Jazz fusion | mCLUB - inspired by music

Jazz fusion

Jazz fusion (sometimes referred to simply as fusion) is a musical genre that loosely encompasses the merging of jazz with other styles, particularly rock, funk, R&B, and world music. It basically involved jazz musicians mixing the forms and techniques of jazz with the electric instruments of rock, and rhythmic structure from African-American popular music, both “soul” and “rhythm and blues”. The 1970s were the most important decade for fusion, but the style has been well represented also during later decades. Fusion albums — often even those that are made by the same artist — include a variety of musical styles. It can be argued that rather than being a coherent musical style, fusion is a musical tradition and approach.

The roots of fusion

Fusion has its roots in the late 1960s work of Miles Davis and the The Tony Williams Lifetime. There had been earlier efforts in 1960s to fuse jazz and pop (most notably by Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, who worked with Joe Zawinul; as well as The Free Spirits, a group featuring Jim Pepper and Larry Coryell), but Davis and Williams were the most influential artists in this movement. Fusion bands used instruments such as electric guitar, bass guitar, and electric piano. Soon, others (most notably Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Jan Hammer and Chick Corea) began incorporating synthesizers such as the minimoog, sometimes joining forces with more avant garde players who had also begun incorporating electronic sound in the wake of the “classical” avant garde.

Jazz artists, in the wake of developments in pop music, also began using the recording studio with its improved editing, multitrack recording, and electronic effects capability—as an adjunct to composition and improvisation. Trumpeter Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1970), for instance, feature extended—more than 20 minutes each—compositions which were never actually played straight through by the musicians in the studio; instead, musical motifs of various lengths were selected from recorded extended improvisations, and edited together into a musical whole which only exists in the recorded version. These are considered cornerstone recordings of the genre.

Many rock musicians had begun to independently approach jazz forms during the second half of 1960s. Among the first of these were The Byrds, who recorded in December 1965 the first version of their eventual hit, “Eight Miles High”, which tried to emulate John Coltrane’s style. Shortly thereafter, Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield recorded a long improvisational piece, “East-West”, in 1966. Soon, other artists, notably Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and The Allman Brothers Band in the US and King Crimson, Soft Machine, Yes (who covered the Byrds’ “I See You” in the ‘fusion’ style) and Cream in the UK, also performed, and eventually recorded, rock songs featuring extended improvisations and jazz-style instrumental interplay as well as longer, multipart compositions. Also Frank Zappa released his first jazz-rock album, Hot Rats, already in 1969. He continued recording fusion music occasionally during his career becoming one of the most important representators in the genre.

Fusion during the 1970s

Much of fusion grew from a core of musicians who had worked with Miles Davis on In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. In addition to Davis, the most important figures in early fusion were Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea (with his band Return to Forever), John McLaughlin (with his band Mahavishnu Orchestra) and Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter with their band Weather Report.

Herbie Hancock first continued the path of Miles Davis with his experimental fusion albums (such as Crossings, 1972), but soon after that he became perhaps the most important developer of “jazz-funk” with his albums Headhunters (1973) and Thrust (1974). Later in the 1970s and early 1980s Hancock took a yet more commercial approach eventually recording straight disco and pop-albums (though he also recorded some acoustic jazz occasionally). Hancock was one of the first jazz-musicians to use synthesizers (though at very first, he left playing for his sidemen).

Also, Joe Zawinul’s and Wayne Shorter’s Weather Report was more experimental at the beginning, but introduced a more commercial sound later. Their albums were often quite varied and influenced by different styles of ethnic music, mainly latin and African music. Zawinul practically became the leader of the band, and he was endlessly making experiments by fusing different styles. Jaco Pastorius, one of the most celebrated electric bass players, joined the group in 1976 on the album, Black Market.

Chick Corea formed his band Return to Forever in 1972. The band started with latin-influenced music (Flora Purim as a vocalist) but the band was transformed in 1973 to become a jazz-rock group that took influences from both psychedelic and progressive rock. The drummer of the band since year 1973 was Lenny White who had also played with Miles Davis. Return to Forever’s songs were distinctively melodic due to the composing style of Corea’s and group’s bassist Stanley Clarke. Along with Weather Report’s Jaco Pastorius, Clarke became possibly the most influential bass guitarist of 1970s. Clarke is known of his extensive use of slap bass technique while Pastorius popularized a fretless bass guitar. Guitarist Al Di Meola also started his career with Return to Forever (in 1974). He soon became one of the most important fusion guitarists and started to release influential solo albums. In the 1980s Corea formed a new fusion band called the Chick Corea Elektric Band which featured new young musicians such as Dave Weckl and John Patitucci.

John McLaughlin formed a jazz-rock band the Mahavishnu Orchestra and their first album was released in 1972. The band included important musicians such as drummer Billy Cobham and keyboardist Jan Hammer. Hammer used his moog synthesizer with distortion effects making it sound more like an electric guitar. The sound of Mahavishnu Orchestra was influenced by psychedelic rock. The band’s first line up broke-up after two studio albums, but McLaughlin formed another group under same name which included Jean-Luc Ponty, a jazz violinist, who made many important fusion recordings also under his own name.

Many rock acts continued to borrow ideas and influences from fusion; while most of these remained rooted in the traditional vocal-based rock song structure. Rock guitarist Jeff Beck had mainstream success with the instrumental rock-fusion album Blow by Blow in 1975. His album, Wired, released in 1976, is considered by many to be one of the definitive recordings in the history of Fusion Jazz.

Other important musicians that emerged from the fusion movement during the 1970s include guitarist Larry Coryell with his band 11th House, and Pat Metheny, whose band Pat Metheny Group (formed in 1978) and became one of the most important and long-lived groups in modern jazz.

Of controversies and musical directions

While jazz fusion is criticized in some quarters for being a watering down of more conventional swing-based jazz for pop audiences, and further criticized by others for being pretentious or too concerned with musical virtuosity, it has helped to break down boundaries between different genres and led to developments such as acid jazz.

For the most part the genre has been subsumed into other branches of jazz and rock, but some traces of the form remain. The merging of jazz and pop/rock music took a more commercial direction in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the form of more melodic compositions with softer sound palette that could fit comfortably in a soft rock radio playlist. Artists like Lee Ritenour, Al Jarreau, Gino Vannelli, Bob James and David Sanborn among others were leading purveyors of this pop-oriented fusion (aka. “west coast” or “AOR fusion”). This genre has been often called “smooth jazz” and is controversial among the listeners of both traditional jazz and jazz fusion.

Other acts have retained some of the more challenging aspects of fusion; In the 1980s bands like Chick Corea Elektric band and Steps Ahead performed a type of fusion inspired by the more technological approach to popmusic during this decade (recent synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, drum machines) while still maintaing their jazz roots. Current artists like John Scofield, Tom Coster, Michael Brecker / Steps Ahead, Mike Stern, and the Yellowjackets continue to integrate aspects of rock and funk music into jazz forms. The influences of avant-garde jazz, progressive and psychedelic rock that were strongly present in the fusion groups of 1970s have long been absent and replaced by lighter jazz-rock sound that often incorporates elements from funk.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s