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by Seth Colter Walls

July 2, 2013

Alt Rock's Best Free Jazz Jams

by Seth Colter Walls  |  July 2, 2013

Thurston Moore has long been famous for being game to experiment with free-jazz saxophonists -- or even throwing concerts just so that long-dormant jazz acts will reunite. But his fascinations haven't stopped with side-project advocacy. Sonic Youth's major-label release Murray Street made way for the wild saxophone squealing of Don Dietrich (of the seminal improv group Borbetomagus) on the track "Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style."

And that's just the tip of the alt jazz iceberg. Witness the crushing intensity that is produced when Henry Rollins invites avant-jazz master Charles Gayle along for cuts like "Plague #3" and "Jam #1" (more such songs can be found on the Rollins Band album Weighting), or when a post-punk act like the Flying Luttenbachers partners up with Ken Vandermark. It's also no accident that in Wilco's last decade, some of the more experimental flights -- "Art of Almost" and the live "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" -- have come courtesy of Nels Cline, a jazz guitarist who works with the likes of Tim Berne (see "Impairment Posse").

Going back to Tony Williams' Lifetime band -- which lent a more avant-rock mood to late '70s jazz fusion -- there are plenty more examples of jazz bleeding into the outer edges of the rock universe. Classic No Wave-era tracks like those of James Chance ("Contort Yourself" and "Designed to Kill" among them) are impossible to imagine, absent the affection that experimental rock acts had for free-jazz blowouts like Peter Brotzmann's "Machine Gun." And when Brotzmann paired up with guitarist Sonny Sharrock and bassist Bill Laswell to create the heavy-riffing jazz outfit Last Exit, another era in rocking improv was born. (See "Discharge," from the band's excellent self-titled debut.) Find all these tracks, and more, in the appended playlist.

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