A history of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi
See also the The History of Rock Music and the The History of Pop Music
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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.
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Post-jazz Music

    Post-jazz Creativity in New York

    Post-jazz Soloists and Hyper-fusion

    Post-jazz Big Bands

    The Great Chicago Jazz Rebirth

    The Return of the Jazz Improviser

    20th Century Post-creativity

    Freer jazz

    The Digital Improviser

    Turntables

    The Onkyo Movement

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 that revolution. It was a revolution that blurred the borders between the genres. One reason was racial: it was mainly a white revolution (unlike the previous stylistic revolutions of free jazz or creative improvisation, that were led by black musicians). Black musicians were de facto segregated from rock music and classical music, but white musicians were not. White musicians of all different genres enjoyed a far greater degree of synergy than the superficial one of the past between black jazz musicians and white rock or classical musicians. The traditional "cross-over" for jazz musicians had been with blues, funk and soul music, i.e. with the other "black" genres, not with the rock and classical avantgarde, i.e. not with the "white" genres. This generation of mainly white musicians who played jazz instruments (hardly "jazz musicians" in the traditional sense of the expression) "cross over" into precisely those genres. The music itself (that had been honed through cool jazz, third stream, free jazz and creative improvisation) lend itself to cross-fertilization with rock and classical avantgarde music.


Jewish saxophonist John Zorn emerged from the milieu of the solo creative improvisers, but his concept of "improvisation" was more closely related to John Cage's aleatory music than to Ornette Coleman's free jazz. Game-pieces such as Lacrosse (first recorded in june 1977 with soprano saxophonist Bruce Ackley and guitarists Eugene Chadbourne and Henry Kaiser), Hockey (composed in 1978 but first recorded in march 1980 by Chadbourne, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz and electronic musician Bob Ostertag), Archery (composed in 1979 but first recorded in september 1981 with flutist Robert Dick, trombonist George Lewis, keyboardists Mark Kramer, Anthony Coleman and Wayne Horvitz, guitarists Chadbourne and Bill Horvitz, bassist Bill Laswell, violinist Polly Bradfield, cellist Tom Cora, drummer David Moss) and Pool (also composed in 1979, recorded in march 1980 with violinist Polly Bradfield, vibraphonist Mark Miller, percussionist Charles Noyes, Ostertag and trumpeter Lesli Dalaba) were partially structured improvisations that defined rules within which a cast of improvisers could improvise (improvisation being bound more by mathematical than emotional constraints, a` la Anthony Braxton). True to Cage's indeterminate aesthetics, Zorn composed uncomposed music and conducted unrepeatable performances. Zorn played indifferently alto or soprano saxophones and clarinets. But instrumental style was definitely not what his musical "games" were about.
Zorn embraced the aesthetic of the new wave and of punk-rock with the hysterical and laconic fragments of Locus Solus (september 1983), that employed both jazz musicians (keyboardist Wayne Horvitz) and rock musicians (including DNA's guitarist Arto Lindsay, Golden Palominos' drummer Anton Fier, DNA's drummer Ikue Mori) plus turntablists (notably Christian Marclay). This time his own demented saxophone playing stood out as a major and shocking stylistic innovation. Hot on the heels of the large-scale game piece Track And Field (1982), Cobra (october 1985), a game piece originally conceived in 1984, marked another zenith of Zorn's chaotic and abrasive vision, a dadaistic symphony structured in twenty classical movements that, despite the pretentious premises, was the musical equivalent of a Marx Brothers' slapstick. The studio version 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 dissonance, 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.
Xu Feng (composed in 1985, recorded in may 2000 by guitarists Fred Frith and John Schott, electronic musicians Chris Brown and David Slusser, percussionist William Winant and Slayer's drummer Dave Lombardo) closed the "infinite series" of game pieces (games in which the participants contribute to keep the game alive) and opened a new series, in which Zorn tried to recreate an environment via sound (in this case, kung-fu martial arts).
A number of hyper-kinetic collages of subcultural genres such as The Bribe (1986) for small orchestra (with Marty Ehrlich on saxophones and bass clarinet, Jim Staley on trombone, Zeena Parkins and Carol Emanuel on harps, Robert Quine on guitar, Anthony Coleman and Wayne Horvitz on keyboards, Christian Marclay on turntables, David Hofstra on bass, Bobby Previte on percussion, Ikue Mori on drum machines) and Spillane (june 1986), off Godard Spillane, a melodic fantasia for almost the same ensemble (minus Ehrlich, Parkins, Horvitz, Marclay, Mori but with Frisell, Bob James on tapes and David Weinstein on sampling keyboards) 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; capable of revising established canons in ways that bordered on blasphemy.
That artist moved closer to the world of rock music with Naked City (1989), a venture with rock guitarists Bill Frisell and Fred Frith, Boredoms's psychotic vocalist Yamatsuka Eye, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz and drummer Joey Baron offering brief bursts of irreverent 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 influence of the epileptic discontinuity of Carl Stalling's cartoon soundtracks, literally applied on Cynical Hysterie Hour (october 1988), one of his most ambitious attempts at deconstructing the western musical civilization. Even more uncompromising, Naked City's Torture Garden (1990) and Heretic (1991), without Laswell and with Frith on bass, were whirlwinds of recombinant pieces that applied John Cage to atonal improvisation. The two Painkiller albums (for a "jazzcore" trio with bassist Bill Laswell and Napalm Death's drummer Mick Harris), The Guts Of A Virgin (april 1991) and especially Buried Secrets (october 1991), were kaleidoscopic frescoes of unfulfilled semiotic events. Zorn's music of abrupt shifts of style (whether within the same song or from one song to the next) was the equivalent of turning the tuning dial of a radio.
Zorn was also active as a composer of chamber music, as proven by For Your Eyes Only (1989), another Carl Stalling-style score, and Elegy (november 1991), a four-movement tribute to French writer Jean Genet scored for flute, viola, guitar, turntables, percussion and voice. Zorn's combinatorial exercises and cut-up techniques were in fact better pursued in his chamber music, which yielded large-scale works such as Kristallnacht (november 1992), for a Jewish ensemble (Mark Feldman on violin, Marc Ribot on guitar, Anthony Coleman on keyboards, Mark Dresser on bass, William Winant on percussion, David Krakauer on clarinet), Redbird (1995) for string trio (Carol Emanuel on harp, Jill Jaffe on viola, Erik Friedlander on cello), Aporias (1998) for piano and orchestra, and Chimeras (january 2003) for the same ensemble (voice and twelve instruments) as Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, as well as the wind octet Angelus Novus (1993) and several string quartets: Cat o' Nine Tails (1988), The Dead Man (1990), Memento Mori (1992), Kol Nidre (1996), Necronomicon (2003). Some of them betrayed the influence of Morton Feldman's latter-day chamber music.
After Naked City's Radio (april 1993), another (and perhaps the ultimate) exercise in quotation and collage at manic speed, Painkiller's double-disc Execution Ground (june 1994) dominated by the ambient-dub aesthetic of Laswell and Harris, Zorn (disguised under silly monikers) concocted two noise-fests with Yamatsuka Eye: Nani Nani (march 1995) and Mystic Fugu Orchestra's Zohar (Tzadik, 1995).
In one of his typical turnarounds, Zorn also formed Masada, a more traditional jazz quartet (trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Baron) with an emphasis on klezmer melody, to explore the same vision of Kristallnacht, i.e. Jewish history, over the course of ten albums, from Alef (february 1994) to Yod (september 1997), with an artistic peak in Hei (july 1995). Masada's music was also re-arranged first for chamber ensemble on Bar Kokhba (march 1996) and The Circle Maker (december 1997), and then for guitar only (Bill Frisell, Tim Sparks, Marc Ribot) on Masada Guitars (2003). Masada-style klezmer jazz also surfaced on some of his movie soundtracks, notably The Port of Last Resort (november 1997), scored for jazz sextet (Feldman, Friedlander, bassist Greg Cohen, guitarist Marc Ribot, pianist Anthony Coleman and pipa virtuoso Min Xiao Fen).
An endless series of albums titled Filmworks collected Zorn's monumental (quantity-wise) output for the cinema. Mostly mediocre, his soundtracks recycled all sorts of disparate ideas from jazz, rock, avantgarde music and cartoon music. For example: She Must Be Seeing Things (1986), with Staley, Frisell, Emanuel, Coleman, Horvitz, Weinstein, Previte, Hofstra, Nana Vasconcelos on percussion, Shelley Hirsch on vocals, Marty Ehrlich on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Tom Varner on French horn; The Golden Boat (1990), with Coleman, Quine, Emanuel, Dresser, Previte, Vicki Bodner on oboe, David Shea on turntable, Cyro Baptista on percussion; The Thieves Quartet (1993), that debuted the Masada line-up of Zorn, Douglas, Cohen and Baron; A Lot of Fun for the Evil One (released in 1997), a computer collage of musical samples; Tears Of Ecstasy (october 1995), 48 one-minute fetishes of popular music performed by guitarists Robert Quine and Marc Ribot and percussionist Cyro Baptista; Trembling Before G-d (released in 2000), his first feature-length soundtrack, scored only for clarinet (Chris Speed), organ (James Saft) and percussion (Baptista); In the Mirror of Maya Deren (2001), one of the most romantic, with tender cello (Friedlander) and piano (Zorn and Saft) counterpoint and exotic overtones (Baptista); Secret Lives (2002) for string trio (Cohen, Feldman, Friedlander), one of his simplest compositions; Invitation to a Suicide (june 2002), perhaps the best one, performed by Ribot, Freidlander, Tin Hat Trio's accordionist Rob Burger, rock bassist Trevor Dunn and percussionist Kenny Wollesen; Hiding and Seeking (april 2003), a virtually Jewish fantasia for classical guitar (Ribot), vibraphone (Wollesen), Brazilian percussion (Baptista), acoustic bass (Dunn) and voice (Ganda Suthivarakom); Protocols of Zion (october 2004) for an ethnic trio (Zorn himself on piano, Baptista and bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz); the electronic Workingman's Death (2005) for Saft, Zorn, Ikue Mori (all on keyboards), Blumenkranz and Baptista; Notes on Marie Menken (2005) for a free-jazz trio (Zorn on alto, Blumenkranz and Wollesen) plus guitarist Jon Madof; the exotic The Treatment (2005) for Latin-jazz quartet (Feldman, Burger, Blumenkranz and Wollesen).
Zorn's main contribution to the history of music was the invention of an anti-jazz style, a frantic and chaotic hodgepodge of cartoon music, chamber music, punk-rock and sheer dissonance grafted onto the body of improvised music. The sense of an agonizing civilization radiated from his multi-faceted musical neurosis. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Hyper-active 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 the ones documented on ISM (october 1981), with cornetist Olu Dara, trombonist Art Baron, bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Charles Noyes, Carbon (july 1984), with Lesli Dalaba on trumpet and Charles Noyes on percussion, and Semantics (july 1985), with Sam Bennett on drums and Ned Rothenberg on saxophone, applied cacophony and deconstruction to funk, blues and rock. His atonal guitar style was looking for patterns, not melody.
Soon he was transcending free jazz in the savage sonic assault of Sili/Contemp/Tation (april 1985) for quintet (Sharp on reeds and guitars, two trombones, bassist David Hofstra, Previte), and pioneering the computer and the sampler in Virtual Stance, off Virtual Stance (may 1987), a collaboration with drummer Bobby Previte, later re-recorded on Looppool (august 1987) in a purely digital version for computer, sampler and drum machine (all operated by Sharp himself).
Last but not least, Sharp was abusing Mathematics, notably in two pieces for guitar, trombones and percussions, the tribal Marco Polo's Argali, off Six Songs (february 1985), and the dissonant ballet suite Not Yet Time off Fractal (march 1986), but also in the string quartet Tessalation Row (1986), all chamber works with tunings, counterpoint and dynamics based on the Fibonacci series, fractal geometry and chaos theory. His musico-mathematical studies culminated in the 40-minute pseudo-ethnic six-movement suite Larynx (october 1987) for a geometrically-organized 13-piece ensemble (Sharp on sax, clarinet, guitar and sampler, four brass players such as trumpeter Lesli Dalaba and three trombones, the four stringed instruments of the classical string quartet and four drummers including Previte, Bennett and Noyes), inspired by the overtones of Tibetan chanting. His "digital" adventures, instead, peaked with the structured improvisation Twenty Below for keyboard sextet (Anthony Coleman on toy piano and organ, Wayne Horvitz and Zeena Parkins on electronic keyboards, a reed organ and two musicians on samplers) off K!L!A!V! (august 1989).
Carbon remained his "rock'n'roll" alter-ego, that indulged in brief, frantic bursts of sound running the gamut from punk-jazz to funk-blues, as documented on vibrant, eclectic, acrobatic and reckless albums such as Datacide (march 1989), featuring Zeena Parkins on harp and two drummers, and Tocsin (september 1991), with Parkins and Sharp complemented by bass, percussion and sampler.
At the same time, he continued to score wildly dissonant works for chamber ensembles such as: Ferrous for "pantars" and "violinoid" (both homemade instruments), off Twistmap (june 1991); the atonal and very rhytmic chamber "orchestral" suite Abstract Repressionism - 1990-99 (april 1992) for guitar, string quartet and percussion, something halfway between Anthony Braxton, Iannis Xenakis and Glenn Branca; the electroacoustic piece Intifada (composed in 1992) with Sharp processing (via real-time MIDI control) the sound of his own guitar and clarinet and of a string quartet, off Xenocodex; Cryptid Fragments (january 1993) for cello, violin and computer (Sharp himself), off Cryptid Fragments; Zappin' the Pram for Sharp's guitar improvisations over the music he composed for a guitar trio, off Dyners Club (december 1993); the guitar-harp duet Peregrine, off the Parkins-Sharp collaboration Blackburst (august 1995); Spring & Neap (october 1996) for Zeena Parkins on harp, Makoto Nomura on piano, Michiyo Yagi on koto, Yumiko Tanaka on shamisen, Yoshiko Fujio on shamisen, Tamiki Sawa and Mio Abe on violins, Hiromichi Sakamoto and Kota Miki on cellos, Hiroaki Mizutani and Masaaki Kikuchi on contrabasses, Guam Kumada and Kenji Ito on percussions; SyndaKit, conceived in 1998 for the Orchestra Carbon (Sharp on guitar, Judith Insell on viola, Rea Mochiach on percussion, Zeena Parkins on electric harp, Jim Pugliese on percussion, Ted Reichman on accordion, Marc Sloan on electric bass, Tim Smith on bass clarinet, David Soldier on violin, Evan Spritzer on bass clarinet, Joseph Trump on percussion, David Weinstein on synthesizer and sampler), a 66-minute piece driven by genetic algorithms.
Tectonics was yet another project, this time in the realm of dance music: Tectonics (february 1994), Field And Stream (december 1996) and Errata (september 1998) were solo albums for guitar, sax and massive electronic/digital processing that crafted a futuristic, groove-based fusion of jazz, drum'n'bass and glitch music.
As a guitar improviser, Sharp penned the guitar solos of Sferics (november 1995), The Velocity of Hue (june 2003) and Quadrature (june 2005), that are dictionaries of incorrect guitar techniques. Suspension Of Disbelief (july 2000) was a solo album on which Sharp played guitar, clarinet, saxophone, zither, bass, synthesizer and computers. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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. However, exposure to Derek Bailey's and Anthony Braxton's creative improvisation and a demented sense of humor bestowed a tone of punk irreverence on Solo Acoustic Guitar Volume One (december 1975), including the cacophonous Music for Mr Anthony Braxton, Solo Acoustic Guitar Volume Two (june 1976), mostly for prepared stringed instruments and including Making It Go Away, and especially the Collected Symphonies (1985) for guitar.
A childish dadaism permeated a formidable orchestral piece created in june 1979 under the aegis of John Cage's aleatory music, The English Channel, credited to the 2000 Statues (featuring Lesli Dalaba and Toshinori Kondo on trumpets, Mark Kramer on organ, John Zorn on saxophone, Bob Ostertag on synthesizer, Steve Beresford on toy instruments, Fred Frith on guitar, Polly Bradfield on violin, LaDonna Smith on viola, Tom Cora on cello, Wayne Horvitz on piano, Andrea Centazzo on drums, Mark Miller on percussion, etc) that was reassembled in 1981 and mixed with all sorts of samples and sonic debris to obtain an abominable organism similar to Frank Zappa's satirical post-modernist collages.
Chadbourne, also a proficient banjoist, promoted an unlikely marriage of country music and creative improvisation on Country Music from Southeastern Australia (june 1985), featuring David Moss on percussion and drum-machine, Jon Rose on violin and piano, and Rik Rue on field recordings and noises.
Chadbourne's erratic career continued to alternate between home-made lo-fi audio collages such as Dinosaur On The way (1981), featuring Tom Cora, Toshinori Kondo and John Zorn, or Wombat on the Way (1981), and mocking protest songs in the vein of Nashville's country music such as Chad-Born Again (1991). The latter form peaked with the satirical country & western opera Jesse Helms Busted for Pornography (1996), actually a compilation, while his audio collage reached a new dimension with House by the Cemetery (premiered in 1998), off Horror Part One.
The aesthetic culmination of Chadbourne's insanity was probably the monumental project of Insect And Western (1996) for "symphony orchestra, gamelan and high-school jazz stage band", partially documented on Insect Attracter, Insect and Western Party and The Intellectual and Emotional World of the Cockroach. Parts of it were reorganized as Termite Damage (december 1997) and the series was later extended with Bed Bugs (june 2000).
His madcap chamber music included I Talked to Death in Stereo (november in 1998) for electric guitar, strings, reeds, theremin and percussion, off I Talked to Death in Stereo.
His rare ventures into structure improvisation were best represented by The Post Day of the Dead Ritual (premiered in 1994) for ensemble.
Chadbourne was quite unique in the history of music for being at the same time an avantgarde composer in the classical tradition, a jazz improviser, a folk musician and a member of a rock band. Only Frank Zappa could compete with such eclecticism. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


San Francisco-based guitarist Henry Kaiser adopted Derek Bailey's approach to creative atonal improvisation and Captain Beefheart's approach to post-psychedelic timbral and rhythmic mayhem on Ice Death (october 1977), featuring both solos and collaborations with improvisers such as guitarist Eugene Chadbourne and alto saxophonist John Oswald, the duets of Protocol (december 1978), with the Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo and the Italian percussionist Andrea Centazzo, the chaotic guitar duets with Fred Frith of With Friends Like These (july 1979), that was also his first experiment in using the studio as an instrument, and finally the solo album Outside Pleasure (august 1979). The double-LP album Aloha (september 1981) contained two lengthy solo showcases for his extended technique The Shadow Line, a vast catalog of abominable blues, jazz, rock and Indian mistakes, and the studio-processed Aloha Gamera (a remix ante-litteram). Kaiser successfully wed creative improvisation and ethnic music on Invite The Spirit (august 1983), for a trio with Korean zither and percussion (Charles Noyes).
Instead the 27-minute It's A Wonderful Life, off It's A Wonderful Life (september 1984), began to display his twisted genius for composition, freely adapting elements of bluegrass, blues, rock, Indian and Japanese stringed instruments. The hypnotic scales, the fractured melodies and the intricate tonal zigzagging framed by neurotic tempos were closer in spirit to an acid-rock jam or to a melodic fantasia than to Derek Bailey's blasts of noise.
Other notable pieces of bizarre improvisation were the live duet with Bill Frisell, Last Of The Few (november 1985), off Marrying For Money; the live duet with guitarist Jim O'Rourke, A Long Life Is A Slow Death, off Tomorrow Knows Where You Live (march 1991); the 25-minute solo The Five Heavenly Truths, off The Five Heavenly Truths (august 1990). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Cellist Tom Cora, who moved to New York in 1979, formed the original Curlew line-up with bassist Bill Laswell, guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, drummer Bill Bacon and reed player George Cartwright, that recorded Curlew (march 1980), but he also joined Nimal (1987), a combo formed by Swiss multi-instrumentalist Jean "Momo" Rossel that straddled the line between jazz, folk and progressive-rock. He remained a pillar of Cartwright's Curlew on North America (august 1984), Live In Berlin (march 1987), Bee (november 1990) and A Beautiful Western Saddle (1993), and a pillar of Nimal on Voix De Surface (1989), but he also played with Dutch anarcho-punk rockers Ex (1991-93). Cora's technique, that balanced the brutal and the lyrical, was the subject of the solo-cello albums Live at The Western Front (may 1986) and especially Gumption in Limbo (september 1990). In his hands the cello became both a guitar and a percussion, Cora continued to roam a broad horizon, from Third Person, the trio of Cora, percussionist Samm Bennett and rotating members that recorded The Bends (december 1990), Trick Moon (june 1990) and especially Lucky Water (june 1994) with Japanese saxophonist Umezu Kazutoki, to the abstract punk-noise experiment Roof, that recorded The Untraceable Cigar (february 1996). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Switzerland-based Irish guitarist Christy Doran, a founding member of the Swiss free-jazz and jazz-rock quartet Om with saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, drummer Fredy Study and bassist Bobbi Burri that released Kirikuki (october 1975), Rautionaha (december 1976), OM with Dom um Ramao (august 1977) and especially Cerberus (january 1980), established his credentials as a "creative" improviser through the solo albums Harsh Romantics (october 1984), The Returning Dream Of The Leaving Ship (june 1986), Phoenix (april 1990) and What a Band (june 1991). Among his projects were Corporate Art (june 1991), a tight quartet with saxophonist Gary Thomas, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby Previte, and the abstract jazz-rock quartet with vocals New Bag, that debuted with Confusing the Spirit (march 1999).


Alto saxophonist Tim Berne coined a neurotic language that mixed composition and improvisation. His wittily iconoclastic style, that toyed with counterpoint like in a marriage of cool jazz's rationality and free jazz's effervescence, matured via Five Year Plan (april 1979), containing NYC Rites for a sax-bass-drums trio augmented with clarinetist John Carter, baritone saxophonist Vinny Golia and a trombonist, 7X (january 1980), containing Showtime for alto, baritone (Golia), guitar (Nels Cline), bass, trombone and percussion, and Spectres (february 1981), containing For Charles Mingus with cornetist Olu Dara, trombone, bass and percussion.
The live double-LP Songs And Rituals In Real Time (july 1981), in a quartet with tenor saxophonist Mack Goldsbury, bassist Ed Schuller and drummer Paul Motian, sounded like a compromise between melodic tunesmith and ceremonial music. The linguistic nonsense of The Unknown Factor, the cubistic game of decomposition and recomposition of The Mutant of Alberan and especially the 25-minute The Ancient Ones, that achieved a delicate balance of the lyrical and the expressionistic in music, relying on showers and rainbows of chromatic interplay, revealed Berne's unique compositional genius.
The sextet with trumpet (Herb Robertson), trombone (Ray Anderson), tenor saxophone (Goldsbury), bass (Schuller) and drums (Motian) documented on The Ancestors (february 1983), with the uncontrollable variations of the 34-minute two-part Shirley's Song, and pared down to a quartet without trombone or tenor on Mutant Variations (march 1983), brought Berne closer to the jazz tradition while continuing to invest on his compositional ideas. The atonal duets with guitarist Bill Frisell of Theoretically (september 1983), notably the horror cosmic music of 2001, abandoned any pretense of jazz form.
Acrobatic pieces such as The Ancient Ones, Shirley's Song and 2011 were the preludes to the captivating balance of complex structure and anarchic solos achieved on Fulton Street Maul (august 1986), 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 (Icicles Revisited), melancholy romantic (Betsy) and frantically tribal (Federico).
Berne's musical chaos increased on Sanctified Dreams (october 1987), for a sax-trumpet-cello quintet (cellist Hank Roberts, trumpeter Herb Robertson, bassist Mark Dresser, drummer Joey Baron), with almost clownish (but always intricate) revisitations of the jazz tradition (Mag's Groove); and reached a zenith on Fractured Fairy Tales (june 1989), that added violin (Mark Feldmann) and electronics (played by Baron) to the quintet. The dissonant chamber jazz of Evolution Of A Pearl bridged Frank Zappa's madcap stylistic soups and the classical avantgarde's studies on timbre and texture.
Berne then proceeded to apply the same twisted and schizophrenic logic to different combinations of musicians and styles.
Miniature, i.e. the trio of Berne, Baron and Roberts, used "electronic processing" and veered towards futuristic ethno-jazz-funk music on Miniature (march 1988) and I Can't Put My Finger On It (january 1991);
Caos Totale, a sextet including Robertson, Dresser, trombonist Steve Swell, drummer Bobby Previte and guitarist Marc Ducret, continued the progression towards lengthy and convoluted compositions such as Legend of P1 on Pace Yourself (november 1990) and the imposing triad of Nice View (august 1993), that added keyboardist Django Bates: It Could Have Been A Lot Worse (21:15), The Third Rail (17:32), Impacted Wisdom (38:03).
Berne switched to baritone sax for Loose Cannon (october 1992), a trio with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jeff Hirshfield that penned the 16-minute Fibrigade.
The live Lowlife (september 1994), with the monoliths Bloodcount and The Brown Dog Meets The Spaceman, was, de facto, the first document of Bloodcount, a band featuring Ducret, Formanek, reed player Chris Speed, drummer Jim Black, and devoted to colossal live jams such as the 51-minute Eye Contact, off Memory Select (september 1994).

The live Visitation Rites (1996), whose highlight is the 30-minute Piano Justice, debuted Paraphrase, a more conventional sax-bass-drums trio also devoted to endless live jams.
After many mediocre live albums, Berne returned to studio recording with the ambitious Open Coma (july 2000) for big band, that revisited three of his masterpieces, with The Shell Game (february 2001), in a trio with percussionist Tom Rainey and electronic keyboardist Craig Taborn, containing the 30-minute Thin Ice. That trio added Ducret and became the Science Friction Band (a sax-guitar-keyboards-drums quartet), a project that harked back to Berne's cartoonish phase, thus closing the loop. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Elusive trumpeter Lesli Dalaba, a New York resident since 1978 (and 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 turned even the most cerebral sounds into lyrical poems. Except for the solos and duets of Trumpet Songs and Dances (march 1979), her own compositions surfaced much later. Core Samples was mainly devoted to two multi-movement suites: Core Sample (1989), with two movements performed by the 10-piece Zlatne Ustne brass band (two alto saxophones, three baritone saxophones, a tuba, three Eastern European "truba" wooden trumpets and percussion), two duets with trumpeter Herb Robertson, two duets with guitarist Elliott Sharp and vocalist Sussan Deihim; and Violin Sentiment (1989), with Sharp, violinist Jim Katzin and a drummer. Dalaba Frith Glick-Rieman Kihlstedt (Accretions, 2003), a collaboration with guitarist Fred Frith, pianist Eric Glick Rieman and violinist Carla Kihlstedt, relished Dalaba's sustained tones colliding against Frith's dadaistic noises in pieces such as Ant Farm Morning and Worm Anvils. 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), was a concept album dedicated to the history of the world. Lung Tree (january 2004) was a set of slow-motion, pointillistic, desolate elegies with Eric-Glick Rieman on prepared piano and Stuart Dempster on trombone. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Jewish drummer Joey Baron, who had played with Bill Frisell (1988), Tim Berne (1989) and John Zorn (1989), debuted as a leader with Tongue in Groove (may 1991) and Raised Pleasure Dot (february 1993), both in a bizarre trio (Barondown) featuring 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 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, almost a postmodernist take on bebop. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.


The Microscopic Septet was a creative ensemble (soprano saxophonist Philip Johnston, alto saxophonist Don Davis, tenor saxophonist Paul Shapiro, baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson, pianist Joel Forrester, bassist Dave Hofstra and drummer Richard Dworkin) that concocted an eccentric and sometimes clownish stew of free jazz, progressive-rock and rhythm'n'blues. The effervescent Take the Z Train (january 1983), Let's Flip (november 1984), Off Beat Glory (april 1986), and Beauty Based on Science (february 1988) were full of twists and turns but remained true to a homogeneous consistent ideology of passionate irreverence and unbound imagination. Forrester and Johnston were the main composers. Their mutant scores were collages of stylistic quotations that evoked Frank Zappa's madcap romantic orchestral themes. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.

Post-jazz Soloists and Hyper-fusion

The influence of rock, world and avantgarde music on the white jazz community of New York was felt in both the kind of material that they embraced and in the kind of techniques that they employed for their improvisation.


Reed player Ned Rothenberg cut his teeth in Fall Mountain, an experimental trio with Bob Ostertag (electronics) and Jim Katzin (violin), that recorded the extended cacophonous pieces of Early Fall (december 1978). But Rothenberg established himself among creative improvisers with Trials Of The Argo (september 1980), a lengthy experiment of overdubbing saxophones, flutes, clarinets, shakuhachi flute and ocarina, Continuo After The Inuit (march 1981), that only used circular breathing and multiphonics (but no overdubbing) to imitate the vocal music of the Inuits on alto saxophone, both off Trials Of The Argo, with the three solos (november 1982) for alto saxophone, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone and ocarina as well as the duet with drummer Gerry Hemmingway, Polysemy (april 1983), off Portal, with the alto saxophone solo Caeneus and the clarinet-sax duet Kakeai with John Zorn off Trespass (august 1985).
He largely abandoned creative improvisation when he formed the New Winds, a trio of "multi-reedists" (Robert Dick on flute and piccolo, J.D. Parran mainly on clarinets, Rothenberg mainly on alto), that indulged in the complex and ambitious textures of The Cliff (september 1986), Traction (january 1991) and Digging it Harder From Afar (june 1994). He then formed the Double Band (with reed player Thomas Chapin, two bassists and two drummers) that debuted on Overlays (may 1991), playing high-energy funk-jazz inspired by Ormette Coleman's Prime Time.
Continuing that progression towards larger and more intricate constructions, the crowning achievement of his career was a big-band effort, Power Lines (august 1995), that explored dense, unpredictable structures replete with his favorite rhythmic experiments (Hanrahan on reeds, Mark Feldman on violin, Ruth Siegler on viola, Erik Friedlander on cello, Mark Dresser on bass, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Josh Roseman on trombone, Kenny Berger on reeds, Mike Sarin on drums, Glen Velez on percussion).
The chamber jazz compositions of Ghost Stories (april 2000), namely the Duet for Alto Saxophone and Percussion with Japanese percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, Arbor Vitae with shakuhachi player Riley Lee, and Ghost Stories, a quartet with Chinese pipa player Min Xiao-Fen, cellist Erik Friedlander and Takeishi, and the solos of the double-CD Intervals (Animul, 2002), one disc for alto sax and one disc for clarinet or shakuhachi, displayed his extended techniques at the reeds in the new context of his sophisticated sense of timbral counterpoint. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Jewish 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 (january 1980), featuring several Latin percussionists, rock percussionist Anton Fier, atonal guitarist Arto Lindsay, flutist Byard Lancaster and an army of guests, Desire Develops An Edge (june 1983), for vocalist Jack Bruce and an orchestra of rotating musicians, influenced by Carla Bley's Jazz Composers Orchestra, Conjure (october 1983), with blues vocalist Taj Mahal fronting Murray, Scherer, Lindsay and the usual arsenal of Latin percussions, and Vertical Currency (february 1984), for a smaller orchestra with rock vocalist Jack Bruce, Lindsay, tenor saxophonist David Murray, electronic keyboardist Peter Scherer, bassist Steve Swallow, four percussionists (including himself) and assorted guests, offered exotic progressive jazz-rock performed by all-star casts and drenched in a jungle of congas, bongos and the likes.
Hanrahan's exquisitely Latin-tinged "weltanschauung" permeated the percussion-heavy funk-jazz world-music of Days And Nights Of Blue Lucy Inverted (march 1987), with Allen Toussaint arranging the horns, the colossal and eclectic Tenderness (march 1990), with a huge cast of musicians (including rock vocalist Gordon "Sting" Sumner, pianist Don Pullen, tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman and drummer Andrew Cyrille), Exotica (may 1992), with Jack Bruce again fronting the big band, A Thousand Nights and a Night - Shadow Night (march 1996), the first installment in a nine-part composition, and Beautiful Scars (march 2007), another set of sensual and decadent lullabies drenched in a frenzied deluge of Latin percussion. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


The career of drummer Sam Bennett bridged the solo percussion album Metafunctional (may 1983) 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. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Trombonist Jim Staley tested different trios of musicians on Mumbo Jumbo (june 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. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Saxophonist and clarinetist Marty Fogel penned Many Bobbing Heads At Once (march 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. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Among the most original composers of his generation was a virtuoso of the French horn, Tom Varner, who coined a sophisticated idea of post-jazz from the five lengthy pieces of Quartet (august 1980), accompanied by an alto saxophonist, to the varied repertory of Swimming (june 1999).


New York-born accordionist Guy Klucevsek delighted the avantgarde world with a combination of austere compositions, such as The Flying Pipe Organ for multiple accordions, off Scenes From a Mirage (july 1987), or the eight-movement Citrus My Love for accordion, violin, cello and double bass, off Citrus My Love (1995), or Tesknota for accordion, violin, cello and bass, off Stolen Memories (1996); and surreal folk dance scores such as Union Hall (composed in 1989) for accordion, tenor saxophone and double bass, off Flying Vegetables of the Apocalypse, or The Heart Of the Andes for solo accordion, off The Heart of the Andes (september 2001). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


As removed as possible from the austere tone of the solo creative improvisation, guitarist Bill Frisell, who moved to New York in 1980, a staple of Paul Motian's ensemble (1981-84), 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 (august 1982), a collection of guitar solos and duets with bassist Arild Andersen, and on Rambler (august 1984), 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 (january 1987), highlighted Frisell's vast vocabulary of guitar techniques and ambient cacophony. In the meantime, Frisell's eclectic and eccentric postmodernist art peaked with the unstable chamber music of Lookout For Hope (march 1987), by a quartet with Hank Roberts on cello and Joey Baron on drums, and especially Before We Were Born (august 1988), featuring several distinguished guests (Baron, Roberts, guitarist Arto Lindsay, keyboardist Peter Scherer, saxophonists Julius Hemphill, Doug Wieselman and Billy Drewes) and offering a broad range of stylistic experiments, from bluegrass to noise (all condensed in Hard Plains Drifter).
Is That You (august 1989), in a bass-less trio with Wayne Horvitz on keyboards and Baron, and especially Where in the World (february 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.
This Land (october 1992), by a sextet juxtaposing a horn section (clarinetist Don Byron, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, alto saxophonist Billy Drewes) to his moody guitar technique, scoured the American musical subconscious. Continuing to drift away from jazz music and into a pastoral mood, Frisell reinvented his musical roots in a series of quiet stylistic tours de force: the country-music detour (with mandolin, banjo, dobro, bass, harmonica and Robin Holcomb's vocals) of Nashville (november 1996); Ghost Town (2000), on which he played all of the instruments by himself; the deceptively ambitious Blues Dream (2001), played by a septet (with Drewes, Fowlkes, trumpeter Ron Miles, steel guitarist Greg Leisz, bass and drums). All of them stood as a mad incursion into the American psyche. The Intercontinentals (2003), featuring a multi-national ensemble, pushed Frisell's musical explorations even beyond the USA; and the double-disc History Mystery (may 2007) rounded up all his sources of inspiration, from bebop to world-music, from blues to folk. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

White bassist Marc Johnson formed a quartet with drummer Peter Erskine and guitarists Bill Frisell and John Scofield that recorded Bass Desires (may 1985) and Second Sight (march 1987), emphasizing the post-modernist dialogue between the guitars.


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 the solo Best Laid Plans (july 1984) and the baroque, oneiric and cerebral style of Cloud About Mercury (march 1986), featuring Bill Bruford on drums, Tony Levin on bass and Mark Isham on trumpet (Networks Of Sparks). He left behind the last vestiges of progressive-rock and jazz-rock on Tripping Over God (november 1994), an electroacoustic post-rock industrial ambient blues raga crafted by augmenting his guitar with all sorts of sound effects and overdubs, and What Means Solid Traveller? (november 1995), with stronger elements of electronics, world-music, heavy-metal and noise, and almost all digital, electric and ethnic instruments played by himself. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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 (december 1987), featuring guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonist Tim Berne, drummer Joey Baron and three trombonists, to Arcado (february 1989), a string trio with Mark Dresser and Mark Feldman, to the compositions for large ensemble of The Truth and Reconciliation Show (2002), to the solo cello and vocals meditations of 22 Years From Now (june 1996); but perhaps his zenith was Saturday Sunday, off Little Motor People (december 1992), a veritable collage of musical styles of the American heartland in the tradition of Aaron Copland and Charles Ives. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Former Santana's drummer Michael Shrieve built a unique repertory that focused on percussion. Energetic and creative albums such as the solo-percussion tour de force In Suspect Terrain (1984), Stiletto (july 1988), that featured Mark Isham on trumpet and Andy Sumners and David Torn on guitars, and The Big Picture (1989), which was virtually a concerto for an orchestra of percussion instruments, relied on a visionary and frequently oneiric concept of percussive sounds. Fascination (november 1993), with Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz, lent him a new life in post-jazz soundsculpting. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Post-jazz Big Bands

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

The trend had been pioneered by one the most original composers and arrangers of the 1980s, bassist Saheb Sarbib, whose music for big band included the 34-minute Concerto for Rahsaan, premiered on Live at the Public Theater (october 1980), and the four-movement suite Aisha, off Aisha (august 1981),


Black cornet 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 and became a member of David Murray's band (1982-97). The aim of multimedia events such as the 47-minute Current Trends In Racism (february 1985) 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 the eight-movement suite Homeing (june 1987), for cornet, French horn, oboe, trombone, vibraphone, piano, violinist Jason Hwang, guitarist Pierre Dorge, electronic musician David Weinstein, vocalist Shelley Hirsch, bass and drums, in the two colossal live jams with Hirsch, Hwang, trombone, reeds, cello, guitarist Hans Reichel and drummer Paul Lovens of Mass-X-Communication (december 1990), and on Dust To Dust (november 1990), that toyed with multiple aspects of musical presentation, scored for English horn, trombone, vibraphone, bassoon, oboe, clarinetist Marty Ehrlich, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, violinist Jason Hwang, pianist Myra Melford, harpist Zeena Parkins, guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly and drummer Andrew Cyrille (no Morris and no bass).
The ten-disc Testament collects "conductions" experimented with different combinations of instruments: Conduction #11/ Where Music Goes (december 1988) for the Rova Saxophone Quartet, electronics, piano, trombone, guitar, cello, violin, bass and percussion; Conduction #15/ Where Music Goes II (november 1989) for alto saxophone (Arthur Blythe), violin (Hwang), harp (Zeena Parkins), flute, vibraphone, French horn, piano, trombone, bassoon, guitars and percussion; Conduction #22 (june 1992) for turntablist Christian Marclay, percussionist Le Quan Ninh, electronic musician Gunter Muller, trombone and cello; Conduction #23/ Quinzaine de Montreal (april 1992) for violin, five cellos, trombone, piano, vibraphone and bass (and no percussion); Conduction #25/ The Akbank Conduction (october 1992) and Conduction #26/ Akbank II (october 1992), both for a Turkish ensemble (kemence, oud, kanun, ney) plus percussionist Le Quean Ninh, vibraphone, trombone, harp, guitar, piano and trumpet; Conduction #28/ Cherry Blossom (march 1993) for a Japanese ensemble of traditional instruments (nokan, ohtsuzumi, shomyo, tugaru syamisen, shakuhachi) plus violin, piano, clarinet, computer, vocals, turntablist Yoshihide Otomo, bass and percussion, with Butoh dancers; Conduction #31 (may 1993) for soprano saxophone, trombone, piano (Steve Beresford), guitar (Hans Reichel), cello (Tom Cora), vocals (Catherine Jauniaux), bass (Peter Kowald), percussion (Han Bennink) and drum machines (Ikue Mori); Conduction #35/ American Connection 4 (may 1993) and Conduction #36/ American Connection 4 (may 1993) for flute, clarinet, guitar, violin, piano, trombone, vocals, bass (Maarten Altena) and drums; Conduction #38/ In Freud's Garden (december 1993) for three cellos, viola, clarinets, saxophones, pianist Myra Melford, harpist Zeena Parkins, vibraphone, guitar, trombone, bass and percussionist Le Quan Ninh: percussion; Conduction #39 (november 1993) and Conduction #40 (november 1993) for turntablist Christian Marclay, guitarist Elliott Sharp, three violins, two cellos, harp, vibraphone, piano (Melford), three bassists (William Parker, Mark Helias and Fred Hopkins); Conduction #41/ New World (february 1994) for two clarinets, two saxophones, two trombones, shakuhachi, guitar and vocals; Conduction #50 (march 1995) for Japanese instruments (otuzumi, koto, gidayu, zheng, tugaru syamisen), piano, violin, percussion, turntablist Yoshihide Otomo, vocals and two basses.
The music of these "conductions" borrowed freely from the classical avantgarde, free jazz, ethnic music, Brian Eno's ambient music, but the development was eccentric to say the least.
More works for large ensemble followed: the double-CD Berlin Skyscraper, containing Conduction #51, #52, #55, #56 for a 17-piece ensemble (piano, bassoon, oboe, cello, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, flute, vibraphone, guitar, three violins, harp, trombone, bass and two percussionists); Conduction #70/ Tit For Tat (september 1996) for turntable, electronics, noise sculptors Voice Crack (Norbert Moeslang and Andy Guhl), electronic musician Gunter Muller, clarinet, violin, cello, violin, guitar, vocals and drums; Holy Sea, containing Conduction #57, #58, #59 (february 1996) for turntablist Otomo Yoshihide, sampling, drum-machine, electronics, piano and an Italian orchestra (four violins, three violas, two cellos, contrabass, flute bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, harp, timpani, percussion); the four-section Conduction 117 (2001), credited to the Jump Arts Orchestra, an orchestra of 24 improvisers drawn from rock, classical, jazz and ethnic music (two trumpets, two trombones, French horn, tuba, flute, four clarinets, bassoon, three saxophones, piano, two violas, two cellos, two basses, two percussionists); etc. For the 20th anniversary of conduction, Morris spent the entire month of february 2005 conducting different ensembles (a grand total of more than 100 musicians). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


White keyboardist Wayne Horvitz was "the" composer of his generation.
While he was playing with John Zorn, Horvitz rehearsed his ideas about progressive chamber jazz with the four swinging suites of No Place Fast (june 1979), featuring both Horvitz and his wife Robin Holcomb on keyboards, plus percussion, saxophone and flute, the two radio pieces of Cascando (may 1979), namely Cascando for trumpet (Lesli Dalaba) and vocalists and Words And Music for trumpet, vocalists, contrabass and percussion, Simple Facts (may 1980), that featured Holcomb's first compositions, and the two lengthy suites for piano (Horvitz), cornet (Butch Morris) and bass (William Parker) of Some Order Long Understood (february 1982), Some Order Long Understood and especially Psalm.
After Dinner At Eight (september 1985), a post-fusion hodgepodge of funk, jazz, rock and ethnic music (with Horvitz on electronic keyboards and drum-machine, Elliott Sharp on guitars, Doug Wieselman on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Chris Brown on percussion), and a jazzier trio with cornet player Butch Morris and drummer Bobby Previte, Nine Below Zero (january 1986), in 1986 Horvitz and Holcomb founded the New York Composers' Orchestra to perform compositions for jazz orchestra, at a time when everybody else seemed more and more fascinated by freer and freer improvisation.
At the same time, Horvitz entertained an electric fusion band, the President, formed in 1985 with himself on electronic keyboards, Doug Wieselman on tenor saxophone, Elliot Sharp and Bill Frisell on guitars, David Hofstra on bass and Bobby Previte on drums, and basically a continuation of the trans-stylistic song-oriented program of Dinner At Eight. The President (1987), Bring Yr Camera (february 1988), with Dave Tronzo replacing Frisell, and Miracle Mile (1991), with Frisell and several new additions, took frequent detours into progressive rock, rhythm'n'blues and ethnic music.
The acoustic jazz career with the New York Composers Orchestra continued on a parallel track via New York Composers Orchestra (january 1990), featuring alto saxophone, flute, reeds (Wieselman, Marty Ehrlich), two trombones (including Ray Anderson's), two French horns, three trumpets (including Herb Robertson and Lesli Dalaba), two pianos (Holcomb and Horvitz), bass and drums (Previte), and highlighted by Horvitz's nine-minute requiem The House that Brings a Smile, Holcomb's eleven-minute fantasia Nightbirds - Open 24 Hours, and Ehrlich's eight-minute "chorale" After All, followed by First Program in Standard Time (january 1992), by a less star-studded version of the orchestra (without Robertson, Dalaba, Previte), with Holcomb's eleven-minute First Program in Standard Time, Lenny Pickett's ten-minute Dance Music for Composer Orchestra and Horvitz's nine-minute Paper Money.
A full-time member of John Zorn's Naked City, Horvitz continued to explore other kinds of music with his own groups: samples-laden progressive-rock with Pigpen, a quartet of alto saxophone, keyboards, bass (Fred Chalenor) and drums, as on V As In Victim (may 1993) and Miss Ann (december 1993); electronic dance music (funk, trip-hop, acid-jazz) with Zony Mash (keyboards, guitar, bass, drums) on Cold Spell (1997) and Brand Spankin' New (1998); eerie soundscapes for piano, violin (Eyvind Kang), trombone (Julian Priester) and electronic keyboards (Reggie Watts) with the 4+1 Ensemble on 4+1 Ensemble (1996) and its follow-up From a Window (august 2000); straight-forward funk-jazz jams with Ponga (a quartet with keyboardist Dave Palmer, drummer Bobby Previte and saxophonist "Skerik") on the live Ponga (1997); elegant chamber jazz with the Gravitas Quartet (trumpeter Ron Miles, cellist Peggy Lee, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck) on Way Out East (august 2005). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


A member of Elliott Sharp's and Wayne Horvitz's ensembles, white drummer Bobby Previte found a bizarre compromise between ECM's baroque jazz and Frank Zappa's nonsensical rock on Bump The Renaissance (june 1985), 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 (april 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 (november 1986), 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 trombone, Carol Emanuel on harp, Guy Klucevsek on accordion (plus steel guitar and sampler), and especially Empty Suits (may 1990), a stylistic cauldron that reached back to his chaotic beginnings with an expanded orchestration (Robin Eubanks on trombone, Marty Ehrlich on alto sax, Elliott Sharp on guitar, Carol Emanuel on harp, David Shea on turntables, plus electronic keyboards, guitar, vocals, steel guitar). His knack for assembling creative ensembles was also responsible for the calmer, more complex and more melodic Weather Clear Track Fast (january 1991), featuring Don Byron and Marty Ehrlich on clarinets and saxophones, Graham Haynes on cornet, Anthony Davis on piano, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Anthony Cox on bass. His skills as a composer, on the other hand, emerged from the humorous suite of Music of the Moscow Circus (august 1991), featuring a typical electroacoustic chamber ensemble (violinist Mark Feldman, trumpeter Herb Robertson harpist Carol Emanuel, bassist Mark Helias, opera singers electronic keyboards and percussion), from the four lengthy, intricate and anti-classical compositions (notably Fantasy And Nocturne, Walz and Prelude And Elegy) of Slay The Suitors (june 1993), credited to the Empty Suits (Eubanks, Horvitz, electronic keyboards, bass and percussion), from the keyboards-heavy incursions into melodic jazz of Hue And Cry (december 1993), credited to Weather Clear Track Fast (Byron, Cox, Davis, Ehrlich, Eubanks, Haynes, and Larry Goldings on organ), from the hysterical suites (Three Minute Heels, The Eleventh Hour, Box End Open End) of Too Close To The Pole (april 1996), that engaged a completely new ensemble (saxophone, trumpeter Cuong Vu, clarinet, keyboardist Jamie Saft, trombone, bass, percussion) and from many other projects under different names, each devoted to a different style. Latin For Travelers' My Man In Sydney (january 1997) was progressive rock for an electric quartet with guitarist Marc Ducret, organist Jamie Saft and bassist Jerome Harris. Bump's Just Add Water (june 2001) mimicked the playful, funky, bluesy sound of New Orleans' street bands (Ray Anderson on trombone, Joseph Bowie on trombone, Marty Ehrlich on tenor saxophone, Wayne Horvitz on piano, Steve Swallow on bass and Previte on drums). Bump's Counterclockwise (october 2002) (Ehrlich, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, Horvitz, Swallow, Previte), retained the pulsation but deconstructed Previte's funk-blues-jazz fusion. Groundtruther's Latitude (2004), a collaboration with guitarist Charlie Hunter and alto saxophonist Greg Obsy, was heavily electronic and percussive.
Previte's progressive embracing of neoclassical structures peaked with The 23 Constellations of Joan Miro (july 2001), a suite of 23 lyrical chamber vignettes performed by an all-star cast. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


St Louis-raised white multi-instrumentalist Marty Ehrlich (mainly clarinet, saxophone, and flute), a veteran improviser who had played in the Human Arts Ensemble (1973), Anthony Braxton's Creative Orchestra (1978), George Russell's Big Band (1978), Roscoe Mitchell's Creative Orchestra (1979), Leo Smith's Creative Improvisers Orchestra (1979), Leroy Jenkins' Mixed Quintet (1979) and Muhal Richard Abrams' Orchestra (1981), was initially influenced by Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill on The Welcome (march 1984) for a trio with bassist Anthony Cox and drummer Pheeroan AkLaff. However, he bridged the worlds of traditional jazz, creative improvisation, melodic music and avantgarde classical music on Pliant Plaint (april 1987), with Bobby Previte on drums, Anthony Cox on bass and Stan Strickland on sax, and especially Traveller's Tale (june 1989), with a similar quartet (Lindsey Horner replacing Cox on bass), elegant and eccentric, linear and imaginative, and Side by Side (january 1991), in a quintet with Wayne Horvitz on piano, Frank Lacy on trombone, Cox on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums. At the same time Ehrlich was among the most ubiquitous members of the big bands of the 1990s (Bobby Previte, Wayne Horvitz, Butch Morris, John Zorn).
His proximity to chamber music was emphasized by the trio with cellist Abdul Wadud and Horner on Emergency Peace (december 1990), and by Just Before the Dawn (april 1995), in a quintet with Vincent Chancey on French horn, Erik Friedlander on cello, Mark Helias on bass and Don Alias on drums. His specialty was probably the lyrical cello-tinged "song".
The jazzier side of Ehrlich, in which improvisation prevailed over composition, basically constituted a parallel life: the quartet with Strickland, Previte and bassist Michael Formaniek of Can You Hear a Motion (september 1993); the quintet with Strickland, Formanek, Michael Cain on piano and Bill Stewart on drums of New York Child (february 1995); the duo with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams of Open Air Meeting (august 1996); the trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Andrew Cyrille of C/D/E (october 1998); the trio with Formanek and drummer Peter Erskine of Relativity (may 1999).
The piano-based quartets with bassist Formanek and drummer Billy Drummond of Song (october 1999), featuring pianist Uri Caine, and Line On Love (december 2002), featuring pianist Craig Taborn, made up yet another artistic avenue, confessing his passion for melody.
The chamber-jazz program was continued on Sojourn (february 1999), which added guitarist Marc Ribot to the trio of cello (Friedlander), bass (Helias) and reeds, and by the Traveler's Tales, a quartet of two horns (Ehrlich and saxophonist Tony Malaby) and rhythm section (bassist Jerome Harris and Previte), on Malinke's Dance (december 1999). The project was given an almost baroque format on The Long View (april 2002), a seven-movement suite that managed to display both neoclassical and jazz overtones, with orchestrations ranging from the ten-piece unit of the first movement to the chamber ensemble with reeds, strings (Helias, violinist Mark Feldman, Friedlander), piano (Horvitz), trombone (Ray Anderson) and drums (Pheeroan AkLaff) of the fifth to the quartet with Horvitz, Dresser and Previte of the fourth to the duet with Horvitz of the seventh. It got stretched to the limit on News On The Rail (november 2004), one of his most erudite studies on timbral counterpoint (for a sextet with three horns, piano, bass and drums).
Marty Ehrlich was both the natural heir of Eric Dolphy as a multi-instrumental stylist, and a composer in the vein of Charles Mingus. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

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 (january 1999) and Spoors (2003) were yet another take on the fusion of chamber and improvised music. Tickmayer's high-brow compositions represented a veritable encyclopedia of avantgarde techniques, running the gamut from chamber electroacoustic music to polyrhythmic atonal music. The six-movement Concerto Grosso for keyboards, strings and computer, off Cold Peace (august 2006), erupted ferociously with brutal cascades of dissonances, samples, keyboards and percussion. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Minnesota-born composer Maria Schneider, who moved to New York in 1985, resurrected the style of Gil Evans for the generation of the 1990s on albums for orchestra such as Evanescence (september 1992) and Coming About (november 1995), all the way to the big-band effort of Concert In The Garden (march 2004).


British reed player Paul Dunmall, a member of Keith Tippett's Mujician, also led his own octet, that recorded the five-part suites Bebop Starburst (june 1997) and The Great Divide (march 2000), while toying with the big-band format on I Wish You Peace (march 2003) and the 40-minute ensemble jam Blown Away, off Blown Away (october 2006), all four milestones of revisionist avant-garde jazz that run the gamut from soulful melodies to abrasive solos, from dissonant counterpoint to noir ambience, from fanfares to litanies. The same twisted logic permeated the solo bagpipe improvisations of Solo Bagpipes (may 2003) and the solo soprano-saxophone improvisation of Unnaturals, Sharps & Flats (august 2005), or the guitar-based quartet sessions, notably the 27-minute Tish Mish Ish Ish, off Out From the Cage (february 2000), and the 30-minute Love, off Love, Warmth and Compassion (may 2004). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The Great Chicago Jazz Rebirth


Chicago's pianist Myra Melford, who moved to New York in 1984, debuted with the solo-piano meditations One For Now (august 1986) but established herself as a poignant composer in the vein of Henry Threadgill with a trio that recorded Jump (june 1990), Now and Now (august 1991) and the live Alive In The House of Saints (february 1993). Their playing revisited all the elements of jazz improvisation within a structured context. In order to pursue these erudite studies, she formed The Same River Twice with saxophonist Chris Speed, trumpeter Dave Douglas, cellist Erik Friedlander and drummer Michael Sarin, that recorded The Same River Twice (january 1996) and Above Blue (april 1998), albums whose music was frequently cryptic and disorienting. However, they all paled in comparison with the 25-minute combinatorial game of La Mezquita Suite, off Even the Sounds Shine (march 1994), for a quintet with trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Marty Ehrlich. A blend of lyrical inspiration and musical mastery fueled the ever more sophisticated architectures of Dance Beyond the Color (may 1999) and The Tent (april 2003). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


White saxophonist and clarinetist Ken Vandermark, who relocated to Chicago in 1989, started his career in rock groups such as the Flying Luttenbachers (1992-95). In 1993 his quartet (guitarist Todd Colburn, bassist Kent Kessler, drummer Michael Zerang) debuted with a pyrotechnic display of rhythms, melodies and musical mistakes on Big Head Eddie (february 1993), equally dedicated to Thelonious Monk, funk guru George Clinton and (most appropriately) rock eccentric Captain Beefheart, the elusive musician who in the late 1960s had pioneered the fusion of psychedelic rock, free jazz, classical avantgarde and pop music that Vandermark took as a starting point. His other influence was Hal Russell's anarchic project, the NRG Ensemble, in which Vandermark played (1993-95). Solid Action (may 1994), with Daniel Scanlan replacing Colburn, and containing his first major compositions (Catch 22 and Bucket), indulged in the postmodernist ambiguity of playing music that deconstructed all sorts of musical cliches (blues, dub, funk, jazz, rock) and it did so with a vengeance.
Vandermark was also exploring the format of the trio, first with the Steelwood Trio (Vandermark, Kessler, drummer Curt Newton) on International Front (september 1994) and then with the DKV Trio (basically, the Steelwood Trio with percussionist Hamid Drake replacing Newton) on the wild Baraka (february 1997), that contained the 35-minute free-form amoeba Baraka.
Vandermark 5, instead, the quintet with reed player Mars Williams, guitarist/trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Tim Mulvenna, played visceral free jazz at neurotic speed that was cohesive enough to sound closer in spirit to progressive-rock than to creative improvisation. Single Piece Flow (august 1996) and especially Target Dr Flag (october 1997), collapsed Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman into one disorienting vortex. Dave Rempis replaced Williams on Simpatico (december 1998), and Burn The Incline (december 1999), with Distance, that were basically post-modernist tributes to his favorite jazz players, passionate distillations from the history of post-bop jazz. Vandermark's wild sax style became a classic despite sounding like a clown aping the greats of the past.
Now rooted in the jazz tradition, the compositions of Acoustic Machine (january 2001) were lengthy tests of Vandermark's mastery of jazz counterpoint (Stranger Blues, Auto Topography, Fall to Grace, Close Enough, Wind Out). After Airports for Light (august 2002), the ambitions of the composer of his quintet further expanded with the 20-minute suite Six of One, off Elements of Style (july 2003), with the 19-minute Camera, off the double-CD The Color Of Memory (july 2004), with the 14-minute Some Not All, off A Discontinuous Line (december 2005), on which cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm replaced Bishop; pieces that felt like distorted mirror images of the history of jazz music.
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. Vandermark took advantage of the larger ensembles to create larger-scale constructions and trigger larger-scale improvisation. Transatlantic Bridge (february 2000) featured the quintet (Bishop, Kessler, Rempis, Mulvenna) plus trumpeter Axel Doerner, pianist Jim Baker, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paul Lytton in what was basically a concept about abstract painting in four lengthy movements (Collage, RM, Mobile, Stabile). Atlas (february 2001) and the double-CD Map Theory (september 2002) added Kevin Drumm on electronics to concoct the glitchy electroacoustic improvisations for chamber orchestra of Neiger and Now (on the former) and A Certain Light for Peter Kowald, Framework for Rob Vandermark, Image As Text for Richard Hull (on the latter). Another double-CD album, Company Switch (september 2004), replaced Drumm with electronic musician Lasse Marhaug towards a more introspective form of electroacoustic improvisation (Killing Floor, Local Works, Franja). The triple-disc A New Horse for the White House (october 2005) for a 12-piece unit explored an even deeper soundscape across four complex atonal fantasias (Fall With A Vengence, Untitled Fiction, Corrosion, Cards), largely dominated by Doerner's trumpet, Lonberg-Holm's cello, Lytton's percussion and Lasse Marhaug's electronics. Collide (august 2006) was a five-monument suite for a similar 12-piece orchestra. Despite the epic proportions of the music, the Territory Band sounded like Vandermark's most private and anguished statement yet. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Bridging the post-rock and the post-jazz generations was cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, a pupil of Anthony Braxton who, after cutting his teeth in some new-wave bands of New York, moved to Chicago. He joined the ranks of the creative improvisers with the noisy experiments of Theory of Motion (1990), the solo performances of Personal Scratch (february 1996), and the duets of Site-Specific (september 1998) with rock and jazz musicians on guitar (Jim O'Rourke, Kevin Drumm, Michael Zerang, Ben Vida, Michael Krassner, Jeb Bishop, etc). He played in and led a number of orchestras and ensembles, notably: the Light Box Orchestra, a rotating orchestra of jazz musicians (guitarists Kevin Drumm and Ben Vida, violinist Bob Marxh, saxophonist Guillermo Gregorio, keyboardist Jim O'Rourke, and so on), so named because the improvisers are switched on and off by a box of lights; Trigger, a surreal trio with Paul Hoskin on contrabass clarinet and Leslie Ross on bassoon, documented on All These Things (june 1992); Peep, a quartet with saxophonist Michael Attias, trombonist Edward Ratliff and percussionist Rob Cimino inspired by circus orchestras and parade bands that recorded Joy of Being (1997); In Zenith, a trio with bassist/trombonist Jeb Bishop and percussionist Michael Zerang that recorded Building A Better Future (1998).
Possibly inspired by the Modern Jazz Quartet, Terminal 4 was his attempt at composing rock music for a pseudo-jazz quartet of cello, guitar (Ben Vida), bass (Josh Abrams) and trombone (Jeb Bishop). Terminal 4 (2001), featuring vocalist Terria Gartelos, and When I'm Falling (2003), with bassist Jason Roebke replacing Abrams, contained delicate chamber arias, noisy ballads and surrealist fanfares.
Pillow was a quartet with Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Michael Colligan on reeds, and two members of Town And Country, Liz Payne on bass and Ben Vida on guitar. Their Pillow (1998), Field On Water (2000) and Three Henries (january 2001) were sets of free improvised jams.
The cello solos of Dialogs (january 2002), that sounded like a repertory of ways to "destroy" the sound of the cello, the duets of Object 1 (2003) with German trumpeter Alex Dorner, and Eruption (2003), a trio with electronic musician Kevin Drumm and the Flying Luttenbachers' drummer Weasel Walter, moved the cellist further into the dissonant realm. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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 documented on V - Solo Improvisations (may 2000) and on the Skronktet West's dadaistic albums Toad In The Hole (december 1999) and El (april 2001), for a quintet with clarinet (Matt Ingals), guitar (John Shiurba), contrabass (Morgan Guberman) and percussion (Gino Robair). Rosenberg's "noise-jazz" was 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 four-part symphony IE (august 1997) for 27-piece orchestra (five violins, viola, cello, two guitars, five clarinets, two saxophones, tuba, trumpet, accordion, three basses, three percussions plus two vocalists), whose movements range from apocalyptic to clownish, and Creative Orchestra Music (march 2001) for 26-piece orchestra (vocals, flute, oboe, six reeds, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, two guitars, viola, two cellos, piano, three basses and three percussions), a music of complex scores and grand gestures that ran the gamut from dramatic dissonance to trancey fanfares.
His passion for dense and convoluted scores and for reckless improvisation, also permeated his music for quartet: Owe (march 2001) and Blood (may 2004) for Red, a quartet of tenor sax, bass, drums and cornet (Todd Margasak) that replicated the configuration of Ornette Coleman's quartet with Don Cherry, and New Folk New Blues (august 2003) for a quartet of improvisers (Rosenberg on sax, keyboardist Jim Baker, bassist Anton Hatwich and percussionist Tim Daisy). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The Return of the Jazz Improviser


Zeena Parkins, a veteran of Lindsay Cooper's progressive outfit News From Babel (1983-85), was the harpist who introduced the instrument in the context of creative improvisation. She was also the closest thing to a composer of chamber music within New York's "creative" milieu. Something Out There (january 1987) collected solos, duets and trios with the likes of drummer Ikue Mori, cellist Tom Cora, turntablist Christian Marclay, percussionist Samm Bennett, etc. She continued to straddle the line between rock and jazz, playing in Chris Cochrane's No Safety (1989-92) while partnering with the likes of Butch Morris and Elliott Sharp. The prototype for her lengthy compositions was Ursa's Door (june 1991), off Ursa's Door, scored for chamber trio (harp, violin, cello), guitar and electronics, with Ikue Mori's computer-generated "concrete" sounds haunting Parkins' alien harp-based soundscapes.
After the brief harp solos of Nightmare Alley (1992), she began to stretch out. The ten-movement suite Isabelle (september 1993) for harp, piano, cello, violin and sampler; the nine-movement suite Maul (december 1995) and the six-movement suite Blue Mirror (february 1996), both off Mouth=Maul=Betrayer and also scored for small chamber ensembles (electric harp, sampler, piano, cello, violin, percussion, vibraphone, guitar, didjeridu) displayed her skills at composing counterpoint and at conducting improvisers; while the 24-minute Peregrine, a collaboration with Elliott Sharp off Psycho-Acoustic's Blackburst (august 1995) that employed electronics and digital manipulation, the sample-driven dissonant solo No Way Back (december 1997), and especially the three suites of Pan-Acousticon (december 1998) 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. In her most inspired moments Parkins carried out dense and complex experiments on texture and dynamics that rivaled the contemporary classical avantgarde. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


The style of Japanese trumpet player Toshinori Kondo, who moved to New York in 1978, evolved from creative improvisation, best represented by the neurotic solo Fuigo From a Different Dimension (may 1979), towards solo electronic trumpet meditations such as the six-movement suite Panta Rhei (november 1993). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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 (1998), and Remington Khan, off Plays Well (july 2000). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


White flutist Robert Dick explored extended techniques at the instrument on Venturi Shadows (april 1989) and Worlds Of If (february 1994), and then applied them to a surreal kind of chamber music in the duets with violinist Mari Kimura of Irrefragable Dreams (august 1994).


Trombonist Peter Zummo, a disciple of Steve Reich's minimalism in the two suites of Zummo with a X (august 1981), namely Instruments and Lateral Pass, coined a deviant fusion of chamber music and free jazz on Experimenting with Household Chemicals (august 1991).


Jewish, Philadelphia-born, classically-trained pianist Uri Caine debuted with Sphere Music (may 1992), ostensibly dedicated to Thelonious Monk but in reality running the gamut from melodic classical music to dissonant free jazz (the eight-minute Mr B.C. for a quartet with clarinetist Don Byron, bassist Anthony Cox and drummer Ralph Peterson, This Is a Thing Called Love for a trio, the free-form Jelly and the ten-minute Jan Fan also featuring tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas and trumpeter Graham Haynes). That eclectic range was at least matched, if not surpassed, by Toys (march 1995), thanks to an improved pool of collaborators (Byron, Thomas, Peterson, trumpeter Dave Douglas, trombonist Joshua Roseman, bassist Dave Holland, and percussionist Don Alias) and engaging stylistic hybrids (the Latin-tinged and Wagner-quoting Time Will Tell, the sprightly Or Truth, the abstract Yellow Stars in Heaven). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


White trumpeter Dave Douglas was emblematic of the neo-traditionalist who, far from being merely a nostalgic revivalist, actually enacts a synthesis of an entire civilization. Backed by a string trio (violin, cello and bass), Douglas opened his career with Parallel Worlds (march 1993), an eclectic excursion into hard bop, free jazz and classical music via kaleidoscopes such as Parallel Worlds and For Every Action.
In Our Lifetime (december 1994), dedicated to Booker Little, particularly the stuttering 17-minute Bridges, the post-modernist Four Miniatures After Booker Little and In Our Lifetime (the latter with bass clarinetist Marty Ehrlich). The Sextet's second chapter, Stargazer (december 1996), was dedicated to Wayne Shorter, recreating his haunting atmospheres in Goldfish and Intuitive Science while indulging in sinister cacophony in Four Sleepers.
Tiny Bell Trio (december 1993) inaugurated a collaboration with guitarist Brad "Shepik" Schoeppach and drummer Jim Black devoted to the integration of Balkan folk music and jazz improvisation. Their world-jazz fusion matured on Constellations (february 1995), a more overtly political work in the vein of Charlie Haden (Maquiladora, Hope Ring True). Zeno was the centerpiece of Live In Europe (april 1997). By the Trio's third chapter, Songs for Wandering Souls (december 1996), the fusion was becoming formulaic (Songs for Wandering Souls).
Five (august 1995) marked the debut of yet another project, the String Group, featuring violinist Mark Feldman, cellist Erik Friedlander, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Michael Sarin. Its programmatic nature was embedded in the dedications: the 13-minute Actualities for Woody Shaw, Over Farrell's for John Cage, Mogador for John Zorn, etc.
In 1994 Douglas started contributing to John Zorn's various projects. The effect could be heard on the double-CD live Sanctuary (august 1996), a chaotic (not merely eclectic) creative set with tenorist Chris Speed, trumpeter Cuong Vu, bassists Mark Dresser and Hilliard Greene, and drummer Dougie Bowne providing the pseudo-jazz fuel while Anthony Coleman and Cibo Matto's Yuka Honda derailed the sound on samplers (Apparition, Heavenly Messenger, The Lantern).
The versatile Douglas used different quartets for different (albeit humbler) purposes. Music Triangle (may 1997), with tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist James Genus and drummer Ben Perowsky, was truly a jazz album, exploring the continuum from hard bop to free jazz. The same line-up cooked up Continental Divide on the more daring Leap Of Faith (september 1998). Charms of the Night Sky (september 1997) and A Thousand Evenings (october 2000), both recorded by a drum-less quartet with Guy Klucevsek on accordion, Feldman on violin and Greg Cohen on bass, marked one of his eccentric detours, blending Eastern European folk music, chamber music and post-modernist jazz. Moving Portrait (december 1997), by another harmless quartet (with pianist Bill Carrothers, Genus and drummer Billy Hart) and dedicated to singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, was rather impressionistic by his wild standards (Moving Portrait and Romero).
The String Group's Convergence (january 1998), replacing Dresser with Drew Gress, summarized all of Douglas' experiments via morphing pieces such as the 13-minute Goodbye Tony and the 16-minute Meeting at Infinity. The Sextet returned with Soul on Soul (september 1999), dedicated to Mary Lou Williams and including the refined Multiples.
Sanctuary's futuristic program was continued on the ambitious political concept Witness (december 2000), scored for an electro-acoustic chamber ensemble (Douglas, Speed, Roseman, Feldman, Friedlander, Gress, Sarin, vibraphonist Bryan Carrott, tuba player Joe Daley, electronic percussionist Ikue Mori and Yuka Honda on sampling). The 24-minute Mahfouz included a spoken-word piece by singer-songwriter Tom Waits. It basically combined the String Group, the Charms of the Night Sky, half of the Sextet and a bit of Sanctuary.
The Charms of the Night Sky was also the core of the ensemble for the dance score El Trilogy (premiered in june 2000), structured in three multi-part suites (Groove and Countermove, Weather Invention, Rapture to Leon James) and closer in spirit to the classical avantgarde than to the jazz avantgarde.
A New Quintet (Potter, Caine, Genus, drummer Clarence Penn) debuted on The Infinite (december 2001), that contained covers of pop musicians as well as extended originals in a jazz-rock vein such as Penelope. Strange Liberation (january 2004) added guitarist Bill Frisell to the quintet. The Miles Davis influence was even stronger on the New Quintet's third album, Meaning and Mystery (february 2006), notably in Culture Wars.
The fusion element wed to Sanctuary's electronic sound permeated Freak In (september 2002), with Traveler There Is No Road, featuring Speed, Sarin, Baron, Ikue Mori, saxophonist Seamus Blake, guitarist Marc Ribot, electronic keyboardist Jamie Saft and electric pianist Craig Taborn. A smaller electronic combo (saxophonist Marcus Strickland, Saft, turntablist Gregor "DJ Olive" Asch, bass and drums) crafted Keystone (may 2005), dedicated to silent-cinema star Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle.
In 2003 a new acoustic quintet called Nomad (saxophonist/clarinetist Michael Moore, cellist Peggy Lee, tuba player Marcus Rojas and drummer Dylan van der Schyff) premiered the suite Mountain Passages (june 2004), to be performed at high altitude only, a work that focused on textural and melodic interplay. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


The Swiss improvising percussionist Fritz Hauser established his innovative and encyclopedic style (restricted to the simplest forms of drums and cymbals) with the solo performances of Solodrumming (april 1985), recorded in a building whose acoustics provided a seven-second echo, and Pensieri Bianchi (may 1990) for nine percussions (played by two hands), as well as with the twin discs Die Trommel (november 1987) and Die Welle (november 1988). The double-disc Deep Time (october 1994) contained two performances of a Fritz Hauser composition commissioned in 1991, and performed by Hauser on percussion and found sounds with avantgarde minimalist Pauline Oliveros on accordion, David Gamper on small instruments and Urs Leimgruber on saxophones, who improvise with/against Hauser's tape of sounding stones, watches and clocks.


Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, who relocated to New York in 1989, initially paid tribute to his roots (folk songs, composer Heitor Villa-Lobos) employing the free-jazz devices first experimented by Albert Ayler. His maturation as a (emotional and almost mystic) composer started with the drum-less trio of Cama de Terra (july 1996), featuring bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp, and the trio of Sad Life (june 1996), featuring Parker and Rashid Ali on drums. Seeds, Visions and Counterpoint (september 1996), in another trio, achieved a synthesis of Perelman the improviser and Perelman the composer through the 20-minute Seeds, Visions and Counterpoint and the 26-minute Cantilena, his wildest musical excursions yet (but also the first fully-realized expression of his spirituality). Equally dissonant and intense was Sound Hiearchy (october 1996), for a quartet with pianist Marilyn Crispell, bassist William Parker and drummer Gerry Hemingway. Perelman's horizons further expanded via a collaboration with a string quartet, the eight-movement The Alexander Suite (may 1998), that was, if possible, even more jarring and chaotic than his trios and quartets, to the point that "free" sounded like an understatement, and via the seven-movement suite The Seven Energies of the Universe (april 1998) for a bass-less trio. Density rather than dissonance stood out on the colossal expressionist Suite for Helen F (march 2002) for a double trio, basically a 107-minute total immersion in the inner nightmare of a devastated psyche. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


White pianist Denman Maroney introduced a new kind of prepared piano with the three solo piano sonatas of Hyperpiano (october 1999) and then employed it for the six-part chamber concerto Fluxations (april 2001), mixing improvisation and "pulse field", a polyrhythmic sequence denoted as a rhythmic relationship between instruments. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Norwegian improvisers Supersilent (3) set a terrifying standard of violent and cacophonous jazz-rock on their triple-CD 1-3 (september 1997), an orgy of dissonant instruments, electronic noise and tribal drums, somewhere between free jazz and Japanese noise-core. All the extremes were painstakingly explored on the wildly improvised 5 (november 2000), while 6 (december 2001), instead, achieved an otherworldly balance of moods and sounds in six compositions (not only improvisations) of subtle counterpoint.


The natural disciples of Masayuki Takayanagi were perhaps EXIAS-J (Experimental Improvisers Assocation Of Japan), the quartet of guitarist Hideaki Kondo, bassist Ikegami Hideo, drummer Nishizawa Naoto and saxophonist Tanikawa Teruaki who indulged in improvised droning chaotic cacophony on Critical Blank (october 1999). EXIAS-J Electric Conception added second guitarist Tanikawa Takuo and electronic/computer musician Miyazaki Tetsuya to the quartet for the ever more unstructured Avant-Garde (november 2002) and Balance of Chaos (november 2003).

20th Century Post-creativity

At the end of the 20th century the wake of new creative music extended well beyond New York.


San Francisco's bassist Michael Formanek debuted with the creative watercolors of Wide Open Spaces (january 1990), featuring saxophonist Greg Osby, violinist Mark Feldman, guitarist Wayne Krantz and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. Longer compositions such as Dominoes gave Extended Animation (november 1991), with Tim Berne replacing Osby, a completely different feeling, almost like a philosophical version of the previous album's impressionism. The progression towards a more pensive and plaintive style continued on Low Profile (october 1993), for a septet including Berne, trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonist and clarinetist Marty Ehrlich, trombone, piano and drums, that included the 12-minute Great Plains, and reached a peak with the 12-minute Thick Skin/ Dangerous Crustaceans on Nature of the Beast (april 1996), in a quartet with trumpeter Douglas, trombonist Steve Swell and drummer Jim Black, recorded while Formanek was a member of Tim Berne's Bloodcount. These albums had rarely been showcases for his technique, but the solo-bass tour de force of Am I Bothering You (december 1997) made amend, offering a dazzling catalogue of bass inventions.


Boston-based white composer Joe Maneri, a member of the classical avantgarde who had composed microtonal music in his youth, released his first jazz album at the age of 68. Kalavinka (january 1989), for tenor and clarinet (Maneri himself), violin (his son Mat) and percussion introduced the notion of "free" improvisation that was relaxed (instead of incendiary or overly intellectual) and tonal (instead of wildly dissonant). Adding bassist Cecil McBee to form a quartet, Maneri indulged in the three lengthy improvisations of Dahabenzapple (may 1993). Similar quartets recorded Coming Down the Mountain (october 1993), Tenderly (1993), Get Ready To Receive Yourself (1995), Let The Horse Go (june 1995) and In Full Cry (june 1996), always in the same subdued and introverted microtonal style, while Three Men Walking (november 1995) was by a trio of reeds, violin and guitarist Joe Morris, and Blessed (october 1997) was a duet with violinist Mat Maneri. Tales of Rohnlief (1998) and Angels Of Repose (may 2002) were trios with the Maneris and bassist Barre Phillips. The Maneris' experiments with free jazz and microtonal music culminated with Going To Church (june 2000), featuring trumpeter Roy Campbell, pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Randy Peterson (notably the 31-minute Blood And Body). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Argentinean clarinetist and alto saxophonist Guillermo Gregorio basically played classical avantgarde in a jazz context. He began with the brief lyrical pieces for small ensemble of Approximately (june 1995), featuring Eric Pakula on saxophones, Mat Maneri on violin, Pendelis Karayorgis on piano and John Lockwood on bass, and Ellipsis (february 1997), featuring Gene Coleman on bass clarinet, Jim O'Rourke on acoustic guitar and accordion, Carrie Biolo on vibraphone and Michael Cameron on bass. Then he turned to a music influenced by cool jazz and third-stream jazz with the longer A Tiny Bit More and the three-movement Just About Five, off Background Music (january 1998), featuring Mats Gustafsson on saxophones and Kjell Nordeson on percussion, and the disorienting whirlwinds of Red Cubed (march 1998), featuring Pandelis Karayorgis on piano and Mat Maneri on electric violin. Degrees of Iconicity (february 1999), featuring Carrie Biolo on vibes, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and cornet, Michael Cameron and Kent Kessler on acoustic basses, was an even more chaotic experience, evoking the aesthetics of the Italian futurists. The highlights of Faktura (december 2000), namely the five-movement Rodchenko Suite and the Systems and Variations for Piano, roam an even vaster and more unstable territory (Francois Houle on clarinet, Robbie Lynn Hunsinger on English horn, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Kyle Bruckmann on oboe, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Jen Paulson on viola, Jim Baker on piano, Jeff Parker on guitar, Michael Cameron on bass, Carrie Biolo on percussion). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Canadian pianist Paul Plimley took Cecil Taylor's exuberant style into the 1990s, while wedding the acrobatic and intense aspects of it with atmospheric and pensive threads. The similarities with the master declined rapidly from When Silence Pulls (november 1990), a trio session with bassist Lisle Ellis and drummer Andrew Cyrille, to the impressionistic piano vignettes of Everything in Stages (april 1995) to the duets with bassist Barry Guy of Sensology (november 1995) to the wildly eclectic and virtuoso parade of Safe-Crackers (january 1999), another trio session. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Boston-based trumpet player Greg Kelley unleashed the improvised noise of Trumpet (june 2000) and If I Never Meet You In This Life (october 2001), besides attempting a fusion of concrete music and free jazz on Field Recordings (july 1998). 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), Nmperign's ultimate statement: two lengthy tracks that cover a gigantic spectrum of possibilities. Cold Bleak Heat was a supergroup of the Boston avantgarde formed by Kelley, saxophonist Paul Flaherty, No Neck Blues Band's bassist Matt Heyner, Six Organs Of Admittance's drummer Chris Corsano. They released the exuberant improvisations of It's Magnificent But It Isn't War (august 2003) and especially Simitu (august 2003), with the 21-minute Mugged by a Glacier, that straddled the border among soundsculpting, minimalism, free jazz, punk-rock and funk. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Canada-raised violinist Eyvind Kang was one of the most eclectic musicians of his generation, playing in both rock, jazz and classical contexts. The more intimate and spiritual (and ethnic) aspect of his art was documented on the five-movement suite The Story Of Iceland (2000), on the 19-minute gamelan-inspired Doorway to the Sun for chamber orchestra, off Virginal Co-ordinates (may 2000), and on the 27-minute mostly-droning Binah for guitar, violin and bass, off Live Low to the Earth in the Iron Age (2002). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


San Francisco-based multi-instrumentalist improviser and electronic composer Eric Glick-Rieman was a virtuoso of the prepared electric piano, as documented on the solo improvisations of Ten To The Googolplex (may 2000). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Freer jazz

Towards the end of the 20th century the legacy of free jazz was more visible than ever among the black jazz community, notably in New York.


John Coltrane-influenced tenor saxophonist David Ware became the leading proponent of free jazz after graduating from the groups of Cecil Taylor (1976) and Andrew Cyrille (1978). His huge, agile and, at times, frantic sound, first experimented on Birth of a Being (april 1977) and From Silence to Music (september 1978), became the pillar of his groups with bassist William Parker and drummer Marc Edwards, first the trio of Passage To Music (april 1988), with The Elders Path, and then the quartet formed with pianist Matthew Shipp that debuted on the double-CD Great Bliss (january 1990), with Forward Motion, One Two Three and Stritchland. Ware played tenor sax, flute, saxello and stritch, showcasing not only his manyfold virtuosity but also his keen instinct for timbral exploration. Despite the cryptic Infi-Rhythms #1, Flight Of I (december 1991) smoothed the edges of Ware's free-jazz approach. Edwards was replaced by Whit Dickey on Third Ear Recitation (october 1992), that contained stronger avant-retro contrasts as well as flights of the imagination such as The Chase. A more radical approach, and phenomenal playing by Shipp and Parker, turned Earthquation (may 1994), with Cococana, and especially Cryptology (december 1994), with Cryptology, into incendiary shows. The quartet's form peaked on Oblations and Blessings (september 1995), with Oblations and Blessings, and the apparently chaotic Dao (september 1995), with Dao Forms and Dao. Ware's sonic attack was matched by the creative turbulence of Parker, Shipp and Dickey. If Ware was reenacting John Coltrane's spiritual fervor, Shipp was charting a territory beyong McCoy Tyner's psychotic exuberance. The dynamics was breathtaking, with moments of trance-like transcendence followed by moments of absolute delirium and by ecstatic pauses.
Susie Ibarra replaced Dickey on Godspelized (may 1996), an album more influenced by Albert Ayler and Sun Ra than by Coltrane's legendary group (Godspelized). Ware's understated compositional style was beginning to emerge more clearly (as in "there is method in his madness"), and Wisdom of Uncertainty (december 1996) boasted pieces such as Utopic, Continuum and Acclimation that relied on a powerful logic besides pure energy. Ware began to concentrate more on composition than improvisation. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Craig Harris emerged as an irreverent trombonist, capable of indulging in catchy folk melodies as well as harsh dissonance on Black Bone (january 1983), Aboriginal Affairs (1983), on which he debuted his didjeridu playing, and Tributes (1984). A living summary of the history of jazz trombone playing, his madcap art probably peaked with the 17-minute Shelter Suite, off Shelter (december 1986). Blackout in the Square Root of Soul (november 1987) added the synthesizer to his odd palette of sounds. After a hiatus of ten years, Harris assembled a David Murray-esque band with trumpet (Hugh Ragin), cornet (Graham Haynes), clarinet (Don Byron), alto saxophone (Oliver Lake), baritone saxophone (Hamiet Bluiett), bass (Cecil McBee), drums (Billy Hart) and percussion (Kahil El'Zabar), and crafted the double-disc concept album Souls Within The Veil (july 2003). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Washington's pianist Matthew Shipp, who relocated to New York in 1984, established his reputation in 1990 as a follower of Cecil Taylor's percussive style in saxophonist David Ware's quartet along with bassist William Parker. After ten Sonic Explorations (february 1988) with alto saxophonist Rob Brown, Shipp formed his own quartet, featuring Brown, Parker and drummer Whit Dickey, and turned to free jazz of the 1960s with the lengthy vehement improvisations of Points (january 1990). A trio with Parker and Dickey yielded the four-movement suite Circular Temple (october 1990) and the live Prism (march 1993), two creative sessions worthy of Cecil Taylor. Between a stark duo with Parker Zo (may 1993), the live solo performances of Before the World (june 1995), the duets of 2-Z (august 1995) with saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and the brief solo post-bop vignettes of Symbol Systems (november 1995), all of them more indebted towards Chicago's and London's "creative" scenes, Shipp emancipated himself from the cliches of free jazz via a quartet featuring violinist Mat Maneri, Parker and Dickey (who in the meantime had also joined Ware with Shipp and Parker). Their Critical Mass (september 1994) and The Flow of X (may 1995) moved towards abstract soundpainting of the kind practiced by electronic musicians, albeit rooted in the tradition of jazz instruments.
A String Trio with Maneri and Parker crafted the brief watercolors of By the Law of Music (august 1996). This marked the end of the verbose, youthful, dense, free-jazz period. Shipp adopted a more concise style and rediscovered the "song" format. His irrational and chaotic free-jazz style metamorphosed into a close relative that was actually both rational and romantic.
After Thesis (january 1997) with guitarist Joe Morris, The Multiplication Table (july 1997), recorded by a trio with Parker and drummer Susie Ibarra, even included jazz standards. Another drum-less ensemble, the Horn Quartet, featuring Parker, trumpeter Roy Campbell and alto saxophonist Daniel Carter, penned the 14 solos, duets, trios and quartets of Strata (december 1997), one of his most cerebral works and the one that revealed Shipp's debt to classical music.
Shipp's numerous collaborations, that included Gravitational Systems (may 1998) with Mat Maneri, DNA (january 1999) with Parker, and the solos, duets and trios with Parker and Brown of Magnetism (january 1999), were mere teasers and/or detours. The real "meat" was to be found in his trios and quartets: the trio with Maneri (on electric violin) and drummer Randy Peterson of So What (august 1998), the String Trio of Expansion Power Release (november 1999), the quartet with Campbell, Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver of Pastoral Composure (january 2000), one of his most romantic works, the quartet with Leo Smith replacing Campbell of New Orbit (september 2000), and the trio with reed player Charles Waters and drummer Andrew Barker of Apostolic Polyphony (april 2001).
At the turn of the century, Shipp was ready to shift gear once more. He began a collaboration with the electronic dance project Spring Heel Jack (2001-02), then he experimented with hip-hop music on Nu Bop (august 2001) in the company of saxophonist/flutist Daniel Carter, Parker, drummer Guillermo Brown, and Chris Flam on synthesizer, drum machine and sampler. That was only the appetizer, because soon Shipp was playing with the hip-hop group Antipop Consortium (2002), with DJ Spooky (2002) and with rapper El-P (2003). The problem is that Shipp never fully integrated his style with the dance style of his partners.
The "nu bop" idea was continued on Equilibrium (june 2002) with Parker, Flam, Cleaver and vibraphonist Khan Jamal, perhaps the most "sentimental" of the series, on The Sorcerer Sessions (january 2003) with Parker, Flam, Cleaver, clarinetist Evan Ziporyn and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain, and on Harmony and Abyss (february 2004), with just Parker, Flam and Cleaver.
The solo-piano album One (april 2005) was also consistent with the "nu bop" program, as its short pieces echoed Thelonious Monk more clearly than it did Cecil Taylor. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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 featured guitarist Bill Frisell and even poet Sadiq (Tuskegee Strutter's Ball, Next Love, Diego Rivera). However, anchored to a relatively traditional sextet (cornetist Graham Haynes, pianist Edsel Gomez, bass, drums and congas plus Frisell and Sadiq), 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 guitarist David Gilmore and pianist Uri Caine (Sex/Work). Byron lampooned funk music on Nu Blaxploitation (january 1998), again diluted by spoken-word segments but boasting a live Schizo Jam with rapper Marcell "Biz Markie" Hall. The more serious Romance With The Unseen (march 1999), by a quartet with Frisell and drummer Jack DeJohnette, aimed for a romantic mood (Homegoing). After toying with swing, classical and soul music, 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 several more eras of music. The Bang On A Can All-Stars performed his nine-movement Red Tailed Angels on A Ballad for Many (june 2006). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Formed in 1987 by saxophonist Roy Nathanson and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes (both former members of no-wave combo the Lounge Lizards), the Jazz Passengers debuted with Broken Night/ Red Light (1987), that showed their evolution from a duo to a full-fledged band with vibraphonist Bill Ware, bassist Brad Jones, etc. Their Dadaesque wit, hyper-fusion of ethnic, rock and funk music, free improvisation and elegant post-modernist quotations blossomed on Deranged & Decomposed (1989) and especially Implement Yourself (1988), containing Indian Club Bombardment, and featuring guitarist Marc Ribot and violinist Jim Nolet. Live at the Knitting Factory (january 1991), adding Yuka Honda on sampler and Marcus Rojas on tuba, contained Tikkun. A bit too anarchic even by Frank Zappa's standards, Plain Old Joe (1993) signaled the end of the epic era. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


The Los Angeles-based BSharp Jazz Quartet (saxophonist Randall Willis, pianist Eliot Douglass, bassist Reggie Carson and drummer Herb Graham) debuted on B Sharp Jazz Quartet (1994), mostly composed and arranged by Graham, in a vein that bridged hard-bop and free-jazz styles, culminating with the lengthy Hoopty. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The Digital Improviser

The revolution of computer-driven instrumentation began to make a difference in creative improvisation at the turn of the century. The new generation of "digital improvisers" coming from the free-jazz background basically merged with the generation of "sound sculptors" coming from the classical avantgarde.

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 (november 1994). Following Miles Davis' example, Triptycal (april 1996), a collaboration with disc-jockeys of the "illbient" movement (notably Paul "DJ Spooky" Miller), grafted his atmospheric and lush sound onto a slick fusion of jazz and dance music (techno, hip-hop, acid-jazz, drum'n'bass) while employing sophisticated mathematical techniques. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Chicago-based tabletop guitarist and synthesizer player Kevin Drumm developed a style that stood as the guitar equivalent of digital/glitch electronica: an art of static soundscapes roamed by sporadic, arctic, minimal events. The result often appeared to be a psychoacoustic study on the flow of time. Sonic odysseys such as the seven untitled tracks of Kevin Drumm (october 1996), Cynicism, off Second (october 1998), and Organ, off Comedy (1999), took the ideas of Keith Rowe and Fred Frith and relocated them to another era and another planet. When the brutal orgies of Sheer Hellish Miasma (2002) and Land of Lurches (2003) seemed to renege on Drumm's aesthetic of silence, the double-disc Imperial Distortion (2008) instead suddenly veered towards an evanescent ambient droning minimalism. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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 (june 2002).


Austrian guitarist Burkhard Stangl, a co-founder of the jazz ensemble Ton Art in 1985 and of the avantgarde chamber ensemble Maxixe in 1991, and a member of the improvisation ensemble Polwechsel, debuted solo with the four compositions for guitar and piano of Recital (1999). The duo Schnee (1999) with Christof Kurzmann on laptop straddled the border between free jazz, digital soundsculpting and progressive-rock.


The eclectic San Francisco-based composer Miya Masaoka expanded the techniques of the improvisers with Compositions/Improvisations (august 1993) for solo koto and While I Was Walking I Heard A Sound (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? (march 1997), and mixing cello meditations, bird chirping and plane drones on For Birds, Planes & Cello (2005). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


TV Pow, i.e. Chicago's laptop musicians Brent Gutzeit, Michael Hartman and Todd Carter, produced albums, influenced by Japanese noise-core as well as free jazz, of atonal and chaotic electronic music (plus sampler, turntable, home-made instruments, field recordings), starting with Away Team (may 1997). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Tyondai Braxton improvised the digital/electronic tours de force of The Grow Gauge (1999) and especially History That Has No Effect (2002), that displayed his art of "orchestrated loops" manipulating voice and guitar. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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 (june 1998), a collaboration with Cordier, in which plucking the strings of a stringed instrument caused a chain reaction of sounds from another set of instruments. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Los Angeles-based guitarist Greg Headley proceeded from the solo tabletop guitar meditations of Adhesives (march 1999) to the abstract manipulation of guitar sounds of A Table of Opposites (june 2000) to the noisy, frantic electronic soundscapes of Similis (september 2001). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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 (november 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 (october 2004) 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). Howard played synthesizer and "live processing" in Clepton (october 2006), shaping the improvisation of Georg Graewe on piano, Ernst Reijseger on cello and Gerry Hemingway on drums. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Australian improvising trio Triosk (Adrian Klumpes on keyboards, Laurence Pike on drums, Ben Waples on double bass) diluted jazz music into a maze of post-processing techniques on Moment Returns (2004). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Zanana, i.e. 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 (august 2003). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


British soprano saxophonist Martin Archer drew inspiration from both free-jazz and contemporary avantgarde music for Wild Pathway Favourites (february 1988) and Ghost Lily Cascade (january 1996), two electroacoustic studio collages of live solo improvisations. 88 Enemies (june 1997) was a solo work for digital piano and electronics.

Turntables

Next to electronic and digital instruments, another instrument debuted in the world of improvised music and it was an old-fashioned analogic instrument: the turntable.

The turntablist as an instrumentalist was an artistic figure that migrated from hip-hop music into avantgarde, rock and jazz music during the 1990s. The turntable allowed musicians to achieve two goals (that were frequently overlapped): 1. "quote" from a musical source by another musician (and therefore create collages of quotations), and 2. produce sequences of extreme noise. Since the turntable is inherently an instrument that plays recorded music, whatever turntablists played was, in theory, an audio montage of found sounds, but, in practice, the sources were rarely intelligible.


Christian Marclay spearheaded the trend towards "composing", performing and improvising using phonographic records. De facto, he applied John Cage's indeterminism and, in general, Dadaism's provocative principles of aesthetic demystification, to the civilization of recorded music. His specialty was to devise mechanisms for letting a record evolve a sound over time, typically by having people somehow degrade its sound (as in Record Without a Cover of march 1985, a record sold with no cover and no jacket so that it keeps deteriorating after every playing, or Footsteps of 1990, a totally random composition resulting from hundreds of people walking on a record). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


British turntablist, sampling engineer and sound sculptor Philip Jeck fused the turntable creativity of Christian Marclay and David Shea with the sampling terrorism of John Oswald and Negativland. Obsessed with vintage vinyl, with the noises that the "performer" can extract from the process and with the "sounds" that the records contain, Jeck created the chaotic cacophony of Vinyl Requiem (1993) for 180 turntables and the solo improvisations titled Vinyl Coda (april 2000) in which snippets of old records are mixed with a jungle of turntable noises. Other monumental improvisations such as Vinyl Coda IV, off Vinyl Coda IV (2001), Skew, off Host (2003), Veil, off 7 (2003), and the "Fanfare Song Trilogy", off Sand (2008), progressively abandoned the discontinuous, glitchy format of his beginnings and turned to crystalline, slowly-revolving, quasi-ambient soundscapes. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The Onkyo Movement

At the turn of the century, Japan emerged as a major force in improvised digital music. Its improvisers were grouped around the "onkyo" movement and generally shared a propensity for abstract and minimal textural soundsculpting ("onkyo" means "reverberation of sound") that toyed with both the acoustic and psychological level. The movement was publicized in the USA by the "Onkyo Marathon" held in april 2005 in New York.

Otomo Yoshihide, the guitarist of rock band Ground Zero, reinvented himself as a turntablist on Null & Void (august 1993), an improvised symphony for noise and samples, and Sound Factory (april 1997), a tornado of screeching and hissing in the name of the most brutal musique concrete ever conceived, and then engaged in duets between the turntable and the laptop, such as Nobukazu Takemura's laptop on Turntables and Computers (march 2003), the turntable and the sampler, such as Sachiko M's sampler on Filament 1 (april 1998), or the turntable and another turntable, such as Martin Tetreault's turntable on Grrr (april 2003). At the same time Yoshihide composed scores for small chamber ensembles, prepared instruments and electronics, notably the three-movement dissonant concerto Anode (june 2001) scored (for himself and Taku Sugimoto on electric guitar, Annette Krebs on electro-acoustic guitar, Yoko Nishi on prepared koto, Tetuzi Akiyama on turntables, Sachiko M on electronics, and at least six percussionists) with instructions a` la John Cage, formed the New Jazz Orchestra (january 2005) that fused free jazz and glitch music, and explored extreme guitar noise on Modulation With 2 Electric Guitars and 2 Amplifiers (may 2007). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Guitarist and cellist Taku Sugimoto learned the importance of silence on his Unaccompanied Violoncello Solo (may 1994) and Fragments of Paradise (june 1997) and Opposite (june 1997) for solo guitar. He then applied those lessons to post-rock and digital-noise settings. By the same token, his austere Chamber Music (may 2003), namely the Sonata for Violin and Piano Music for Violin, Cello and Piano (each half an hour long), mixed western timbral exploration and eastern rarefied meditation. Both his solo, group and chamber music were based on 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 was he willing to emit a sign of life. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Guitarist and viola player Tetuzi Akiyama, a founder of the Hikyo String Quintet in 1994, embodied the avant-jazz version of John Fahey's improvised solo acoustic guitar tradition on Relator (february 2001) and Pre-Existence (2005). The "onkyo" aesthetic was prevalent on Resophonie (august 2002) for "prepared resonator guitar" and Terrifying Street Trees (june 2003) for tape-delayed guitar. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

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 (april 1999), a six-piece unit of guitar, sampler, sax, trumpet and rhythm section. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Toshimaru Nakamura specialized in soundscapes constructed by mixing the internal feedback of the mixing board, an idea first introduced by his duo with USA-born percussionist Jason Kahn, Repeat, that yielded a sophisticated blend of acid-rock, musique concrete, glitch music, free jazz and industrial music on Repeat (december 1997), Temporary Contemporary (october 1998) and Select Dialect (2000); an idea perfected in the trilogy that began with No-input Mixing Board (2000). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Sachiko "M" Matsubara, another former member of Otomo Yoshihide's Ground Zero, employed the sampling machine for her solo "sine-wave" improvisations on Music for Headphone (september 1997) and Sine Wave Solo (december 1998). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.