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While most free jazz is surprisingly structured (nothing wrong with that), there is a form of improvisation that is approaching total freedom. I'm thinking of artists like Peter Brötzmann, Paal Nilssen-Love, Mats Gustafsson etc. I like this music a lot, and it is not random noise to my ears at least.

In this form of music, I assume that the most important thing is for the musicians to really listen to each other, since not much is prepared up front. But besides that, what is the approach? How much is determined up front? Since different pieces have different sounds and tempo, one can suspect at least some premeditation...

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    For people interested in this, somewhat intangible subject, the book "Improvisation - Its Nature and Practice in Music" by Derek Bailey is recommended. It's not only about "free" improvisation, and contain interviews and insights by improvisers of different kinds. – Meaningful Username Dec 29 '14 at 10:55
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Yes, it's crucial that the musicians are listening to each other and responding. Usually there is no preconceived idea or structure. In fact, to have 'an empty mind' is ideal. It will be counter productive to play ready-made riffs or cliche licks, or even to play in a particular key unless this is what is going on in the room. It's likely that the musicians have been playing together for a while and know each other musically. Also free improvisation doesn't have to have a jazz context although it may well do if the musicians are from a jazz background. Although free improvisation is usually associated with a group of musicians playing together there are many instances of solo performances. Two examples of this on piano are Keith Jarrett (The Koln concert being the most well known album) and Howard Riley.

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I find that one thing that helps move free improv along is developing a rhythmic groove or riff that the other musicians can play around with. Put that together with rubato passages with long tones and a lot of careful listening to other musicians and you can get to some really nice places.

In a group free improv setting, the biggest danger is one musician showboating and not listening to the other musicians. Free improv has to be very collaborative.

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