I don’t know how I got into jazz fusion, although I suspect Miles Davis was my gateway drug. The style almost seems so synonymous with virtuosity and excess that it scares off even the most dedicated music lover. And, sadly, there’s just so much bad fusion out there to discourage many folks from even trying.
You see, a funny thing happened at the end of the 1960s. Rock bands could play bigger and louder concerts, and jazz was pretty much dead. So jazz combos plugged in. As a result, many artists’ reinventions were viewed by critics with disdain. If it wasn’t made with only acoustic instruments, it was considered selling out. Such Draconian subjectivity make it difficult to even to research the style. While there are many legendary and pivotal acoustic jazz albums, there seems to be little consensus on classic fusion records apart from Miles’ Bitches Brew. (This point is obviously a little untrue, but bear with me, as I’m painting with broad strokes here.)
Can you blame the critics, though? Many artists resorted to playing simple jazz riffs over funk rhythms, and some forged new ground in a style that would later become smooth jazz. To be honest, there are few fusion artists I enjoy. (But as might be expected, I am ridiculously obsessed with those whom I love.) Most of them are ones who made melodic, mind-blowing acoustic jazz, as well. They didn’t entirely throw out everything that made them good; they seemed to just enhance their sound with new instruments.
Because of the limitations that a 25-minute podcast imposes, I thought a list of players on these two songs would be helpful. Research the other records they played on, especially their solo albums. (But remember that very few of these artists made it to the 1980s with artistic integrity in check!) Enjoy.
- “Great Gorge” – Joe Farrell with Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke and Jack DeJohnette (Moon Germs | CTI | 1972)
- “Red Clay” – Freddie Hubbard with Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Lenny White (Red Clay | CTI | 1970)