the jazz fusion challenge

Go ahead and name jazz fusion that you like, I dare you.

Here’s Victor Stone‘s list:


“Blow by Blow”


grand-daddy “Bitches Brew”

jaco pastorius

return to forever

all hold up pretty decent for me. pieces like “spain” and “birdland” have more than survived.

having said that, the dazzling stuff got annoying quick.

Warning: I am NOT promising that I will not mock you. For example, if you still think that Return To Forever is ok.

For myself, I’ll definitely buy in on the Jeff Beck. The Headhunters, ok, fair enough. Bitches Brew is IMO really not that great, but I realize that this may just be me. Jaco Pastorius whatever — see also Randy Rhodes. Birdland… I can’t even discuss it.

OTOH I still dig Steve Vai’s playing. Not that he’s fusion, just that he’s low concept + high execution.

11 thoughts on “the jazz fusion challenge

  1. Older stuff-
    Miles Davis – In a Silent Way.
    Weather Report (with Jaco)
    Pat Metheny Group – 70’s and 80’s
    Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire
    Al Dimeola – after RTF (70’s-80’s)
    Jean Luc Ponty
    Joe Zawinul – After Weather Report
    David Sanborn’s early 90’s funk band w/ Marcus Miller & Hiram Bullock.
    And on the more current scene- Medeski Martin & Wood, John Scofield, Bela Fleck & The Flectones, Cinematic Orchestra, Bugge Wesseltoft, EST, The Bad Plus.

  2. Birds of Fire is pretty damn good. It’s not any of the players in particular but the fiery vibe of the group. Proto-prog-metal more than late-jazz.

    Ponty on Hot Rats for sure. Afterward I can’t say his solo bands really kicked it. Zappa found a way to direct the abilities of his virtuosos that they needed him for.

    Medeski Martin and Wood I dig the lounge grooves.

    Scofield, nyeh. Could suck and doesn’t, but creatively kind of tepid, yeah?

  3. By “fusion” do you mean hybrid jazz-rock or electric jazz? If the latter:

    Herbie Hancock – Sextant.
    The Jazz Satellites compilation.
    Pretty much any electric Miles.
    Eddie Harris.
    Les McCann.
    Sun Ra.
    Don Cherry.
    Ornette Coleman & Prime Time.

  4. I agree with the spirit of this but some of that early Miles Davis fusion is great. In A Silent Way!?! Also have you heard Miles’ Live at the Filmore East. It’s from the fusion period and I think it’ll really turn you around o some of that stuff. In the live format that music connects a lot more closely to his earlier, non-fusion work. It also just has an aggressive energy that’s almost non-existent in a lot of the studio work.

  5. Ryan, that’s a great point about the school of electric jazz being a different thing. Also, there’s skronk electric acts that merged free jazz with freak-out rock, e.g. Last Exit. Fusion had a particular sound which was very different. As a general rule I’d say that fusion was defined by Weather Report.

    I’m a big fan of soul jazz, groove oriented stuff like The JBs, Booker T & the MGs, Charles Earland’s “Black Talk” record, Billy Butler (an electric guitarist).

  6. I dunno teru, that chase thing just feels like musician porn to me. The kind of T&A that would only be meaningful to a trumpeter.

    But then again, I’m a Vai fan, and I realize that what he does is guitarist porn.

  7. gurdonark, that Canvanserai reference is interesting. I don’t know the release but I can imagine 70s Santana being uniformly pretty good no matter what he did. Didn’t Santana and John McLaughlin do a record? What was their relationship?

  8. Santana’s Caravanserai and Welcome are his two albums most in a “jazz fusion” mode.

    Perhaps here,though, we can draw a distinction
    which makes sense. “Jazz Fusion”, which seeks to
    “establish cred” in both a Downbeat Magazine sense and a Rolling Stone circa 1972 sense failed, ultimately, to create lasting work in either sense. On the other hand, work like Santana’s, which did not so much seek “cred” as blend the influences into a pleasing sound,
    still sound alive (and a bit “world music”).

    Welcome, the album after Caravanserai, is the one with John McLaughlin, who shared an interest in the teachings of that fellow Sri Chinmoy.
    Welcome also has a collaboration with Alice Coltrane, bringing the jazz roots up into plain sight. Welcome also has “Flame/Sky”, my favorite shred/jam of his. “Flame/Sky” is a good reminder of how shredding used to fit within the context of a song rather than as a mechanical act in its own right. But Caravanserai may be the stronger album, because it is a melange of jazz, rock, and latin sounds that adds up into one great album.

  9. LOL. I think it’s interesting and funny that Jeff Beck (and Zappa) get kudos for fusion. Especially, when Lucas pans Return to Forever.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree that “Wired” isn’t amazing. It’s been a while since I listened to it well, but one of the best things about this album is what Jan Hammer brings to it. Rocked-up jazz, Hammer knows how. I’m not taking *anything* away from Beck on this either. The two of them really make that album something special. The “jazz” part of the fusion is about the interaction. The “fusion” part, if anyone has that figured out, I’d like to hear it. I also really love Becks playing on “Blow by Blow” as well, but I see that album as a bit more experimental. Experimental in the way that Hendrix was inventing jazzier funk, wanting pop and soul to go new places… It’s the entry ramp toward a full-on embrace of electric jazz on “Wired”.

    Jan Hammer is also very much key to the albums mentioned for the Mahavishnu Orchestra (MO). I like their “Inner Mounting Flame” album a lot. Mock away if you must, They’ve learned a lot about recording jazz violin since then ;) So now that you’ve guys have got me thinking about it, I need to rediscover Jan Hammer and those he has worked with… Thanks for that!

    Since we’re on MO, don’t forget Billy Cobham’s “Spectrum”, Tommy Bolin brings it.

    I don’t dislike Return to Forever, “Romantic Warrior” sticks for me, but I wanted to like it. The appeal of “chops porn” is specialized (and it says something about those of us that like aspects of it). I also have a soft spot for Clarke’s “School Days”. Color these guilty pleasures, but isn’t all jazz fusion a bit like that? Then there’s prog-rock, now there’s another post ripe for eye-rolling and “yeah, but”-ing.

    OK, if you’re going to mock, you better back it up, be specific now, if it’s emotional, use good metaphors, etc…

    I love early Pat Methany, but I have a hard time thinking of this as jazz fusion.

    The Flecktones are amazing and possibly the only living jazz fusion group that has embraced “chops porn” and not let it devour them whole.

    We have to mention Joni Mitchell’s embracing of fusion… And there’s that Jaco again contributing to her seduction. I love Jaco’s technique and approach. But “Hissing of Summer Lawns” is what started her down the jazzy path and is still my favorite since she branched out. Her “Miles of Asiles” live album is also great with Tom Scott’s LA Express (Robin Ford!) painting sound moods. So if we need a collective reason for dissin’ fusion, we can point to the seduction of Joni… Peace Joni!

    Of course I don’t know anything anyway. So what’s your issue with fusion? I love that pop musicians embraced more jazz, and a few actually won. I love that jazz musicians embraced more pop and when they used restraint, we all won.

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