Re: Is free Jazz the best Jazz?
Great post, Duncan. It's all about trying to avoid stamping over the same old ground. I vaguely remember a conversation about musical conservatism on DW previously - how music is generally more conservative than art due to the nature of our senses.
People can happily look at some pretty way out art and graphics but are intimidated and disturbed by equally crazy sound. I'm sure Merzbow would be a dealbreaker for 99.999% of the human race ...
Hearing is a less evolved sense than vision and more physically impactful on us. We're even more conservative with artistic experiments using more base senses like taste and smell ... no one is going to tolerate experiments with tuna ice cream or cabbage perfume (one hopes).
There are numerous standard rhythms, melodies, harmonies, timbres and subject areas in music. Many musicians and listeners only seem to acknowledge linear progression in those areas - for music to become ever more dexterous, in command of the instrument, playing with greater perfection and sophistication. The equivalent in art would be to aspire towards greater photo realism.
Free jazz certainly is expressionist, as Jay said - you can see equivalences with expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock.
Having said that, I only like a small amount of free - Sun Ra when he's not being too (aurally) goofy, though free is only a portion of what the Arkestra played. Ornette's Lonely Woman (courtesy of 8Mile). Would the start of Pharaoh's "Creator" qualify as free? It's one of the greatest things I've ever heard.