Heavy Vanguard: Naked City // Torture Garden

We've talked about John Zorn before on Heavy Vanguard (and everywhere else too), but not much about the project he's most famously associated with: Naked City. Founded in 1988 and featuring a handful of the New York Downtown scene's best players (Wayne Horvitz, Henry Cow's Fred Frith, Bill Frisell, Joey Baron, and, later, Japan's own Yamatsuka Eye) Naked City was on a quest to test the limits of a rock band format through a sort of free jazz/grindcore hybrid that played through nearly every style of music ever, all within a matter of seconds, referred to as "miniatures".

Jazz Club Quarterly // January-March 2017

Welcome back to Jazz Club! It's been a while since the three of us (Jimmy, Nick and Scott) sat down to dissect the one of our favorite genres, which was most recently a conversation about BADBADNOTGOOD's excellent 2016 album IV. In that discussion, we tossed around the idea of pooling together a list of some of our favorite new jazz releases, something we're excited to finally begin today with our first installment of Jazz Quarterly. This is also offering us an opportunity and excuse to get ourselves back in the habit of listening to new jazz regularly, which, if you're anything like at least a couple of us (namely Nick) has been something we've been meaning to get back into for far too long. There are a few places now that offer some great monthly curated lists like Bandcamp, Stereogum, and more, and you'll likely notice that a bunch of these selections are pulled from there because they provide a valuable resource for even supposed "curators" such as ourselves. As each of us prefers different flavors of the genre, you'll find an eclectic list of recommendations below, ranging from more traditional offerings to experimental blends of jazz with Indian classical music, doom metal sensibilities, electronic music, progressive rock and much more. We'd be genuinely shocked if you can't find at least one release worth your time from this list, so without wasting any more time, feel free to dive in to the best the genre's had to offer so far this year.

Heavy Vanguard: Ornette Coleman // Free Jazz [20th Episode!]

So, twenty episodes, and we're still kicking...I guess that's something to be proud of! Anyway, when we come to special numbers of episodes, Scott and I like to pick an album that's had a huge effect on us and talk about it without worrying about the thirty-minute timer. For our tenth episode we covered Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, and we again dive into jazz territory with Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz.

Starter Kit: Free Jazz

Regardless of one's musical background, free jazz is one of those genres that can be extremely confusing and often border on nonsensical and sonically belligerent. There are even fans of jazz who still can't get into the likes of the late works of John Coltrane or anything made by Pharaoh Sanders, preferring instead to listen to other, less insane iterations of the genre. While we believe that music's value is something strictly decided by the listener, we've also found that, despite the difficulty of the genre, free jazz is incredibly rewarding. There's something undeniably special about musicians that can improvise; if music is the expression of the soul, then free jazz is the direct output of an unrestrained musical voice. While it can sound like noise, it's in fact a huge show of musicianship, as the artist in question must compress everything they know about music theory into one single point and, in a sense, abandon the strictures it causes for what they feel. In this way, we think free jazz can be one of the most magical and spiritually uplifting genres of music out there, and for those interested in exploring the genre further, the following albums are great introductions to the most liberated plane of jazz.

Soundtracks for the Blind: The Necks // Unfold

One of the most unique and consistent contemporary avant-garde bands, The Necks are perhaps most notable for carving out and perfecting their own meditative niche. On the surface, the Australian group's roster solicits expectations for a standard jazz trio - Chris Abrahams (piano, organ), Tony Buck (drums, percussion) and Lloyd Swanton (bass) seem to hearken back to the golden age of bare-bones bop and bandleaders like Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk. But these Aussies differ in how far they stretch their jazz roots into the avant-garde, comparable to but far beyond albums like John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Pharaoh Sander's Karma. Though there's a distinctly transcendental, spiritual vibe to The Necks' music, the trio's approach to this style is heavily informed by the sparseness of artists like Evans and Monk, with a considerable focus on minimalism, improvisation and ambiance that stretches their musical atmosphere from a smoky, luxurious piano lounge into a general ether of organic landscapes.

Heavy Vanguard Episode 5: Soft Machine // Third

Welcome again to Heavy Vanguard—your ticket to the farthest and weirdest reaches of music. While avant-garde and experimental music is, again, strange upon first listen, it's also massively important to music as a whole. After all, innovation doesn't happen through repetition; it takes people willing to take chances on new things and mark uncharted territory for us to truly move forward. And no other album we've covered so far (with the possible exception of Trout Mask Replica) has been as far-reaching and influential as the one we cover this week: Soft Machine's iconic album Third.