Always an area of controversy, free jazz has been both critically lauded and ridiculed since its inception as a legitimate genre sometime in the mid 1950’s. The odd thing though is that the people that dislike it happen to criticize the same issues that many others happen to remark on favorably, which is atypical for any other genre of music in the collective gamut.
A standard record from the rock genre might have a positive review saying that the use of guitar layering created an unparalleled sonic experience and a negative review saying that though the guitars carried the listener through a unique plane of sound the record was marred by muddy, poorly executed bass riffs. However, a Miles Davis records would have both reviewers remarking on the same things such as the sporadic key changes and lack of melody, but the only difference in the reviews would be whether the reviewer find that to be bad or good. Critics all seem to agree that the music has few elements that we generally attribute to the form of art that we call “music,” a hard thing to admit, but the fact that they can agree on this at all opens up so many more avenues for discussion. The conversation goes from whether something is bad or good, to why something is bad or good, which is revolutionary in the world of musical criticism.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about free jazz though is its name. The musicians from this genre certainly experiment, so why is it not called “experimental” like the efforts of bands in any other genre that try to break out of mainstream classifications. They all have the same idea, and yet we don’t have “free rock” or “free electronic.” Jazz seems to have reached some emotionally transcendental level. The musicians aren’t just experimenting, they’re freeing themselves of all limitations.