A guide to free jazz drums on Bandcamp
By John Morrison August 18, 2021
Throughout its history, jazz has evolved as a result of stylistic breakthroughs that changed the way music was played. And in each of those changes, the drummers played a pivotal role in reframing the way the music was presented. As musicians like Charlie parker established a new approach to harmony and melody, bop drummers like Kenny clarke were at the forefront, pioneers in rhythmic innovations. Ornette Coleman led the free jazz and avant-garde movement in abandoning the conventional and repeated chord changes of jazz in favor of a more open approach to harmony and melody. Billy Higgins, who played on many of Coleman’s groundbreaking early recordings, maintained the rhythmic aspect of this stimulating new form of expression in black music.
Of Max Gardon, Art Blakey, rich boyfriend, Tony Williams, and beyond, jazz has a long history of drummers who were not only innovators, but also conductors and composers. These are just a few of the landmark recordings made by some of the most innovative jazz drummers, past and present.
Widely recognized as one of the great pioneers of “free” drums, Sunny Murray was a key part of the free jazz revolution that took hold in the 1960s. In his work with Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler and Khan Jamal, to name a few, Murray has provided the rhythmic pulse of some of jazz’s most revolutionary ensembles. For his eponymous ESP-Disk session as a leader, Murray recruited Byard Lancaster and Jack Graham on alto saxophone; Jacques Coursil on the trumpet; and Alan Silva on bass. Intense and exploratory music, Sunny murrayThe tone is set by the opening “Phase 1, 2, 3, 4”, an explosive epic of nine minutes. “Angels And Devils” is a dramatic piece, where intensity develops alongside the interplay of Murray’s snare and cymbal work.
Recorded in the summer of 1966, Percussion set pushes back the limits of rhythm by favoring the sound of the drum. The album is simple and minimal, with Milford Graves on drums, bells, shaker and gong, with Sunny Morgan on drums and an assortment of percussion. An abstract album, Percussion set is the sound of Graves challenging our ideas about the practice of the drums itself.
Rashied Ali Quintet
First released: Live at Slugs 1967
Having performed in very influential ensembles led by John Coltrane, Marion Brown, Alice coltrane, and Archie Shepp, Rashi alithe CV behind the kit is impeccable. For First released: Live At Slugs 1967Ali has demonstrated that he is more than capable of leading his own forward thinking ensemble. While working in John Coltrane’s band, Ali recruited Dewey Johnson (trumpet), Ramon Morris (tenor saxophone), Stanley Cowell (piano) and Reggie Johnson (bass) for a brief live engagement at The slug show in Manhattan’s East Village. Divided into two longer pieces, the playing on the album is free and the musicians communicate intensely with each other. Ali’s playing is powerful, straddling the ferocious push of the bop and the abstract pulse of new music. The selections here are both grounded and open, offering a tension that propels music into realms inspired and previously unexplored.
Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society
Live | Uster Switzerland | 1993
During his famous career, the drummer Roland Shannon Jackson has been involved in some of the most progressive music around. Comfortable in a variety of musical environments, Jackson has performed with Albert Ayler, the Power Tools trio (with Melvin gibbs and Bill Frisell), and heavy-metal-meets-free-jazz trail blazers Last outing. As the leader of his own ensemble, Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society, Jackson explored a powerful blend of free jazz, funk and rock. With Dominic Richards on bass and Jef Lee Johnson and Dave Fuzinski’s twin guitar attack, The Decoding Society combined instrumental virtuosity and imaginative playing. With tracks like “Opinions” and the swing rhythms and chaotic guitar of “Night In Seville”, this live concert recorded in Switzerland showcases Jackson’s band in all their ferocity and dexterity.
The internal spectrum of variables
Having played with luminaries such as Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Wadada Leo Smith, Vijay Iyer, and John Zorn, multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn sorey has proven that it can contribute to a wide range of dynamic sets. As evidenced by his album The internal spectrum of variablesEqually impressive is Sorey’s work as a conductor and composer. “Movement I” opens the album with Cory smythethe tender piano solo of, embellished with clusters of dramatic chords. As the piece develops, the tempo quickens and Smythe shoots waves of deep emotion from the piano. On “Movement III”, the longest track on the album at over 32 minutes, Sorey’s drums ignite this dynamic and ambitious composition. With its magnificent and daring melodic and harmonic elements, coupled with Sorey’s thrilling rhythmic approach, The internal spectrum of variables is a remarkable achievement by one of the best composers working today.
For his 2018 album Universal beings, drummer and songwriter Makaya McCraven has recruited a group of prominent players to create an ambitious masterpiece of contemporary jazz. Recorded partly live and partly in studios in London and Los Angeles, the Universal beings McCraven and his team strike an elegant balance between complex bop compositions, free improvisation and hip-hop rhythms. “Haus Suite”, starring Nubya Garcia, is a fusion of hip-hop and jazz, like McCraven, Daniel Casimir (bass), and Ashley henri (piano) establishes an uptempo groove as Garcia’s tenor saxophone plays precise, repetitive phrases, simulating the hypnotic rhythmic driving of a loop. While songs like “Black Lion” (with Dezron Douglas), “Mantra” and “Flipped Out” are built around equally robust looping beats, the album has plenty of times when McCraven and his team push the music down wonderfully chaotic hallways. “The Count Off” (with Carlos Niño) is a dazzling one-minute sprint of collective free play, with Josh johnson (Alto saxophone), Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (violin), Jeff Parker (guitar), Anna Butterss (double bass), Carlos Niño (percussion) and McCraven filling the short space with passionate improvisation. Universal beings experiments with rhythms from all generations and will be a benchmark for adventurous musicians around the world for years to come.