Jazz 100
Free Jazz
The Best Jazz Ever Released Digitally


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The Shape of Jazz to Come
Ornette Coleman
1959 [Atlantic]


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Shape is generally credited with being the prototype recording for the free jazz movement. It was universally lambasted by critics on release owing to its lack of conventional structure and harmony. This music is quite literally free - it goes in any direction the lead player wants to take it, while the "rhythm" section tries to keep up.





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Free Jazz
Ornette Coleman
1960 [Atlantic]


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While free jazz had been taking shape before this record came out, this is certainly the album that defined the genre. Altoist Coleman features in the 'left' quartet (the one playing into the left stereo channel) and another line-up handles the 'right'. From there on, it is a single extended collective improvisation that is surprisingly coherent.





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The Quest
Mal Waldron
1961 [New Jazz]


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Good to see pianist Mal Waldron get due credit on the reissue of this record, which has at times appeared under Eric Dolphy’s name. Additional support includes tenor Booker Ervin and Ron Carter on cello. The CD consists of seven adventurous originals spiced with hints of the free jazz mantra that was emerging at the time.





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Destination Out!
Jackie McLean
1963 [Blue Note]


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A standout amongst McLean's consistently good records for Blue Note, this record finds him again teamed with trombonist Grachan Moncur III and vibes-man Bobby Hutcherson. A notable addition, drummer Roy Haynes lends his considerable talents to the mix - which is an adventurous freeform blend of blues, groove and hard bop.





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Out to Lunch!
Eric Dolphy
1964 [Blue Note]


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Stylistically angular and dissonant, Lunch has an underlying tonal quality that at times approaches conventionality. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard occasionally strays into bop territory - all while maintaining Dolphy's overall artistic direction. But it is Bobby Hutcherson's vibraphone that gives the album much of its free-form distinctiveness.





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Evolution
Grachan Moncur III
1964 [Blue Note]


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Trombonist Grachan Moncur III - a Jackie McLean free-jazz disciple - made a stunning debut as a leader on this fine record. It features four original extended compositions and a stack of invention, all supported impressively by alto McLean, vibes-man Bobby Hutcherson, and a Lee Morgan trumpet catered to fit the day. A sleeper worth checking out.





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Point of Departure
Andrew Hill
1964 [Blue Note]


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Free jazz luminaries Kenny Dorham and Eric Dolphy have no trouble keeping up with the complicated time-signature changes and angular movements of Hill's compositions. Hard bopper Joe Henderson, on the other hand, sounds like someone trying to fit some knockout tenor sax into just the right place when he really isn't any place at all.





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Dialogue
Bobby Hutcherson
1965 [Blue Note]


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Hutcherson virtually defined the vibraphone's place in post-bop jazz on this underrated record. Pianist Andrew Hill and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard bring some free jazz sensibilities to the show, but there is still a genuine sense of true ensemble harmony that is easy on the ear. A real group effort that is wearing its age remarkably well.





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Contours
Sam Rivers
1965 [Blue Note]


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Unheralded avant-garde luminary currently enjoying a surge of renewed interest in his early work. Contours is generally credited with marking the tenor's transition from hard bop to his new sound, a free jazz effort most modern listeners will probably find fairly tame. The stellar support includes Freddie Hubbard and Herbie Hancock.


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