Free jazz was developed in the 1950’s and 60’s by pioneering musicians such as Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. What is Free Jazz? To be honest – there is no clear definition of the term. I’m not totally convinced it actually exists, other than from a marketing point of view. Although, thinking about it, marketing an album as free-jazz may well give it the kiss of death to the majority of potential buyers. It would be fair to say that most free-jazz is not exactly “easy listening”. It requires the listener to abandon themselves to a whole new form that is unpredictable, un-melodic, noisy, brash, and lets face it difficult. The term free-jazz originally came from the title of Ornette Coleman’s Double Quartet album, “Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation” (Atlantic 1960). Free Jazz was recorded in one uninterrupted “take” (without any splicing or editing) of 36 minutes 23 seconds. Though only intended to be the name of the album, it soon became associated with the entire avante-garde jazz improvisation movement.
Always controversial, even amongst fellow jazz musicians, critics argued that the style could be not be called jazz at all, due to its abandonment of previous established chord progressions and harmonies. Full of howls, overtones and atonal screeches, free-jazz is heavily reliant on collective improvisation and an abandonment of traditional rhythm or beat. In the 1960’s it came to be known as The New Thing or Energy Music.
If you are interested in sampling some free-jazz I have put together a taster on Mixcloud. It includes some artists associated with free-jazz, such as: Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp. The mix concentrates on the more accessible end of the free jazz spectrum – so leave your pre-conceptions behind and give it a listen. Just click the image above to access the mix. If you enjoy the music or even if you hate it, please come back and leave me a comment.