Tag Archives: jazz fusion

Episode 102: Milestones

I can still remember the day I coerced Tim into buying his first Miles Davis album. We were visiting Earwaxx Records, and I showed him to a couple crates in the back filled with 60’s and 70’s jazz records. Most were marginal efforts by washed-up cats trying to make a go at the easy listening market, but I had found a few gems. One such gem was Bitches Brew, Miles’ head-first dive into fusion and tape edits and manipulation. The double album was only $12, and I knew my friend needed it.

Several records sit next to Tim’s turntable. It gives a peek into what he’s recently played or, like the radio stations of yore, his heavy rotation. While the stack always changes, one constant remains: Bitches Brew. He told me he has to listen to it once a week. (He listens to it so much, in fact, that he bought another copy!)

It probably didn’t take you 101 episodes to realize I’m excited to help others discover an artist. I’m especially happy when it’s a jazz artist. See, anxiety seems to mount when the discussion turns from post-punk (or whatever I’m blathering about at the time) to jazz. It’s almost as if jazz is a menu at an Ethiopian restaurant: no one knows what he’s ordering, and no one knows what to do with it once it arrives.

I certainly get people’s trepidation; jazz can be heady. In the 20 years after World War II, virtually all big bands went the way of the dinosaur. Small combos took their place, allowing artist-composers freedom to write more complex tunes. Eventually, jazz became polarized. Either the artists played free or they boasted in their ability to improve in a certain mode and in a time signature in opposition to the rhythm section. Either extreme scares off most of my friends.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, and I think Miles Davis’ work proves this. He could be, at once, complex and accessible. The problem with his vast catalog is knowing where to start. Hopefully I can give you a few starting points this week. Enjoy.

  1. “Circle” – Miles Davis Quintet (Miles Smiles | Columbia | 1967)
  2. “Milestones” – Miles Davis (Milestones | Columbia | 1958)
  3. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” – Miles Davis (Bitches Brew | Columbia | 1970)
  4. “Prelude (Part One)” – Miles Davis (Agharta | Columbia | 1975)


Radio Free Raytown – Episode #102 (4/27/12)

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Episode 97: Great Gorge

Freddie Hubbard

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.

  1. “Great Gorge” – Joe Farrell with Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke and Jack DeJohnette (Moon Germs | CTI | 1972)
  2. “Red Clay” – Freddie Hubbard with Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Lenny White (Red Clay | CTI | 1970)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #97 (2/3/12)

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