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Thurston Moore’s Top Ten Free Jazz Underground


Thurston Moore’s Top Ten Free Jazz Underground

This is a list i’m sure plenty of you have seen around..just thought I would round up as many of these records as I could and put them in one place. Most of this stuff is from the fantastic Nothing Is v2.0 blog.


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

Via Nothing Is v2.0


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.

via Nothing Is v2.0

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)

via Nothing Is v2.0

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.

via Nothing Is 2.0

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!!

Thanks GD!

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

via Lamaraba


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.

via Nothing Is v2.0

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.

Marion Brown zip via Nothing Is v2.0

The Black Artists Group was an unit not unlike that of The Art
Ensemble of Chicago. Except they only recorded this one document and
it only came out in France on a label named after the group. This is
squeaky, spindly stuff and very OPEN and a good indication of what was
happening in the early 70’s with members Oliver Lake (later of the
infamous World Saxophone Quartet) and Joseph Bowie (Art Ensemble’s
Lester Bowie’s bro, later to start Defunkt).

The Black Artists Group zip via Nothing Is v2.0

Tenor saxist Frank Wright may be (previous to Charles Gayle’s current
reign) the heir apparent to both Trane and Ayler. Unfortunately he had
a heart attack a few years back while rockin’ the bandstand. All his
recordings are more than worthwhile especially his BYG outing “One For
John” (529.336/Actuel Vol. 36), his two ESP sessions (on CD from
Forced Exposure) and his Center-of-the-World series of trio recordings
with Alan Silva (bass) and Muhammed Ali (drums – Rashied’s brother,
not the pugilist) on the French label Sun. This LP “Uhuru..” is
nothing short of killer with the great Noah Howard (alto), Bobby Few
(pianist of Steve Lacy fame) and Art Taylor (heavy old-school drummer
in free mode) going OUT and AT IT in stunning reverie.

Frank Wright – rar

FREE JAZZ of course made a strong impression on the more
existential-sensitive populace of Japan. Some real masters came out of
the Japanese scene and were influential to some of the more renowned
noise artists of today (Boredoms, Haino Keiji). One such Jap-cat is
alt-saxist Dr. Umezu who has mixed it up with NYC loft-dwellers on
more than one occasion. On this completely obscure, underground
release he unleashed some pretty free shit with the likes of William
Parker (bass), Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet), and Rashid Shinan (drums).
Parker is possibly one of the most important FREE musicians working in
NYC. He’s got his own constant writing/performing schedule as well as
gigs with anyone from Cecil Taylor to Charles Gayle. He recorded one
solo LP in the 70’s called “Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace”
(Centering Records 1001) which is, as you might’ve guessed, “good”.

No luck whatsoever finding this one…

I suppose we should wind things up with the king of FREE MUSIC then
and now: Cecil Taylor. Cecil started experimenting with sound, new
concepts of “swing”, open rhythms and room dynamics very early on. He
furthered his adventure with music-conservatory studies and applied a
master’s technique to his fleeting, furious, highly-sensitive
pianistic ACTIONS. Today he’s almost shaman-like in his mystic noise
transploits. He hates record business weasels after years of scorn and
neglect (club owners had been know to beat him up after gigs claiming
he damaged their pianos) and records now for the aforementioned
artist’s label FMP. In the early 70’s he had his own label called Unit
Core and released two crucial LP’s: the one listed above and one
titled “Spring of Two Blue J’s” (Unit Core 30551). This is when his
group included two critical figures on the FREE scene. Alt-saxist
Jimmy Lyons (now deceased) was a consistent improviser and a perfect
player alongside Cecil as was veteran drummer Andrew Cyrille who
recorded his own solo (and duos with the likes of Milford Graves and
Peter Brotzmann) LP’s on various small labels (BYG, FMP, Ictus).

Cecil Taylor – rar

So..that’s it…and that’s not it. If you’re at all intrigued by this
personal primer do yourself a favor and seek some of this shit out and
free yr fucking mind and yr ass will surely scream and SHOUT.

Copyright Grand Royale magazine/Thurston Moore

  1. billy gomberg on August 4th, 2009

    fucking fantastic post.

  2. tylerw on August 5th, 2009


  3. Stephen Haynes on August 7th, 2009

    Lovely list Thurston (if this is really you posting). Having been immersed in this music for some time, I find it necessary to remind folks that some of these artists described above are still very much alive and well and (in a few cases) producing some of the strongest work of their careers. Bill Dixon would be a great example of that. So, while it is certainly important to build one’s library, it is important to remember that the music is a living tradition, one that requires support in the present! Buy a new recording/DVD, attend a concert.

  4. Maxwell on August 7th, 2009

    Thurston Moore does not post on Root Blog.

  5. […] BURRELL, MILFORD GRAVES & DON PULLEN and many more can be found at this blog. Share […]

  6. Serge on August 18th, 2009

    Amazing list! And BYG records!!! I’m French and I can tell you they were BIG. I’d also strongly recommend Archie Shepp’s Blasé (Byg Actuel 18) with Don Cherry and gang indeed.

  7. Rey Diego on September 18th, 2009

    Thank you for posting and making the list come to life! Read the list in GR originally and been trying to track down ever since. So bummed gonna miss the On Land fest (please do make it an annual thang please),
    this set will make up for the weekend! Peace.

  8. henk zuurveld on November 12th, 2009

    I own a copy of nipples by brötzmann on calig verlag. It’s a lovely record. Other records that couldbe in the list: Live at the crypt by AMM, Worlds within worlds by Basil Kirchin, Epiphany/Epiphanies by company, any gruppo di improvvisatione nuova consonanza or MEV records. The older Tony Oxley records could be mentioned too.

  9. Rob J on December 20th, 2009

    A great selection of Free jazz music. It is a damn shame that Ric Colbeck’s album is STILL out of print nearly forty years after its’ original release, but these are still excellent choices. I got into Free jazz via The Stooges’ demonic “L.A Blues”. The Ig has cited Coltrane, Sun Ra and Ayler as major influences on him for many years and after seeing The Stooges’ perform in London 2005 and hearing the live version of “L.A Blues”, it came across as a incredible fusion of Charles Gayle meets Ayler. No wonder the sadly departed Ron Asheton said that particular live set was unrepeatable.

    If you can find them, these other marvellous free jazz albums are worth adding to your collection :-

    Sun Ra – The Magic City
    Glen Hall – Hallucinations
    The Ganelin Trio – Ancora Da Capo
    AMA Jazz – In One Breath
    Joe Harriott – Free Form
    Tony Oxley – The Baptised Traveller
    Charles Gayle – Traning On Trane
    Andrew Hill – Compulsion !!!
    Cecil Taylor – Conquistador !

    You won’t be disappointed.

  10. Rob J on December 21st, 2009

    I found some more free jazz albums of interest :-

    Ivo Perlman – Sad Life
    Jon Lloyd – Head
    Joe Maneri Quartet – Get Ready To Receive Yourself
    Schlippenbach Trio – Elf Bagatellen
    George Russell – Jazz In The Space Age
    Eric Dolphy – The Illnois Concert
    Archie Shepp – Fire Music
    Giorgio Occhipinti – The Kaos Legend
    John Coltrane – Live At The Half Note:- One Down, One Up

    The Charles Gayle cd is actually called “Touchin’ On Trane”. Anybody who listens to this music MUST get this recording,as it is the greatest free jazz album in the last twenty years.

    My apologies for the confusion….

  11. […] Free jazz is neither orchestral music nor noise per se but it occupies a central place in Hegarty’s […]

  12. […] Magazine de Beastie Boys acompañada de comentarios a cada disco por el propio Thurston, en este enlace puedes descargar cada uno de los discos…si tienes cojones. Posted in Musica | Leave a […]

  13. […] via searching for Lydia Lunch on allmusicguide  and afterward tried freejazz then finally got to  Thurston Moore’s Top Ten Freejazz Underground list,  listened to Red Krayola’s ‘The Parable of Arable land’ for the first time and […]

  14. lesysteme on June 8th, 2010

    thanks for posting!

    hadnt seen this list since it was in Grand Royal in 1993..(?). Cheers!

  15. Beto on June 17th, 2010

    13. DR UMEZU – “Seikatsu Kojyo Iinkai”

    FREE JAZZ of course made a strong impression on the more
    existential-sensitive populace of Japan. Some real masters came out of
    the Japanese scene and were influential to some of the more renowned
    noise artists of today (Boredoms, Haino Keiji). One such Jap-cat is
    alt-saxist Dr. Umezu who has mixed it up with NYC loft-dwellers on
    more than one occasion. On this completely obscure, underground
    release he unleashed some pretty free shit with the likes of William
    Parker (bass), Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet), and Rashid Shinan (drums).
    Parker is possibly one of the most important FREE musicians working in
    NYC. He’s got his own constant writing/performing schedule as well as
    gigs with anyone from Cecil Taylor to Charles Gayle. He recorded one
    solo LP in the 70’s called “Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace”
    (Centering Records 1001) which is, as you might’ve guessed, “good”.


  16. Wilson Petiford Beauregarde on August 15th, 2010

    That Cecil Taylor file is for Spring of Two Blue-Js, not for Indent. I’ve been looking for Indent everywhere and no luck so far. Can someone upload that one or at least find an upload of that one somewhere? Thanks!

  17. Wilson Petiford Beauregarde on August 29th, 2010

    Also the link for that Rashied Ali and Frank Lowe collaboration is expired.

  18. henk zuurveld on January 2nd, 2011

    Distant voices by Yuji Takahashi, Takehisa Kosugi and Steve Lacy is a lovely record worth having.

  19. […] il y a le Top ten from the jazz underground de Thurston Moore, dans Grand Royal, défunt magazine des Beastie Boys. Toujours chercher, entendre, […]

  20. Andrew Kilpatrick on March 25th, 2011


  21. The Mire » Feeling Listless on April 21st, 2011

    […] Brainstorm, Come…) that, contrary to rumour, do all genuinely exist. Thurston Moore’s Free Jazz list for Grand Royale magazine contained such obscurities – private press releases, European releases […]

  22. Maurice on June 25th, 2011

    Not underground in any way but great music:

    Albert Ayler – Holy Ghost, 9 cd’s of unreleased live recordings, lavishly packed in a box with book, still available on and .de. for a reasonable price.
    Evan Parker – basically anything but The Snake Decides is a must have
    Spontaneous Music Ensemble

  23. Levi on November 8th, 2011

    finally, Thurston justifies his corporate existence with this list!! it’s definitely a fantastic starting point for anyone getting into this stuff and wants to go beyond the usual suspects (Ra, Trane, Coleman, Ayler, etc).

    now if only Thurston or someone could release these all on remastered CDs!!

  24. Mark McWhirter on November 8th, 2012

    Wow what a pathetic list of albums. Fuck Thurston Moore.

  25. Clifford Allen on September 11th, 2013

    It’s too bad this is missing the introductory text.

    All of these records are excellent.

  26. […] lists of free jazz albums worth checking out, see here, here, and […]

  27. Drumstick Central on May 1st, 2018

    This is such an epic list. I’m not sure how underground it is but I still pretty much agree with the list.