on toy instruments, Fred Frith on guitar, LaDonna Smith on violin, Tom Cora on cello, Wayne Horvitz on piano, Andrea Centazzo on drums, etc), the country & western opera Jesse Helms Busted for Pornography (1996), and assorted compositions for musique concrete, chamber jazz ensemble, symphony orchestra, gamelan ensemble, etc.

San Francisco-based guitarist Henry Kaiser adopted Derek Bailey's approach to solo improvisation but ever since Aloha (1981), that includes a remix ante-litteram, showed the difference that the American tradition stemming from John Cage could make: it resulted in virtuoso and irreverent cacophony. Ditto for the shamanic music of Invite The Spirit (1984), ostensibly chamber music for percussion, harp and guitar. His ventures into rock music, such as Marrying For Money (1986), Devil In The Drain (1987) and Crazy-backwards Alphabet (1987), sounded like bizarre revisitations of the history of the genre.

Cellist Tom Cora formed the original Curlew line-up with bassist Bill Laswell, guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, drummer Bill Bacon and reedman George Cartwright, that recorded Curlew (1981), and joined Nimal (1987), a combo formed by Swiss multi-instrumentalist Jean "Momo" Rossel that straddled the line between jazz, folk and progressive-rock. Cora continued to roam a broad horizon, from Third Person, the trio of Cora, percussionist Samm Bennett and saxophonist Umezu Kazutoki that recorded Lucky Water (1995), to the abstract punk-noise experiment Roof, that recorded The Untraceable Cigar (1996).

William Hooker was a drummer who remained fundamentally faithful to the aesthetic of free-jazz, starting with Is Eternal Life (1978), a set of collaborations with other improvisers, and maturing via the solo tours de force of Subconscious (1992) and Radiation (1994).

Percussionist Charles Noyes conceived some of the more cerebral improvised music on Free Mammals (1980), for guitar and percussion, and The World And The Raw People (1983), featuring John Zorn and Henry Kaiser.

Alto saxophonist Tim Berne coined a neurotic language that mixed composition and improvisation. Songs And Rituals In Real Time (1982) sounded like a compromise between melodic tunesmith and cerimonial music of primitive civilizations. It was the prelude to the captivating balance of complex structure and anarchic solos achieved on Fulton Street Maul (1987), featuring Hank Roberts on cello, Bill Frisell on electric guitar and Alex Cline on percussion, a pastiche of pieces that could be both wildly dissonant, melancholy romantic and frantically tribal. Berne's musical chaos increased on Sanctified Dreams (1987), for a sax-trumpet-cello quintet, and reached a zenith on Fractured Fairy Tales (1989), recorded by a sextet of sax, trumpet (Herb Robertson), cello (Hank Roberts), percussion (Joey Baron), contrabass (Mark Dresser) and violin (Mark Feldmann), and containing Evolution Of A Pearl. Here the music transformed into a devilish, cartoonish, clownish post-modernist exercise in the grotesque vein of Frank Zappa. Berne then proceeded to apply the same twisted and schizophrenic logic to different combinations of musicians and styles: Caos Totale, a sextet or septet including bassist Mark Dresser, trombonist Steve Swell, trumpet and flute player Herb Robertson, drummer Bobby Previte and guitarist Marc Ducret, was devoted to lengthy and convoluted compositions on Pace Yourself (1991), with Legend of P1, and Nice View (1994), with It Could Have Been A Lot Worse and Impacted Wisdom; while Miniature, i.e. the trio of Berne, Joey Baron on drums and Hank Roberts on cello, veered towards futuristic ethno-jazz-funk music on Miniature (1988) and I Can't Put My Finger On It (1991); and finally the Science Friction Band (a sax-guitar-keyboards-drums quartet) documented the most abstract aspect of Berne's art on Science Friction (2002) and The Sublime And (2003), with The Shell Game. Berne's intriguing game of composition and improvisation was further expanded on The Shell Game (2002), with the colossal Thin Ice, and The Sevens (2002), with the colossal Quicksand.

Despite keeping a low profile, Lesli Dalaba (a member of Wayne Horvitz's, Elliott Sharp's and La Monte Young's ensembles) contributed to renovate the vocabulary of the instrument with a style that made the cerebral sound lyrical. Her own compositions surfaced much later on albums such as Core Samples (1992) and Timelines (2004), featuring a quintet of veteran female musicians (Zeena Parkins on harp, Amy Denio on vocals, Ikue Mori on keyboards, Carla Kihlstedt on violin).


Jewish drummer Joey Baron, who played with Bill Frisell (1988), Tim Berne (1989) and John Zorn (1989), debuted as a leader on Tongue in Groove (may 1991) and Raised Pleasure Dot (february 1993), both in a bizarre trio (Barondown) with trombonist Steve Swell and tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin performing sets of brief unpredictable sketches. Having proven how little he cared for the conventions of rhythm, Baron proceeded to form Down Home, a much more orthodox quartet with alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe, guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Ron Carter whose Down Home (april 1997) featured longer pieces such as Little Boy, Wide Load and What that straddled the border between free jazz and rhythm'n'blues. In the meantime, Barondown also changed format, delivering two lengthy and convoluted skits, Games On A Train and Sittin' On A Cornflake on Crackshot (august 1995). Down Home, instead, crafted We'll Soon Find Out (april 2000), in an even more conventional vein (either a postmodernist take on bebop or a melodic detour). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.

Post-jazz soloists and hyper-fusion

Percussionist Kip Hanrahan came to prominence with a project of "neighborhood music" which looked like the urban, American equivalent of Lol Coxhill's "welfare state" project. Coup De Tete (1981) and Vertical Currency (1985), relying on Latin rhythms and melodies, offered orchestral exotic jazz-rock performed by an all-star cast.

Violinist Henry Flynt launched an ambitious project to found a "new american ethnic music" that fused avantgarde music (particularly the hypnotic aspects of minimalism and free-jazz) and hillbilly/country music, best represented by You Are My Everlovin' (1980) and Celestial Power (1981).

California contrabassist Bob Wasserman borrowed from David Grisman's progressive country, acid-rock and free jazz to pen his first album Solo (1983) and the Trios (1994) that featured rock, jazz, folk and blues musicians.

Violinist Malcolm Goldstein bridged generations and techniques with The Seasons - Vermont (1983), a collage for natural sounds and improvising dissonant ensemble.

The career of drummer Sam Bennett bridged the solo percussion album Metafunctional (1984), and the abstract soundpainting of Skist, a duo with Haruna Ito that wed percussions with sampling and electronics, via the new-wave groups he co-founded with guitarist Elliott Sharp and saxophonist Ned Rothenberg, such as Semantics.

Trombonist Jim Staley tested different trios of musicians on Mumbo Jumbo (1986), with keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, guitarist Elliott Sharp, vocalist Shelley Hirsch, drummer Samm Bennett, guitarist Bill Frisell, percussionist Ikue Mori, guitarist Fred Frith and saxophonist John Zorn.

Reed player Ned Rothenberg specialized in an art of demonic solos and duets, best documented by Trespass (1986), but his crowning achievement was a big-band effort, Power Lines (1995), that explored dense, unpredictable structures replete with his favorite rhythmic experiments.

New York-born accordionist Guy Klucevsek deligthed the avantgarde world with a combination of austere compositions, such as The Flying Pipe Organ for multiple accordions, off Scenes From a Mirage (1987), and the eight-movement Citrus My Love for accordion and chamber ensemble, off Citrus My Love (1995), and surreal folk dance scores such as Union Hall, off Flying Vegetables of the Apocalypse (1991).

As removed as possible from the austere tone of the solo creative music, guitarist Bill Frisell, a veteran of Paul Motian's ensemble, assimilated rock and jazz innovations while harking back to old-time church and folk music, and sometimes to marching bands and cafe orchestras, on In Line (1983), a collection of guitar solos and duets with bassist Arild Andersen, and Rambler (1985), that featured trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, tuba player Bob Stewart, bassist Jerome Harris and drummer Paul Motian. The heavy-metal jazz trio Power Tools, with Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums and Melvin Gibbs on bass, that debuted on Strange Meeting (1987), highlighted Frisell's vast vocabulary of guitar techniques and ambient cacophony. In the meantime, Frisell's postmodernist art peaked with the unstable chamber music of Lookout For Hope (1988), featuring Hank Roberts on cello and Joey Baron on drums, and especially Before We Were Born (1989), featuring a multitude of distinguished guests (guitarist Arto Lindsay, drummer Joey Baron, keyboardist Peter Scherer, saxophonists Julius Hemphill and Doug Wieselman, cellist Hank Roberts) and offering a broad range of stylistic experiments, from bluegrass to noise. Is That You (1990), featuring Wayne Horvitz on keyboards, Joey Baron on drums, and Dave Hofstra on tuba and bass, and especially Where in the World (1991), virtually a continuation of Lookout For Hope, were calmer works that sounded like nostalgic tributes to his civilization, albeit distorted by evergreen strains of neurosis.

Guitarist David Torn, a former member of the Everyman Band (with Martin Fogel on saxophones) bridged Jimi Hendrix and Sonny Sharrock when he coined the space and psychedelic jazz-rock style of Best Laid Plans (1985) and the baroque, oneiric and cerebral style of Cloud About Mercury (1987), featuring Bill Bruford on drums, Tony Levin on bass and Mark Isham on trumpet. He left behind the last vestiges of progressive-rock and jazz-rock on Tripping Over God (1995), an electroacoustic post-rock industrial ambient blues raga crafted by augmenting the guitar with all sorts of sound effects and overdubs, and What Means Solid Traveller? (1996), with stronger elements of electronics, world-music, heavy-metal and noise.

The music of cellist Hank Roberts was mainly influenced by free-jazz but also incorporated elements of soul, blues and classical music. His technique at the cello often mimicked other instruments, both western (harp), rock (guitar) and eastern (sarod, kora), while his falsetto indulged in metaphysical croons a` la Robert Wyatt. Roberts' output ranged from the experimental Black Pastels (1988), featuring guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonist Tim Berne, drummer Joey Baron and three trombonists, to Arcado (1989), a string trio with Mark Dresser and Mark Feldman, to the compositions for large ensemble of The Truth and Reconciliation Show (2002), but perhaps his zenith was Saturday Sunday, off Little Motor People (1993), a veritable collage of musical styles of the American heartland in the tradition of Aaron Copland and Charles Ives.

New York-based steel-pans virtuoso Andy Narell introduced Trinidad's national instrument to jazz music with the exuberant, melodic pan-ethnic sonatas of The Hammer (1987) and Little Secrets (1989).

Former Santana's drummer Michael Shrieve built a unique repertory that focused on percussion. Energetic and creative albums such as In Suspect Terrain (1986), Stiletto (1989), featuring Mark Isham on trumpet and Andy Sumners and David Torn on guitars, and Big Picture (1989), which is virtually a concerto for an orchestra of percussion instruments, relied on oneiric jazz-rock tours de force. Octave Of The Holy Innocents (1993), featuring Jonas Hellborg on bass and Buckethead on guitar, and Fascination (1995), featuring Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz, lent him a new life in avantgarde jazz.


Classically-trained clarinetist Don Byron erupted on the scene of New York's avantgarde in 1991 thanks to a series of collaborations with the established protagonists (such as Bobby Previte) and to his own Tuskegee Experiments (july 1991), a set of colorful and passionate pieces for various configurations that even featured poet Sadiq (Tuskegee Strutter's Ball, Next Love, Diego Rivera). Anchored to a relatively traditional sextet (cornet, clarinet, piano, bass, drums and congas), Music for Six Musicians (1995) delved into Byron's obsession with Latin music, adding strong political overtones (Ross Perot, Rodney King, Al Sharpton). Even more conventional was the live No-Vibe Zone (january 1996) for a quintet with guitar and piano (Sex/Work, Next Love, The Allure of Entanglement). After a lightweight tribute to the swing era, Bug Music (may 1996), Byron lampooned funk music on Nu Blaxploitation (january 1998), again ruined by spoken-word segments. The more serious Romance With The Unseen (march 1999), by a quartet with guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Jack DeJohnette, aimed for a romantic mood (the eleven-minute Homegoing). After toying with classical and soul music on A Fine Line (2000), and reenacting the Latin-tinged Music for Six Musicians on You Are #6 (october 2001), with Dark Room, Byron switched to tenor saxophone on Ivey-Divey (september 2004) in order to deconstruct the era of Lester Young.

Eric Glick-Rieman is a virtuoso of the prepared electric piano, as documented on the solo improvisations of Ten To The Googolplex (2001), and coined a sophisticated language and vocabulary of multifaceted impressionistic chamber music on the Trilogy From The Outside, composed between 2002 and 2009, a three-part colossus for prepared piano, acoustic piano, toy piano, celeste, melodica, a self-made bowed instrument and found objects (the objects being used to elicit unorthodox timbres from the instruments).

Post-jazz big bands

But the second half of the 1990s saw a resurgence of music for largest ensembles, away from the solo creative music of the 1970s/1980s.

Trumpet player Butch (Lawrence Douglas) Morris was perhaps the most revolutionary conductor of big bands of the post-swing era. An alumnus in Los Angeles of Horace Tapscott's Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, itself an outgrowth of the Underground Musicians' Association (UGMA), formed in 1961, Morris relocated to New York in 1976. The aim of multimedia events such as Current Trends In Racism (1986) was to transform the performance of an orchestral work into an improvised duet between the conductor (Morris) and the orchestra (Frank Lowe on tenor sax, John Zorn on alto sax, Zeena Parkins on harp, Tom Cora on cello, Christian Marclay on turntables, and others on vibraphone, piano, guitar, percussion, voice). The conductor expressed himself through gestures and the orchestra expressed itself through sounds. Both contributed creatively to defining the result. Thus the concepts of improvisation, composition and performance get blurred to the point that the composer is an improviser, the improvisers are as much in charge as the conductor, etc. This album contained Conduction 1, where "conduction" means "conducted improvisation" (the conductor uses both signs and gestures to direct the development of the composition). The music was as "un-orchestral" as it could be. The instruments were basically playing against each other rather than together. There was little or no sense of synchronicity, harmony or coherence. The sheer amount of instruments made it virtually impossible to achieve any degree of organic improvisation. Morris' orchestra redefined counterpoint as a chaotic eruption of timbres, and Morris' counterpoint redefined the orchestra as a loose assembly of individual urges. The focus was in finding a balance between the conductor's stream of consciousness and the collective stream of consciousness of the players. That goal entailed developing a common vocabulary of musical blocks, and most of the piece was just that: the slow, painful development of a new language of piano clusters, guttural moans, sax squeals, etc. The idea of conducting a big band of improvisers was further developed on Dust To Dust (november 1990), that toyed with every aspect of musical presentation, and Testament (1995), whose "conductions" experimented with different combinations of instruments.

Wayne Horvitz was "the" composer of his generation. While everybody else seemed more and more fascinated by freer and freer improvisation, in 1986 Wayne Horvitz formed with his wife Robin Holcomb the New York Composers' Orchestra to perform compositions for jazz orchestra. But his main achievement might be the President, formed in 1985 with Bobby Previte, Elliot Sharp, Bill Frisell and David Hofstra, who released two seminal albums, Bring Yr Camera (1989) and Miracle Mile (1992), offering cohesive songs built out of twisted rhythms and melodies, with frequent detours into psychedelic rock, blues and ethnic music. Horvitz then continued to explore sampled-laden progressive-rock with Pigpen, as on V As In Victim (1994), trip-hop and acid-jazz with Zony Mash, as on Brand Spankin' New (1998), eerie soundscapes for piano, violin/viola (Eyvind Kang), trombone, drum-machine and electronics with the 4+1 Ensemble on From a Window (2001), etc.

Drummer Bobby Previte found a bizarre compromise between ECM's baroque jazz and Frank Zappa's nonsense rock on Bump The Renaissance (1986), for a jazz quintet (Lenny Pickett on saxophone and clarinet, David Hofstra on bass, Richard Schulman on piano, Tom Varner on French horn) and running the gamut from avantgarde to jazz to rock to blues to ragtime music, and on Pushing The Envelope (1987), featuring Hofstra, Varner, Wayne Horvitz on keyboards and Marty Ehrlich on tenor sax. The more electronic and "industrial" Dull Bang, Gushing Sound, Human Shriek (1987), entirely played by Previte on keyboards and percussion, displayed his skills as an oneiric and apocalyptic arranger. His eclectic and iconoclastic imagination was in full bloom on Claude's Late Morning (1988), featuring Horvitz, Bill Frisell on guitar, Joey Baron on drums, Ray Anderson on tuba, Guy Klucevsek on accordion (plus banjo, steel guitar, harp, sampler), and especially Empty Suits (1990), a cauldron that reached back to his chaotic beginnings with much expanded orchestration (Robin Eubanks on trombone, Marty Ehrlich on alto sax, Elliott Sharp on guitar, David Shea on turntables, plus electronic keyboards, harp, guitar, vocals, steel guitar). His knack for assembling creative ensembles was responsible also for the calmer, more complex and more melodic Weather Clear Track Fast (1991), featuring Anthony Davis on piano, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Anthony Cox on bass, Graham Haynes on cornet, Don Byron and Marty Ehrlich on clarinets and saxophones. His skills as a composer, on the other hand, emerged from the four lengthy compositions of Slay The Suitors (1994), credited to the Empty Suits (Eubanks, Horvitz, Steve Gaboury on keyboards, bass and percussion) the keyboards-heavy incursions into melodic jazz of Hue And Cry (1994), credited to Weather Clear Track Fast (Byron, Cox, Davis, Ehrlich, Eubanks, Haynes, and Larry Goldings on organ), and many other projects with different names (Latin For Travelers, Ponga, Bump), each devoted to a different style (progressive-rock, funk music, New Orleans' band music). Previte's progressive embracing of neoclassical structures peaked with The 23 Constellations of Joan Miro (2002), a suite of 23 lyrical chamber vignettes performed by an all-star cast.

Multi-instrumentalist Marty Ehrlich (mainly clarinet, saxophone, and flute) bridged the worlds of traditional jazz, creative improvisation, melodic music and avantgarde classical music on Pliant Plaint (1988), with Bobby Previte on drums, Anthony Cox on bass and Stan Strickland on sax, and especially Traveller's Tale (1990), with a similar quartet, elegant and eccentric, linear and imaginative, and Side by Side (1991), played by Horvitz on piano, Cox on bass, Frank Lacy on trombone and Andrew Cyrille on drums. His proximity to chamber music was emphasized by the Dark Woods Ensemble on Emergency Peace (1991), Can You Hear a Motion (1994), performed by Stan Strickland on sax and flute, Michael Formaniek on bass and Bobby Previte on drums, and Just Before the Dawn (1995), both highlighted by lyrical cello-tinged "songs". That program was continued by the Traveler's Tales, a quartet of two horns and rhythm section, on Malinke's Dance (2000), given an almost baroque format on The Long View (2002), a seven-movement suite that managed to display both neoclassical and jazz overtones, and stretched to the limit on News On The Rail (2005), one of his most erudite studies on timbral counterpoint (for a sextet with three horns, piano, bass and drums).

Chicago-based saxophone and clarinet player Ken Vandermark formed a quartet that indulged in the ambiguity of playing progressive-rock for a jazz audience on albums such as Big Head Eddie (1993) and Solid Action (1994). Vandermark 5, instead, played visceral free-jazz at neurotic speed on Single Piece Flow (1997), Target Dr Flag (1998), Simpatico (1999) and Burn The Incline (2000). Vandermark's wild sax style became a classic on Sound In Action Trio's Design In Time (1999). Vandermark then embraced the trend towards chamber jazz and big-band jazz with the Territory Band, whose spectacular line-ups created music that was both accessible and unpredictable on Transatlantic Bridge (2001), Atlas (2003) and Map Theory (2005).

British reed player Paul Dunmall, a member of Keith Tippett's Mujician, also led his own octet, that recorded the five-part suite Bebop Starburst (1999), and toyed with the big-band format on I Wish You Peace (Cuneiform, 2004), both milestones of revisionist avant-garde jazz that run the gamut from soulful melodies to abrasive solo, from dissonant counterpoint to noir ambience, from fanfares to litanies.

Denman Maroney introduced a new kind of prepared piano with the three solo piano sonatas of Hyperpiano (1998) and then employed it for the six-part chamber concerto Fluxations (2001), mixing improvisation and "pulse field", a polyrhythmic sequence denoted as a rhythmic relationship between instruments.

Chicago-based saxophonist, flutist and clarinetist Scott Rosenberg, a pupil of Anthony Braxton, expanded the vocabulary of jazz music with an anarchic polyphony of extended techniques and illicit sounds, best represented by V - Solo Improvisations (2001) and by the Skronktet West's El (2003), that documented an art straddling the border between tradition and insanity, rationality and randomness, semiotics and psychoanalysis, sense and nonsense. His works for large ensembles, such as the ones on IE (1999) and Creative Orchestra Music - Chicago 2001 (2003), ran the gamut from dramatic, apocalyptic dissonance, reminiscent of Schoenberg's and Webern's chamber music, to slow, requiem-like multi-drone gradually-ascending fanfares, reminiscent of Gorecki and Part.

Yugoslavian-born pianist Stevan Tickmayer, a composer of chamber music in various settings, co-founded the Science Group with percussionist Chris Cutler, bassist Bob Drake and assorted guests. Their A Mere Coincidence (1999) and Spoors (2003) are yet another take on the fusion of chamber and improvised music.

The return of the jazz improviser

New York-based saxophonist and clarinetist Marty Fogel penned Many Bobbing Heads At Once (1989), featuring David Torn on guitar, Michael Shrieve on drums and Dean Johnson on bass, a lyrical work incorporating and mixing elements of funk, pop, samba, Africa, reggae and bebop music.

Latvian collective ZGA specialized in playing found, self-made and traditional instruments in a percussive way, starting with ZGA (1989).

The Necks, an Australian combo formed by three veteran session-men (pianist Chris Abrahams, drummer Tony Buck, bassist Lloyd Swanton), specialized in lengthy, trancey jams anchored to simple melodic lines and sometimes propelled by swinging, funky grooves: Sex (1989), the archetype of how cascading piano notes coalesced in hypnotic streams of casual tones, Hanging Gardens (1999), a sublime realization of a bridge between minimalist repetition and jazz improvisation, Aether (2001), perhaps the most "ambient" of their hour-long pieces, See Through (2005), a showcase of piano jazz soliloquy.

New York-based Zeena Parkins, a veteran of several progressive-rock outfits, was the harpist who introduced the instrument in the context of improvised music. She was also the closest thing to a composer of chamber music within New York's "creative" milieu. Something Out There (1987) collected solos, duos and trios with the likes of drummer Ikue Mori, cellist Tom Cora, turntablist Christian Marclay, percussionist Samm Bennett, etc. The prototype for her lenghty compositions was Ursa's Door (1992), scored for chamber trio (harp, violin, cello), guitar and percussion, with Ikue Mori's computer-generated "concrete" sounds haunting Parkins' alien harp-based soundscapes. The ten-movement suite Isabelle (1995), the nine-movement suite Maul (1995) and the six-movement suite Blue Mirror (1996), all scored for small chamber ensembles (usually harp, piano, cello, violin, percussion), displayed her skills at counterpoint and conducting improvisers, while the three suites of Pan-Acousticon (1999) for found sounds, strings and percussion, as well as the impressionistic/futuristic vignettes of Phantom Orchard (2004), a collaboration with Ikue Mori, moved her art towards more and more abstract and looser structures. Persuasion for string quartet and electronic processing and the three-movement Visible/Invisible for string quartet, off Necklace (2006), were stoic exploration of the sonic space, from sharp drones to percussive dissonance.

The style of Japanese trumpet player Toshinori Kondo evolved from jazz improvisation, best represented by Die Like a Dog (1994), a quartet with saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake, towards solo electronic trumpet meditations such as the six-movement suite Panta Rhei (1994).

Russian pianist Sergey Kuryokhin offered a dadaistic, hysterical and acrobatic fusion of avantgarde classical, jazz and rock music with his satirical multimedia events of "pop mechanics" and on solo-piano albums such as The Ways of Freedom (april 1981) Some Combinations Of Fingers And Passion (june 1991). His Pop Mekhanika Orchestra pioneered a cultural fusion of the arts ("total performance").

The second life of Love Child's, Blue Humans' and Run On's prog-rock guitarist Alan Licht concentrated on anarchic and dadaistic noise with the lengthy improvisations of Betty Page, off Sink The Aging Process (1994), Rabbi Sky, off Rabbi Sky (1999), and Remington Khan, off Plays Well (2001).

Los Angeles-based guitarist Nels Cline formed a trio to bridge rock and jazz in a fashion similar to what done by Bill Frisell on albums such as Chest (1996), but it was The Inkling (2000), recorded by a quartet (with Zena Parkins on harp), that showed how to redefine fusion in the age of post-rock.

New York-based trombonist Peter Zummo coined a deviant fusion of chamber music and free-jazz on Experimenting with Household Chemicals (1995).

Argentinean clarinetist and alto saxophonist Guillermo Gregorio basically played classical avantgarde in a jazz context, such as on Approximately (1996) and Ellipsis (1997), both for small ensemble.

Boston-based trumpet player Greg Kelley unleashed the improvised noise of Trumpet (2000) and If I Never Meet You In This Life (2002), besides attempting a fusion of concrete music and free-jazz on Field Recordings (2000). Nmperign, the duo of Greg Kelley on trumpet and Bhob Rainey on saxophone, developed a program of absurd, cacophonous, irrational duets from Nmperign (1998) to We Devote Every Effort To Offer You The Best That You Deserve To Have For Your Enjoyment (2003).

American-Korean violinist Eyvind Kang, based in Seattle, was one of the most eclectic musicians of his generation, playing in both rock, jazz and classical contexts, as documented by the suite The Story Of Iceland (2000), by the collection of chamber works Virginal Co-ordinates (2003) and by the cantata Athlantis (2007).

The digital improviser

Chicago-based tabletop guitarist and synthesizer player Kevin Drumm developed a style that stands as the guitar equivalent of digital/glitch electronica: an art of static soundscapes roamed by sporadic, arctic, minimal events. The result is often a psychoacoustic study on flow of time. Sonic odysseys such as the seven untitled tracks of Kevin Drumm (1997), Cynicism, off Second (1999), and Organ, off Comedy (2000), took the ideas of Keith Rowe and Fred Frith and relocated them to another era and another planet. On the other hand, the brutal orgies of Sheer Hellish Miasma (2002) and Land of Lurches (2003) seemed to renege on Drumm's aesthetic of silence.

Swiss percussionist Guenter Mueller (Günter Müller) established his credentials as an electro-acoustic improviser via a series of duets, trios and quartets beyond the conventions of (classical, jazz, rock) traditions, blending naturally into the soundscapes created by his collaborators (Christian Marclay, Jim O'Rourke, Taku Sugimoto, Otomo Yoshihide, Voice Crack, Keith Rowe, Taku Sugimoto, Oren Ambarchi). Different kinds of "noise" fueled his Eight Landscapes (2003).

The eclectic San Francisco-based composer Miya Masaoka expanded the techniques of the improvisers with Compositions/Improvisations (1993) for solo koto and While I Was Walking I Heard A Sound (MM, 2003) for mixed choir of 100-150 voices. while straddling the border between jazz, classical, electronic and Japanese music on What is the Difference Between Stripping and Playing the Violin? (1998), and mixed solo improvisation and field recordings on For Birds, Planes & Cello (2005).

Ben Neill played the "mutantrumpet" (an electro-acoustic instrument producing a Jon Hassell-ian tone) both in LaMonte Young's ensemble and on his own Green Machine (1995).

Japanese guitarist and cellist Taku Sugimoto learned the importance of silence on his Unaccompanied Violoncello Solo (1994) and Fragments of Paradise (1997) and Opposite (1998) for solo guitar. He then applied those lessons to post-rock and digital-noise settings. By the same token, his austere Chamber Music (2003) mixed western timbric exploration and eastern rarefied meditation. Both his solo, group and chamber music was based around silence, not sound, and thus each piece tended to be an incredibly slow and sparse flow of tones. Silence prevailed over sound. In a sense, his works were pauses interrupted by sounds, rather than sounds with long pauses. He often let background noise take center stage, his guitar occasionally interrupting the coughing, the footsteps and the raindrops with a distant strum. The improvising guitarist seemed to meditate on the sounds that he heard, and only every now and then did he emit a sign of life.

Tyondai Braxton improvised the digital/electronic tours de force of The Grow Gauge (1999) and especially History That Has No Effect (2002), that display his art of "orchestrated loops" manipulating voice and guitar.

French sound sculptor and jazz saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet, a member of the musique concrete ensemble Afflux with Eric LaCasa and Eric Cordier, conceived Synapses I & IV (1999), a collaboration with Cordier, in which plucking the strings of a stringed instrument caused a chain reaction of sounds from another set of instruments.

Los Angeles-based guitarist Greg Headley proceeded from the solo tabletop guitar meditations of Adhesives (2000) to the abstract manipulation of guitar sounds of A Table of Opposites (2001) to the noisy, frantic electronic soundscapes of Similis (2002).

Los Angeles-based virtuoso saxophonist Earl Howard (1951) concentrated on superimposing electronic/manipulated sounds to live improvised performances, such as in the five-movement Strong Force (1999) for synthesizer, piano, percussion, harp and cello, or ILEX (2004) for vocals, electronics, percussion and pipa. These cold, disjointed, loose, open-ended streams end up sounding like summaries of 20th-century chamber music. His Five Saxophone Solos (2005) are complex sequences built out of simple units, cascades of primal speech units not meant to create abstract sound patterns but to deliver primal emotions (like a child who is just beginning to utter the rudiments of language).

Japanese guitarist Kazuhisa Uchihashi, a former member of the experimental ensembles First Edition, Altered States and Ground Zero, recorded several albums of solo guitar improvisations and formed Phantasmagoria (2000), a six-piece unit of guitar, sampler, sax, trumpet and rhythm section.

Zanana (the New York-based duo of vocalist Kristin Norderval and trombonist Monique Buzzarte') blended improvisation, acoustic instruments, electronics, samples, field recordings and live processing to create the spectral landscapes of Holding Patterns (2005).

Australian improvising trio Triosk (Adrian Klumpes on keyboards, Laurence Pike on drums, Ben Waples on double bass) diluted jazz music into a maze of postprocessing techniques on Moment Returns (2004).

Alien to both the digital and the big-band turmoils, Yeah No (clarinetist and saxophonist Chris Speed, Vietnamese-born trumpeter Cuong Vu, Icelandic-born bassist Skuli Sverrisson, drummer Jim Black) were jazz musicians playing Eastern European folk melodies and dance rhythms, starting with Yeah No (1997), a concept similar to Lol Coxhill's Welfare State.

The New York-based instrumental Claudia Quintet, formed in 1997 by drummer John Hollenbeck and featuring Yeah No's clarinetist and saxophonist Chris Speed, merged chamber music, jazz improvisation and minimalist repetition on I Claudia (2003).


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