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ohfourohnine
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What is it that I'm missing?

I think what may be most appealing, among the many characteristics of Jazz, is that, in most of its forms, it draws the listener deeply into the music-making. It swings, and that is certainly a powerful lure, but our involvement doesn't stop at finger snapping or toe tapping. Jazz, most of it anyway, is grounded on compelling melody lines and the artistic improvisation built around them. Great jazz groups are united in a particular performance and they welcome the listener to join in. Whether "in our heads", or by whistling or humming along, we can't resist adding our own improvisations. Or maybe we just mentally maintain the melody line or chord structure, and by doing so get a clearer view of the improvisation we're hearing. Unless we are sophisticated musicians, we may not "understand" all of it, but we are personally and rather intimately involved and we love the trip. Over time, great musicians make clear to us the multitude of different and wonderful trips that can be taken from the same "roadmap".

Having said that, I recognize that I've fallen short of what I'm trying to articulate, but I think if you love jazz, you'll have an idea what I mean.

Now, back to my qualifier, "...in most of its forms.." , and the question which follows from it. I think that Free Jazz lacks the hook I've tried to describe, and for me that makes it unappealing despite its other attributes - great musicianship, etc. I keep trying, but I just can't get into it. What is it that Free Jazz offers to its fans? How can one go on the trip without the roadmap? What is it that I'm not hearing?

Perhaps this is just another futile attempt to put one's reaction to art into words, and the only answer I should expect is, "If you have to ask, you can't afford one.". If so, so be it.

Jan Vigne
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?


Quote:
How can one go on the trip without the roadmap?

I took a trip many, many years ago to a vacation spot where the next seven days had been carefully planned and timed for maximum pleasure and relaxation. The day I arrived torrential rain storms began and the forecast was for more of the same for the next five to six days. I decided to drive until it stopped raining and I was at a location that seemed suitable. I drove until I hit Memphis and Graceland a few weeks before Elvis died. I stayed at the Peabody Hotel and saw the ducks and did Beale street. It was one of the best vacations I've had thouogh I had no idea where I would be at any hour. Sometimes it is not the roadmap but where you end up that's important. That said, we all have to be happy with where we end up.

ohfourohnine
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?

I appreciate your response, Jan, and I too have appreciated ducks that ride the elevator and all the joys of Beale Street. Beyond that, back in the day I'd strap a small bag of clothes behind my butt and point a Norton Commando out of the driveway without any map or plan for the next several days. For me, that was different. I'm sorry I settled on equating a melody line with a roadmap. It was a stupid analogy.

I've tried repeatedly to follow your indirect suggestion - just put on the record and let it happen. It doesn't happen. I can usually enjoy that approach with unfamiliar orchestral music, but it hasn't ever worked with Free Jazz stuff. The sort of sounds I associate with straight up jazz are inviting and I'd hope to get involved, but the complete lack of structure or musical discipline are not only unwelcoming, they're off-putting.

Time to quit trying, I think, and put Free Jazz in the ignore category with John Cage, Rap, and DUP's posts.

Thanks for trying to be helpful,

bobedaone
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?

I think one of the most enjoyable things about good jazz is being able to track the melody and appreciate the deviations. A great jazz musician can take an old standard and make it sound new. The musicianship and artistry of the genre lie in the ability to explore the space, but never lose what's holding the performance together. "Free jazz" is missing that essential improvisational quality that showcases the talent of the performers. If you, the listener, work to gain a better understanding of musical structure, you'll only be rewarded more. An excellent test of musical ability is to hear how well the musician can NOT play something. Allow me to illustrate with an anecdote:
I was watching a comedic pianist on TV. His bit involved playing a piece, but always messing up a note (and repeatedly hitting the key afterwards, incredulously). Can you imagine the concentration required to know a piece of music like the back of your hand and NOT play it perfectly? This gentleman was obviously a good musician, which was what made it so entertaining and amusing when he botched that note. I think putting a twist on written music that does not degrade - rather elevates - the original is even more impressive than writing the music.

jazzfan
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?


Quote:
I've tried repeatedly to follow your indirect suggestion - just put on the record and let it happen. It doesn't happen. I can usually enjoy that approach with unfamiliar orchestral music, but it hasn't ever worked with Free Jazz stuff. The sort of sounds I associate with straight up jazz are inviting and I'd hope to get involved, but the complete lack of structure or musical discipline are not only unwelcoming, they're off-putting.

Time to quit trying, I think, and put Free Jazz in the ignore category with John Cage, Rap, and DUP's posts.

Hi Clay,

Although that last remark about Free Jazz, rap and DUP's posts really cuts too deep (but I must confess it did make me laugh), the manner and tone of your question is truly one of a real gentleman and so I will do my best to answer.

First of all I've been listening to "free jazz" for a little over 30 years and know the music of most of the major artists within the genre. That said, it doesn't mean that I like every artist or everything done by artists that I do like. Believe it or not, there is a very wide range of styles and approaches within the world of free jazz. Some free jazz can be rather trying while other free jazz can just grab you and carry you away with it's beauty.

In addition, free jazz has it's own set of rules and conventions, they are just quite different from the rules and conventions of straight ahead jazz. It can take quite some time to learn the rules of free jazz but once one learns those rules and knows what to listen for it becomes easier to tell good free jazz from bad free jazz. And yes, there is bad free jazz or rather free jazz that misses the mark and just wanders around aimlessly, never catching fire or grabbing one's attention.

Since you've tried many times to give this music a fair chance all I can say is different stokes for different folks. I've heard quite a bit opera over the years and yet I've never developed a taste for it. It's not that I don't "like" it per se but rather more like I just don't get it. So in a way I do understand where you're coming from.

Now when it comes to rap music I would have to agree with you. I have given rap a chance several times over the years (and even enjoyed some of it here and there) but the current state of rap is piss poor and dominated by classless thugs.

Edit: Just noticed that this is my 500th post, how appropriate that it would be on the topic of free jazz!!

Buddha
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?

One thing I really like about Free Jazz is...

First, a preamble: Have you ever been listening to a tune of any kind, one that you like, and that you've heard a hundred times, and somehow the moon and stars and playback chain all align, just so, and you hear something in that tune you never noticed before?

Well, Free Jazz does that to me all the time. On any given playback, I can almost depend on hearing something or having my attention drawn somewhere that it hadn't been before.

Good Free Jazz seems to always be morphing, right before my ears, and giving me different experiences from the same recording.

Some of those guys are so good, I think I'll grow old and die before I can take in everything they put into a good performance.

It's a constant "AHA!" experience.

Anyway, that looks crazy as I re-read it, but I figure if Cheapskate can go for it today, so can I.

Cheers, amigos!

jazzfan
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?


Quote:
One thing I really like about Free Jazz is...

First, a preamble: Have you ever been listening to a tune of any kind, one that you like, and that you've heard a hundred times, and somehow the moon and stars and playback chain all align, just so, and you hear something in that tune you never noticed before?

Well, Free Jazz does that to me all the time. On any given playback, I can almost depend on hearing something or having my attention drawn somewhere that it hadn't been before.

Good Free Jazz seems to always be morphing, right before my ears, and giving me different experiences from the same recording.

Some of those guys are so good, I think I'll grow old and die before I can take in everything they put into a good performance.

It's a constant "AHA!" experience.

Anyway, that looks crazy as I re-read it, but I figure if Cheapskate can go for it today, so can I.

Cheers, amigos!

Buddha,

There's absolutely nothing crazy or crazy looking in what you wrote. In fact, I completely agree and it's one of the things that I like most about free jazz, however, I wouldn't just limit the experience to free jazz. I'd include jazz as a whole and quite a bit of classical music as well.

One of the great things about listening to music on a good audio system is that you get to hear all kinds of inner detail in the recording that just doesn't show up on a lesser quality system. Applying your idea to a recording of a classic John Coltrane solo with Elvin Jones' drumming propelling him along one can listen over and over again and still not hear and understand everything these two master musicians were doing. Hence my signature: "High end audio and Free jazz - what a great combo!" bears repeating ->

ohfourohnine
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?

No, it doesn't come off crazy at all. I suspect one of these days when I'm feeling particularly mellow I'll be swayed by your remarks and Ralph's and give it another shot. Wish me luck.

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Re: What is it that I'm missing?

Jazzfan and Buddha,

I have always found free jazz tough to listen to, despite repeated tries. But as listeners that enjoy the genre, perhaps you can suggest two recordings.

First, what recording of free jazz is simply excellent - the best or one of the best?

Second, what recording is the most "accessible" to an interested new listener?

Instead of just wondering around in the genre it would be great to have some suggestions of wonderful examples well worth listening to.

jazzfan
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?


Quote:
Jazzfan and Buddha,

I have always found free jazz tough to listen to, despite repeated tries. But as listeners that enjoy the genre, perhaps you can suggest two recordings.

First, what recording of free jazz is simply excellent - the best or one of the best?

Second, what recording is the most "accessible" to an interested new listener?

Instead of just wondering around in the genre it would be great to have some suggestions of wonderful examples well worth listening to.

Elk,

Man, you ask some tough questions.

I don't like the term "best" since it is much too subjective and subject to all kinds of second guessing. I much prefer using phases like "favorite" or "considered among the best", etc. With that in mind I'd say that the recording whose cover serves as my avatar is among the best there is of free jazz: Dave Holland Quartet - Conference of the Birds (ECM)

This 1972 recording has stood the test time and remains as fresh and vital today as it was when it was recorded. Besides featuring a quartet of jazz superstars the recording sounds great. Joining Holland are Barry Altschul on Percussion, Drums and Marimba; Anthony Braxton on Clarinet, Flute, Reeds, Sax (Alto), Sax (Soprano), Reeds (Multiple) and Sam Rivers on Flute, Reeds, Sax (Soprano), Sax (Tenor), Reeds (Multiple). Most of the tunes follow the standard jazz structure of head, solos, head but it's the soloing and group interplay which makes this a free jazz classic.

As for a good starter free jazz recording there is always John Coltrane - A Love Supreme (Impulse). Recorded in December 1964, this session catches Coltrane and his working quartet during the early stages of Coltrane's shift to playing much freer music. If one listens closely one can hear the standard jazz and blues harmonies and rhythms that the music is based on.

As far as free jazz goes, it doesn't get much better than these two classic recordings.

Buddha
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?

Wow! Jazzfan!

That Coletrane is my wife's favorite!

She is also exceedingly prone to picking a random disc from the "Heavyweight Champion" box set (it doesn't have Love Supreme in it) when she is in a sit and listen mood.

So, to add my own "top two"...

I'm secretly partial to "Old and New Dreams." They relased an eponymous album and a live one, called "Playing."

I'd say to listen to the discs without knowing who's on them and being surprised.

This is tough, but I'll add Anthony Braxton's "Three Compositions."

I chose him becaues he also writes about what he does, and it can make for fun listening after reading what an artists has to say about his own music. It adds "leyers" to the experience.

Cheers!

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Re: What is it that I'm missing?


Quote:
...I'm secretly partial to "Old and New Dreams." They relased an eponymous album and a live one, called "Playing."

I'd say to listen to the discs without knowing who's on them and being surprised...

Buddha,

It would be tough for me to listen to "Old and New Dreams" and not know who's playing since I have several of their recordings. Anyway, their recordings are excellent choices as would be several of Ornette Coleman's classic quartet recordings on the Atlantic label from the late 1950's and early 1960's.

As far as Braxton goes, there are several of his "standards" recordings which would work great as introductions to free jazz. His two most recent recordings of standards, 20 Standards (Quartet) and 23 Standards (Quartet) both on the Leo records label out of England. These recordings are really good for listeners who are familiar with jazz but new to free jazz since the songs are all standards and almost all of them start with the group playing the head pretty much straight and then going into much freer playing during the solos.

Elk
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?

I have the Dave Holland Big Band "Overtime" recording, but none of his quintet recordings. I also have Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" (the newer remastered version). I find both of these to be excellent and well worth listening to. I never thought of Coltrane's recording as free jazz before, probably because I get this one.

I'll pick up Holland's quintet recording you recommend and try it out.

What do you think of Ornette Coleman's latest, "Sound Grammar"? I have and enjoy his "The Shape of Jazz to Come" - is this considered free jazz?

I'm beginning to think I like free jazz just fine, I just don't know it when I hear it.

Thanks!!

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Re: What is it that I'm missing?


Quote:
I have the Dave Holland Big Band "Overtime" recording, but none of his quintet recordings. I also have Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" (the newer remastered version). I find both of these to be excellent and well worth listening to. I never thought of Coltrane's recording as free jazz before, probably because I get this one.

I'll pick up Holland's quintet recording you recommend and try it out.

What do you think of Ornette Coleman's latest, "Sound Grammar"? I have and enjoy his "The Shape of Jazz to Come" - is this considered free jazz?

I'm beginning to think I like free jazz just fine, I just don't know it when I hear it.

Thanks!!

That's really funny what you say about the Coltrane, I think the same way!

With Ornette, some I get, some I don't.

I've been trying to get "Song X" for years. My wife even mocks me for playing it now!

Jazzfan's mention of the other Braxton discs is good. With those discs, though, I never felt like he fully "explored" each song, but it's great for catching a few "ideas."

Great thread. Thanks, Cheapskate!

jazzfan
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?


Quote:

Quote:
I have the Dave Holland Big Band "Overtime" recording, but none of his quintet recordings. I also have Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" (the newer remastered version). I find both of these to be excellent and well worth listening to. I never thought of Coltrane's recording as free jazz before, probably because I get this one.

I'll pick up Holland's quintet recording you recommend and try it out.

What do you think of Ornette Coleman's latest, "Sound Grammar"? I have and enjoy his "The Shape of Jazz to Come" - is this considered free jazz?

I'm beginning to think I like free jazz just fine, I just don't know it when I hear it.

Thanks!!

That's really funny what you say about the Coltrane, I think the same way!

With Ornette, some I get, some I don't.

I've been trying to get "Song X" for years. My wife even mocks me for playing it now!

Jazzfan's mention of the other Braxton discs is good. With those discs, though, I never felt like he fully "explored" each song, but it's great for catching a few "ideas."

Great thread. Thanks, Cheapskate!

Buddha and Elk,

Elk, your comments show just what a fine line there sometimes is between free jazz and (non-free) jazz. To many listeners Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" marks the beginning of the end of a once great tenor sax player while to others it marks the beginning of a another outstanding chapter in the remarkable musical life of one of jazz's true giants. Either way you look at it "A Love Supreme" is much freer than anything Coltrane had done up to that point and yet nowhere near as wild as he would eventually become.

A word of caution regarding the Dave Holland Quartet recording: it sounds nothing like any of his more recent recordings. At the time it was recorded (1972) Holland was a major player in the free jazz community and while he may still dabble in free jazz on occasion, he's now taken a much more traditional (as opposed to "free") approach to writing and playing.

Buddha, you never fail to crack me up. "Song X", while not one of my all time favorite Ornette recordings, is still a classic if only because it managed to piss off so many Pat Metheny fans. My personal favorite of Ornette's harmolodic recordings is "Virgin Beauty" (on Columbia) which has the distinction of featuring Jerry Garcia on a couple of tracks (and will therefore never go out of print).

I really don't understand your criticism of the recent Braxton "Standards" recordings. Since each recording has 20 (in one case) and 23 (in the other case) songs spread over four discs with an average playing time for each song somewhere in the mid-teens, I think Braxton and company do a fine job of exploring what each song has to offer.

Elk
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?

Re the Coltrane: Yes, his lines don't follow the harmonic progression as I would otherwise expect. However he does a great job of capturing the emotion and mood of each piece. Thus, for me, it works.

I'm going to get a real kick out of listening to the Holland now. I appreciate having a bit better sense of what I am listening to.

This isn't all that different from learning why a Bach fugue is wonderful. You need to understand the "why" to begin to fully appreciate what is happening. It can also take many hearings to understand, otherwise a fugue can be just so many busy notes.

Jazzfan, great info and explanations. This is fun. Thanks!

Buddha
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?


Quote:

Quote:

Quote:
I have the Dave Holland Big Band "Overtime" recording, but none of his quintet recordings. I also have Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" (the newer remastered version). I find both of these to be excellent and well worth listening to. I never thought of Coltrane's recording as free jazz before, probably because I get this one.

I'll pick up Holland's quintet recording you recommend and try it out.

What do you think of Ornette Coleman's latest, "Sound Grammar"? I have and enjoy his "The Shape of Jazz to Come" - is this considered free jazz?

I'm beginning to think I like free jazz just fine, I just don't know it when I hear it.

Thanks!!

That's really funny what you say about the Coltrane, I think the same way!

With Ornette, some I get, some I don't.

I've been trying to get "Song X" for years. My wife even mocks me for playing it now!

Jazzfan's mention of the other Braxton discs is good. With those discs, though, I never felt like he fully "explored" each song, but it's great for catching a few "ideas."

Great thread. Thanks, Cheapskate!

Buddha and Elk,

Elk, your comments show just what a fine line there sometimes is between free jazz and (non-free) jazz. To many listeners Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" marks the beginning of the end of a once great tenor sax player while to others it marks the beginning of a another outstanding chapter in the remarkable musical life of one of jazz's true giants. Either way you look at it "A Love Supreme" is much freer than anything Coltrane had done up to that point and yet nowhere near as wild as he would eventually become.

A word of caution regarding the Dave Holland Quartet recording: it sounds nothing like any of his more recent recordings. At the time it was recorded (1972) Holland was a major player in the free jazz community and while he may still dabble in free jazz on occasion, he's now taken a much more traditional (as opposed to "free") approach to writing and playing.

Buddha, you never fail to crack me up. "Song X", while not one of my all time favorite Ornette recordings, is still a classic if only because it managed to piss off so many Pat Metheny fans. My personal favorite of Ornette's harmolodic recordings is "Virgin Beauty" (on Columbia) which has the distinction of featuring Jerry Garcia on a couple of tracks (and will therefore never go out of print).

I really don't understand your criticism of the recent Braxton "Standards" recordings. Since each recording has 20 (in one case) and 23 (in the other case) songs spread over four discs with an average playing time for each song somewhere in the mid-teens, I think Braxton and company do a fine job of exploring what each song has to offer.

Yikes, my bad.

When I saw what you wrote, my brain thought of the two "Seven Standards" discs..."Seven Standards Volume I and Volume II."

Apologies.

I have not heard the discs you mentioned, and was familiar with the two I mentioned, which seem forshortened to me. I felt he never really got his mojo going on those.

Pardon my slip!

jazzfan
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Re: What is it that I'm missing?


Quote:
Yikes, my bad.

When I saw what you wrote, my brain thought of the two "Seven Standards" discs..."Seven Standards Volume I and Volume II."

Apologies.

I have not heard the discs you mentioned, and was familiar with the two I mentioned, which seem forshortened to me. I felt he never really got his mojo going on those.

Pardon my slip!

Buddha,

There's really no need for you to apologize when a simple penance would do just fine. May I suggest that you try listening to some Vandermark 5 as a way of atonement. If you are already familiar with the Vandermark 5 then try a different Ken Vandermark recording such as the Sound In Action Trio recording "Gate".

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