S. Victor Aaron’s Mid-Year Best of 2014 (Avant Garde & Experimental Jazz): Jimmy Giuffre, Roscoe Mitchell, Jamie Saft/Joe Morris

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It’s from this far-off, often obscure corner of music where most of the truly original new ideas are found, and occasionally, those ideas filter their way into the mainstream. More often than not, though, ideas fail and not just commercially but artistically, too. That’s what makes the triumphs all the more sweet.

So far in 2014, there have been plenty of triumphs to speak of, from artists of all nationalities, approaches and instruments of choice, including those handmade by the artist himself. The appeal of jazz (or otherwise) from avant-garde and experimental side is derived by its unbiased diversity and lack of set rules. The diversity is also spread across generations, including a newly-found recording by a deceased icon that actually serves to burnish his legend with the world of avant-jazz even further.

Risk taking abounds in all of these selections, but what puts them at the top over other, quite good releases in this arena is that the risk taking is channeled toward a coherent, ingenious vision. Here are nine that struck me that way, in no particular order. Click on the album titles to check out the full album reviews.

Jamie Saft & Joe Morris – Plymouth: Saft and Morris follow up last year’s Slobber Pup with a supporting cast that’s even more dangerous. Mary Halvorson, Chris Lightcap and Gerald Cleaver are no bystanders in this new ensemble; this is a supergroup with a capital “S.”

The Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4 – New York Concerts: One of the most exciting finds of lost jazz recordings in recent years, New York Concerts confirms Giuffre’s foresight and insight within the realm of free jazz just as the music was beginning to race out to the edge of what was possible. He was there all along, but few were truly aware of that until now.

Aram Bajakian – there were flowers also in hell: All of the daring, gumption, wit and nervous energy found in Ceramic Dog are also found in Bajakian’s latest trio. He’s like Marc Ribot in the sense that he’s not afraid to do something that other guitarists wouldn’t even think about doing…sometimes even Ribot himself.

Raoul Björkenheim / eCsTaSy – eCsTaSy: eCsTaSy roams just inside and outside the perimeter of jazz, and virtuosic players subscribe to the gospel of impulse as much as they adhere to even the outer regions of the genre.

Roscoe Mitchell, with Craig Taborn and Kikanju Baku – Conversations I: An album that revels in its random, extemporaneous intonations, offering proof that ideas Roscoe Mitchell first put forth in the mid-60?s are nowhere near exhausted.

Digital Primitives – Lipsomuch/Soul Searching: Cooper-Moore on mouth bow, fretless banjo and a diddly bo? It all goes to show, that sometimes the best inspiration for a fresh, new kind music can be rooted in some very old and simple ideas.

Gato Libre – DuDu: Amid outbursts of free playing are plenty of moments of quiet beauty. It was undoubtedly not an easy decision to carry on with Gato Libre after the loss of a key member, but DuDu assures us that it was the right decision.

Jeff Cosgrove, with Matthew Shipp and William Parker – Alternating Current: It was tempting to put this in the “Modern and Mainstream” Jazz list, but listen closely to Cosgrove’s impulsive, instinctual drums; it’s clear he’s not thinking jazz, he’s thinking about turning his kit into a mood shaper and an instrument of tonality. With Shipp and Parker by his side, it’s a concept that’s turned into blissful reality.

Ivo Perelman and Mat Maneri – Two Men Walking: Of the excellent trio of records that Perelman issued in March, this one gets the nod for the unpredictable and delightful way the saxophonist is able to blend in with Maneri’s discerning viola.

Next up: fusion jazz

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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