Ten Free Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die

From The Village Voice, a list of one writers top ten. Ironically, altohugh I’ve heard hundreds of free jazz albums, I only have heard 5 on this list. In other words, the writer goes off the beaten path, which is rarely a bad thing to do.

Free jazz is challenging, violent, political, spiritual, joyous, peaceful, and a million other things. It’s about shattering forms in order to find a new world of sound somewhere further outside. And once this new world is found, it’s time to go looking for a newer one.

When, as a college student, I first purchased Ornette Coleman‘s landmark album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation, the record store clerk mumbled to me, “I didn’t make it all the way through this album the first time I put it on.” Ignoring his advice, I went home and listened to it all the way through. Many times. I loved it. I went looking for more. These are 10 of the albums I found. It should go without saying that this list is meant, not as a dead-end, but as a pathway that leads to the listening of many, many more fantastic free jazz albums.

Feel free to list your top 10 in the comments below.


5 thoughts on “Ten Free Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die

  1. Mine would look something like this, in no particular order:

    Wolf Eyes / Anthony Braxton – Black Vomit
    Haynes, Stephen / Taylor Ho Bynum – Double Trio
    Sun Ra – Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow
    Sun Ra – Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy
    Art Ensemble of Chicago – Urban Bushmen
    Albert Ayler – Love Cry
    Noah Howard – At Judson Hall
    Mujician – Poem About the Hero
    Larry Ochs – The Secret Magritte
    Zu & Mats Gustafsson – How To Raise an Ox

    Of course, one could argue over the definition of “free,” but if providing these lists is meant to turn people on to new music, that’s not the point…

  2. here’s what fell off the top of my head:

    Pharoah Sanders: Black Unity
    Masada: Live at Tonic
    FME: Cuts
    Globe Unity Orchestra: Pearls
    Tony Oxley: Four Compositions for Sextet
    Alan Silva Celestrial Communication Orchestra: Seasons
    Ornette Coleman: Body Meta
    Supersilent: 7
    Die Like a Dog: Little Birds Have Fast Hears
    Naked City: Heretics

  3. Oh wow — looks like the article writer was Elliott Sharp. He certainly did go off the beaten path, and I’d guess he knows his stuff. :) Nice piece; thanks for pointing it out.

  4. Putting Matana Roberts #1 and Virginia Genta #2 on his free jazz list is just willfully perverse on Sharp’s part. I love Matana’s Coin Coin music but it doesn’t work for this list; there’s a good argument that it is not even free jazz. Again, I love Virginia’s playing (decidedly free jazz), but the Lisbon album is far from her best work. Check out her Jooklo Duo albums. I could live a little easier with Sharp’s list if one reversed the listed order (i.e., #1 becomes #10).

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