Essential Records | Top Free Jazz Albums According to Thurston Moore



This list, originally published in the brilliant but defunct, Grand Royal Magazine, has been circulating for years. What's most striking is Moore's enthusiastic writing when describing these nuggets. What's even better is that Rootstrata uploaded these albums for you to download.




1. DAVE BURRELL - Echo (BYG 529.320/Actuel Volume 20)

In the fall of 1969 Free Jazz was reaching a kind of nadir/nexus.
Within the industry it was controversial. Classic traditionalists
(beboppers included) were outraged by men in dashikis and sandals
jumping on stage and just BLOWING their guts out creating screaming
torrents of action. Most musicians involved with this crying anarchy
could get no bookings beyond the New York loft set. The French lovers
of the avant-garde embraced this African-American scene wholly. This
recording is one of many in a series of LP’s with consistent design.
BYG released classic Free Jazz documents by Archie Shepp (at his
wildest), Clifford Thornton, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Grachan Moncur
III, Sunny Murray, Alan Silva, Arthur Jones, Dewey Redman and many
others. A lot of these cats are present on this recording where from
the first groove it sounds like an acoustic tidal wave exploding into
shards of dynamite. If you can locate Alan Silva’s “Lunar Surface” LP
(BYG 529.312/Actuel Vol. 12) you’ll find a world even that much more




Milford may be one of the most important players in the Free Jazz
underground. He enforces the sense of community as a primary exponent
of his freely improvised music. His drumkit is home-made and he rarely
performs outside of his neighborhood. When he does perform he plays
his kit like no other. Wild, slapping, bashing, tribal freak-outs
interplexed with silence, serenity and enlightened meditation. This LP
was manufactured by the artists in 1967 and is recorded live at Yale
University. The interplay between Milford and Don (piano) is
remarkable and very free. There’s a second volume which also is as
rare as hen’s teeth.




3. ARTHUR DOYLE Plus 4 - Alabama Feeling (AK-BA AK-1030)

Arthur is a strange cat. Not too many people know where he’s from
(Alabama is a good guess). He resided in New York City in the 70’s and
showed up in loftspaces spitting out incredible post-Aylerisms. Mystic
music which took on the air of chasing ghosts and spirits through
halls of mirrors (!). He hooked up with noise/action guitarist Rudolph
Grey who was making the current No-Wave scene and with Beaver Harris
(drums) they played gigs in front of unsuspecting art creeps
apparently not “hip” enough to dig, let alone document, the history
blasting their brains. Arthur did release this lo-fi masterpiece and
it’s a spiraling cry of freedom and fury. AKBA Records released a
number of classic NYC loft-jazz sessions, most notably those of label
boss Charles Tyler, a screaming tenor player who also blew with
Rudolph in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Arthur continues to play/teach
etc. in Binghamton, N.Y. and recently released in 1993 “More Alabama
Feeling” on yours truly’s Ecstatic Peace label (available from Forced
Exposure/POB 9102/Waltham, MA 02254)



4. SONNY MURRAY - Sonny’s Time Now (Jihad 663)

Sonny was the drummer considered to be the first to realize and
recognize and perform, on drums, pure FREE jazz. He played behind and
along with Ayler early on and Cecil Taylor. He constructed groups
which always flew and raged with spiritual abandon. He took time as an
abstract and turned it into free motion. This recording is super-lo-fi
and is awesome. On it play Ayler(tenor) and Don Cherry (trumpet) as
well as Leroi Jones (now known as Amiri Baraka) reading a killer poem
called “Black Art”. This music is very Ayler but more fractured and
odd. Like a lot of these records there is only a front cover with the
back of the jacket blank. Whether this was done for economic or
artistic reasons is unclear. Jihad was a concern of Leroi Jones and
anything released on this label is utterly obscure. The only other
title I’ve seen is one just called “BLACK AND BEAUTIFUL” from the
mid-60’s which is Leroi and friends sitting on the stoops of Harlem
chanting, beating drums and celebrating Leroi’s “poems” (”The white
man/at best/is..corny!”) There was an ad for Jihad in an old issue of
Jazz & Pop magazine which announced a Don Ayler (Albert’s amazing
trumpet-playing bro) LP but I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s actually
seen this. “Sonny’s Time Now” was reissued a few years ago in Japan
(DIW-25002) on CD and LP (with an enclosed 7″ of two extra scratchy
tracks!) but even that is near impossible to locate. Recorded in 1965.




5. THE RIC COLBECK QUARTET - The Sun Is Coming Up (Fontana 6383 001)

Issued in the UK only in 1970. Ric was an interesting white cat who
came to the U.S. to blow some free e-motion with NYC loft dwellers.
He’s most well known for his amazing playing on the great Noah
Howard’s first ESP-Disk release (ESP 1031). The whole 1000 series of
ESP is critical & crucial to anybody wanting to explore this era of
Free Jazz featuring recordings by Ayler, Ornette, Sonny Simmons, Sun
Ra, Henry Grimes, Steve Lacy, Sunny Murray, Marzette Watts, Patty
Waters, et al. I’m not including any of these in this list as they’re
all available on CD now (from Forced Exposure, address above). The
picture of Ric on the Noah Howard LP shows a man with race-car shades
and a “cool” haircut playing his horn while a ciggie burns
nonchalantly from his relaxed grip. A very hip dude. And very FREE.
His only solo recording is this Fontana LP which he recorded while
cruising through Europe. He connected with South African drummer
Selwyn Lissack (whatever happened to…) and the UK’s famous
avant-altoist Mike Osborne and bassist J.F. ‘Jenny’ Clark (student of
20th century compositionists Lucian Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen)
to create this exceptional and complex masterpiece.




Tchicai is a 6′6″ Danish/Congolese tenor sax player who, in the early
60’s, started blowing minds all across the Netherlands with his
radical “music for the future”. Archie Shepp encouraged him to come to
NYC and join like-minded souls of avant-guardia. Tchicai came over and
kicked everybodys ass. Leroi Jones shouted his name and talent loudly
as Tchicai hooked up with Shepp and Don Cherry for the New York
Contemporary Five and later an even heavier ensemble with Milford
Graves and Roswell Rudd called the New York Art Quartet. The NYAQ
recorded one of the most crucial sessions for ESP-Disk (esp1004) which
had Leroi reciting his infamous BLACK DADA NIHILISMUS (available on CD
from Forced Exposure). AFRODISIACA was released in Germany (and in
other re-release configurations…supposedly) and is Tchicai gathered
with 25 other local-Euro musicians playing a hurricane of a piece by
trumpet/composer Hugh Steinmetz. This music gets way way out and has
the real ability to take you “there”. The echo effect on some of this
shit is quite ill in a very analog way. And the way the shit gets that
dirty-needled distortion at the end of side one (all 25 cats GOING AT
IT!) is beautiful, baby, BEAUTIFUL!!






7. RASHIED ALI and FRANK LOWE - Duo Exchange (Survival SR101)

Frank Lowe has been studying and playing a consistently developing
tenor sax style for a few decades now. At present he’s been swinging
through a Lester Young trip which can be heard majestically on his
Ecstatic Peace recording (E#19..from Forced Exp.) In the early 70’s,
however, he was a firebrande who snarled and blew hot lava skronk from
loft to loft. He played with Alice Coltrane on some of her more out
sessions. Rashied Ali was the free-yet-disciplined drummer whom
Coltrane enlisted to play alongside Elvin Jones and Pharaoh Sanders
(and Alice) in his last mind-bending, space-maniacal recordings (check
out surely the Coltrane/Ali duet CD Interstellar Space). Elvin quit
the group cuz Rashied was too hardcore. Those were the fuckin’ days.
And Rashied had his own club downtown NYC called Ali’s Alley! Duo
Exchange is Rashied and Frank completely going at it and just burning
notes and chords where ever they can find ‘em. Totally sick. Survival
was Rashied’s record label which had cool b&w matte sleeves and some
crucial releases mostly with his quartet/quintet and a duo session
with violinist LeRoy Jenkins.





The influence of Free Jazz-era Coltrane, Ayler, Esp-disk, Shepp, etc.
on hard drinking, knuckle-biting European white cats is formidable.
These guys didn’t care so much about plaing “jazz” as just totally
ripping their guts out with high-energy, brain-plowing NOISE.
Brotzmann (sax, German), Evan Parker (sax, UK), Derek Bailey (guitar,
UK), and Han Bennink (drums, Dutch) are a few of the spearheaders of
this Free-Euro scene and are caught on this insanely rare early
document. The b&w cover has a fold-out accordion post card set of
personal images of the musicians glued and paperclipped to its front.
Brotzmann went on to help further the critical documentation of the
Euro-Free-Jazz scene with FMP (Free Music Productions) Records which
still exists to this day. There are over a 100 releases on this label
of pure Euro-improv and they all offer remarkable moments. Derek
Bailey went on to create his own categorically similar Incus Records
in the UK which is also still extant. As is the Han Bennink associated
I.C.P. (Instant Composers Pool) Records. The most mind-blasting of
these recordings may be MACHINE GUN (FMP 24 CD available from
NorthCountry Distr./Cadence Bldg./Redwood, NY 13679) where Brotzmann
leads an octet through a smashing clanging wonderland of noise.
Improvisation and classic western musics are seriously tended to by a
large Euro community and it’s all pretty fascinating. Check out the
works of Alexander von Schlippenbach, Barry Guy & The London Jazz
Composers Orchestra, Misha Mengleberg, Peter Kowald, Andre Jaume,
Andrea Centazzo, Lol Coxhill and just about anybody who plays with




Marzette was a serious black art cat who resided in downtown NYC when
Free Jazz as a NEW cultural revolution was in full gear. He painted
and composed wonderful music where some of the coolest locals could
flow their flavor. One of the heaviest ESP-disk recordings is
Marzette’s MARZETTE AND COMPANY (On CD from Forced Exposure) which has
the incredible talents of saxist Byard Lancaster (who released an
early indie b&w Free Jazz classic out of Philly called LIVE AT
MCALLISTER COLLEGE - find it and send it to me..) and guitarist Sonny
Sharrock (check his wild influence on Pharaoh Sanders’ TAUHID Impulse
CD and his own obscure noise guitar masterpiece BLACK WOMAN on Vortex)
and cornetist Clifford Thornton (academic NEW MUSIC/Free Jazz
“teacher” who released a few crucial sides such as COMMUNICATIONS
NETWORK on Third World and THE PANTHER AND THE LASH on America) and
the amazing free vocalist Patty Waters (who recorded two infamous
hair-raising platters on ESP-Disc). This recording on Savoy was one of
a series produced by Bill Dixon, an early associate of Archie Shepp’s,
who was an incredible composer in his own right. I’ve heard tapes of
Dixon leading Free-Jazz orchestras into sonic symphonic heavens. Very

This recording I list because of all its obvious loaded references but
it’s also quite happening and anything with Marzette, Dixon
(especially INTENTS AND PURPOSES on RCA Victor), Byard (careful,
there’s some clinkers) and Clifford is extremely worthwhile.





10. MARION BROWN - In Sommerhausen (Calig 30 605)
BLACK ARTISTS GROUP - In Paris, Aries 1973 (BAG 324 000)
FRANK WRIGHT QUARTET - Uhuru Na Umoja (America 30 AM 6104)
CECIL TAYLOR - Indent, part 2 (Unit Core 30555)

Five way tie for last? Well, seeing as there’s no “beginning” or “end”
to this shit I have to list as many items as possible just to
reiterate the fact that there was (indeed) a ton o’ groovy artifactual
evidence to support the reality of the existence of FREE MUSIC. Dig?
There’s used record stores all over the country (the world!) and they
all have the potential to be hiding some of these curios amongst the
bins and most peeps just ain’t sure of their worth and sometimes you
can find ‘em really cheap. It’s definitely a marketplace of the
rarefied so when peeps are “hip” to it expect this shit to be way

Marion Brown was/is an alto player who made an incredible LP with Tony
Oxley and Maarten Altena called “Porto Novo” that just twists and
burns start to finish. Marion could really get on OUT as well as just
play straight up. Shepp dug him and got him to do some great LP’s on
Impulse. He had a septet at one point that was especially remarkable
featuring Beaver Harris (drums), Dave Burrell (piano), Grachan Moncur
III (bone), and Alan Shorter (trumpet). Alan being Wayne Shorter’s
(Miles Davis sideman/classicist) brother. Where Wayne was fairly
contemporary (though eclectic as a muh’fuck) Alan was strictly ill and
has two obscuro LP’s worth hunting down: “Orgasm” (Verve V6 8768) and
“Tes Estat” (America AM 6118). “In Sommerhausen” is Marion in late
60’s exploratory fashion and is quite freaky with the vocal whoops of
Jeanne Lee. There’s another LP from this period called
“Gesprachsfetzen” (Calig CAL 30601) which really lays down the scorch.