Jazz Now: Lars Gotrich, NPR Music : A Blog Supreme All week long you've dreaded it. You've touched your toes in the jazz water, and it's been cool and refreshing, but there are rapids ahead ... wild, disjointed and arrhythmic rapids. Lars Gotrich presents an introduction to the free jazz of today....

Jazz Now: Lars Gotrich, NPR Music

The first real conversation I ever had with Lars Gotrich was about the Peter Brotzmann and Han Bennink U.S. duo tour of 2007. That's how I knew dude was OK in my eyes. Lars keeps tabs on the whole spectrum of jazz for NPR Music -- he Web produces Take Five, Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, JazzSet, and much of our Newport Jazz Festival coverage. But he's the special correspondent for out music at ABS, and even releases some avant-improv on his own record label. His list is an newbie's introduction to the free jazz of today. --Ed.

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All week long you've dreaded it. You've touched your toes in the jazz water, and it's been cool and refreshing, but there are rapids ahead ... wild, disjointed and arrhythmic rapids. And for some reason, Sun Ra is your raft guide.

Yes, it's here. Oh, God, not the free jazz!

Fear not, jazz travelers, for I too stood at the shore, uncertain of this path. After a brief introduction to musicians like Matthew Shipp by way of a graveyard DJ shift at WUOG, I checked out New York Is Now! by Phil Freeman from the UGA library. Its basic premise (and sometimes over-simplication/-implication) was that if you like one form of extreme music (say, death metal), then you'd also like free jazz. That's simple enough if you already enjoy Cannibal Corpse, but it doesn't quite account for the free jazz that isn't all the screams-from-hell variety (for more on that, John Zorn's Painkiller is the way to go).

True to Freeman's idea, I was a metal-head (still am, by the way) attracted to the squeals and chaotic nature of free jazz. In fact, the true moment of conversion came upon the first blat of sound out of Peter Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet at the ACME Festival on Apr. 3, 2004. Driven to the 40 Watt out of sheer curiosity (and a free ticket), I sat through The Vandermark 5 and a Joe Maneri trio (R.I.P. Joe) until Brotzmann's menacing band took the stage. I was being sonically assaulted and I couldn't help but smile until the set was over. There was no turning back.

But I have little reason to sonically assault noobs. My five avant-jazz recommendations mix bright nostalgia with creative innovation, veterans making new music as well as today's most promising talents. (But if you do want the noise, check out the honorable mentions.)

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1. Matthew Shipp, Nu Bop (Thirsty Ear)
I credit a trio of 2003 Matthew Shipp albums as the initial sparks for my love of free- and avant-garde jazz: Equilibrium, the sometimes brilliant hip-hop collaboration Antipop Consortium vs. Matthew Shipp, and Nu Bop. Shipp put some serious work into curating the Blue Series for the Thirsty Ear label (and still does), pushing unlikely collaborations outside the jazz realm. Not all of the experiments work to my ears, but the funky Nu Bop was a revelation. The tasteful programming and synths of FLAM added a fresh current and bed to Shipp's full-bodied piano chords. And if there's one thing Shipp loves, it's a good vamp, especially with longtime collaborator and bassist William Parker in tow. Shipp gets all Erik Satie on the few ambient pieces that lace the album, but the stars go to the instantly funky cuts which hit grooves immediately upon impact.

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"Space Shipp," from Matthew Shipp, Nu Bop (Thirsty Ear). Matthew Shipp, piano; FLAM, programming; William Parker, bass; Daniel Carter, saxophone; Guillermo E. Brown, drums. Released 2002.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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2. Triptych Myth, Triptych Myth (Hopscotch)
Free jazz can be a knotty foreign language to learn, especially without any prior jazz context. Which is why the self-titled debut from Triptych Myth was such an Aha! moment for me in late 2003. Matthew Shipp may have been my gateway, but I still wasn't quite sure what I was hearing. Triptych Myth -- the trio of Cooper-Moore (piano), Tom Abbs (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums) -- opened my ears. You can almost hear the directions unfold before your ears throughout the disc, which mixes hard, left-hook swingers with reflective improvisations. Right from the outset, opening cut "Stem Cell" pounds a hard line that devolves before your ears and somehow finds its way back to the melody.

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"Stem Cell," from Triptych Myth, Triptych Myth (Hopscotch). Cooper-Moore, piano; Tom Abbs, bass; Chad Taylor, drums. New York, N.Y.: Sept. 7, 2003.

Purchase: Hopscotch Records / Jazzloft

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3. Talibam!, Boogie in the Breeze Blocks (ESP Disk')
If bands like Deerhoof, Need New Body and Hella have taught us anything, it's that indie-rock kids are okay with some outright goofiness. It's definitely an element lost on much free jazz, and while the NYC-based Talibam! isn't all free jazz all the time, the duo packs punk, prog and Sun Ra-level synth destruction into something that is as side-splitting as it is head-splitting. (Full disclosure: I have released a record by Talibam!) After numerous vinyl-only releases, CD-Rs and a CD, Boogie in the Breeze Blocks features a duo supplanted both by vocalists and a carnival-esque big band, and feels like a proper introduction to Talibam!'s warped world.

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"Jim O'Rourke," from Talibam!, Boogie in the Breeze Blocks (ESP Disk'). Kevin Shea, drums/vocals; Matt Mottell, synthesizers/vocals; Tim Dahl, electric bass; Danielle Kuhlmann, voice. Released 2009.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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4. Tigersmilk, Android Love Cry (Family Vineyard)
Sun Ra traveled the spaceways with cosmic free jazz until the day he left Earth for good. Maybe from planet Saturn, he looks down upon Tigersmilk and smiles. Comprised of Rob Mazurek (cornet, electronics), Jason Roebke (bass) and Dylan Vanderschyff (percussion), Tigersmilk isn't necessarily free jazz. It's not fusion (well, it is, sorta). It's certainly not bebop. Mazurek is no stranger to ambient-infused jazz (see the Chicago Underground Duo pick below), but this trio sets electric-period Miles Davis in the realm of German ambient forefathers like Cluster. It's haunting, sometimes difficult music that oddly shares dulcet cornet musings with flurries of arrhythmic activity. Deep listeners are encouraged to swim in these psychedelic waters.

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"Falling Signals Rising," from Tigersmilk, Android Love Cry (Family Vineyard). Rob Mazurek, cornet/electronics; Jason Roebke, bass; Dylan van der Schyff, percussion. Chicago, Ill.: Oct. 14, 2006.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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5. Mary Halvorson Trio, Dragon's Head (Firehouse 12)
Perhaps the youngest of these five is guitarist Mary Halvorson, whose debut as a leader wrapped up my Take Five article on noteworthy free jazz axe-slingers last year. While her appearances on albums with violist Jessica Pavone, the inimitable Anthony Braxton, and avant-rock band People are all worth seeking out, Dragon's Head is a beautifully fractured reflection of Halvorson's personal aesthetic. Clearly, this is someone who grew up on Jimi Hendrix and found her way to jazz, but has never really cared to differentiate between the two. Her guitar style puts angular single-string melodies and clustered chords first -- almost coming off like Chicago math-/post-rockers Slint at times -- but can unleash all-out distorted fury at a moment's notice.

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"Momentary Lapse (No. 1)," from Mary Halvorson Trio, Dragon's Head (Firehouse 12). Mary Halvorson, guitar; John Hebert, bass; Ches Smith, drums. Released 2008.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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Honorable Mentions:

1. Owl Xounds, Toxic Raga (Colour Sounds, 2006): Impossibly out-of-print CD-R from this short-lived, middle-fingered punk-jazz unit, but that's what the Internet is for, right?

2. Weasel Walter Quartet, Revolt Music (ugExplode, 2006): The title really says it all. This is full-throttle free jazz that rolls heads.

3. Create (!), A Prospect of Freedom (Sounds Are Active, 2006): Yearning tensions lie underneath these Zen-like meditations, featuring guitarist Chris Schlarb of drone-jazz duo I Heart Lung.

4. Paul Flaherty & Chris Corsano, Beloved Music (Family Vineyard, 2006): A sax-and-drums stampede of raw, unamplified power.

5. Chicago Underground Duo, Axis and Alignment (Thrill Jockey, 2002): Ambient and moody textures heavy on the vibraphone and muted cornet, featuring Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor.

6. Steve Reid Ensemble, Spirit Walk (Soul Jazz, 2005): A welcome return for the funky free jazz drummer, this time with a young cast of supporters, including Kieran Hebden of Four Tet.

7. William Parker Quartet, Sound Unity (AUM Fidelity, 2005): A joyous, springlike recording that swings hard and blows plenty free. Plus, it features the best rhythm section in the biz: William Parker (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums).

8. The Vandermark 5, Acoustic Machine (Atavistic, 2001): A strong record by the consistently great avant-jazz group, with noticeable R&B and blues laced throughout.

9. Dragons 1976, On Cortez (Locust, 2003): A solid, deeply grooving Chicago avant trio that doesn't record nearly enough, featuring Aram Shelton (sax), Jason Ajemian (bass) and Tim Daisy (drums).

10. The Thing, Bag It! (Smalltown Superjazz, 2009): Everything else by this trio is out of print, but Bag It! is just as good a place to start with this menacing Scandinavian group (now with electronics!).

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Which five albums would you pick to introduce an open-minded listener to the jazz of today? Let us know: leave us a comment, or write about it on your own blog -- and let us know where to find it. For more information on this series, read the introduction.