Free improvisation is a genre of music that emerged in the mid-20th century and is characterized by spontaneous, unstructured performances without predetermined melodies, harmonies, or rhythms. It is an experimental form of music that allows musicians to explore new sounds, textures, and interactions in real-time.
The origins of free improvisation can be traced back to the avant-garde movements in jazz and classical music during the 1950s and 1960s. Artists such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor pushed the boundaries of traditional jazz by incorporating elements of improvisation into their compositions. Similarly, composers like John Cage challenged conventional notions of musical structure with his concept of indeterminacy.
Key characteristics of free improvisation include open-ended compositions, collective improvisation, and a focus on exploring individual expression. Unlike traditional forms of music where performers follow a predetermined score or set list, free improvisers rely on their intuition and interaction with other musicians to create unique sonic experiences. This genre often incorporates extended techniques on various instruments to produce unconventional sounds.
Over time, free improvisation has evolved into a global movement with artists from different cultural backgrounds contributing their unique perspectives. In Europe during the late 1960s and early 1970s, musicians like Derek Bailey and Evan Parker developed a distinct approach known as "European Free Improvisation." This style emphasized non-idiomatic playing and extended instrumental techniques.
Significant artists associated with free improvisation include saxophonist Evan Parker, guitarist Derek Bailey, pianist Keith Jarrett (particularly his solo piano work), percussionist Han Bennink, and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. These artists have made significant contributions to the genre through their innovative playing styles and groundbreaking recordings.
One notable album that exemplifies the essence of free improvisation is Derek Bailey's "Solo Guitar" released in 1971.