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Jazz fusion


Music that blends jazz elements and the heavy repetitive rhythms of rock. Also called jazz-fusion, jazz-rock.
A style of cooking that combines ingredients and techniques from very different cultures or countries. --The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

Definition (2)

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".

Fusion had its roots in the late 1960s work of Miles Davis and then Tony Williams Lifetime. Later developments in the 1970s established jazz artists such as Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Larry Coryell, Weather Report, Jean-Luc Ponty and Jeremy Steig as a viable commercial influence. Bands using instruments such as electric guitar, bass guitar, and electric piano. Shortly, others began incorporating synthesizers such as the minimoog joining forces with more avant garde players who had also begun incorporating electronic sound in the wake of the "classical" avant garde.

At the same time, rock and African-American popular musicians had begun moving beyond the short "radio single" song format and incorporating elements of jazz-like extended instrumental improvisation. Michael Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield, both young white blues musicians, recorded extended versions of Adderley's "Work Song" and a modal improvisation, "East/West" as early as 1966-67; other groups, particlarly those based in San Francisco (Santana, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane) and in the U.K. (Cream, King Crimson, Pink Floyd) also performed, and eventually recorded, both extended improvisations on short song forms, and longer, multipart compositions.

Jazz artists, in the wake of developments in pop music, also began using the recording studio, with improved editing, multitrack recording, and electronic effects capability, as a adjunct to actual composition and improvisation. Davis' "In a Silent Way" and Bitches' Brew, (cornerstone recordings of the genre) 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.

Newer artists, such as Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Pat Metheny also became involved in the developing scene. Musical barriers broke down further (to the continued horror of jazz purists) as musicians who had first established themselves as rock artists such as Jeff Beck began to experiment with the fusion form.

While jazz fusion is sometimes lampooned as being pretentious and overcomplicated - not unlike its cousin, progressive rock (rock meets classical music) - 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. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_fusion [Feb 2005]


Up until around 1967, the worlds of jazz and rock were nearly completely separate. But as rock became more creative and its musicianship improved, and as some in the jazz world became bored with hard bop and did not want to play strictly avant-garde music, the two different idioms began to trade ideas and occasionally combine forces. By the early '70s, fusion had its own separate identity as a creative jazz style (although snubbed by many purists) and such major groups as Return to Forever, Weather Report, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Miles Davis' various bands were playing high-quality fusion that mixed some of the best qualities of jazz and rock. Unfortunately, as it became a money-maker and as rock declined artistically from the mid-'70s on, much of what was labeled fusion was actually a combination of jazz with easy-listening pop music and lightweight R&B. The promise of fusion went unfulfilled to an extent, although it continued to exist in groups such as Tribal Tech and Chick Corea's Elektric Band. — Scott Yanow for allmusic.com

Jazz Rock

"The early promise of jazz rock -- that electronics, ethnic influences and rock rhythms could expand the sonic and textural matrix of jazz-- degenerated into the vapidity of fusion." [Joel Lewis, The Wire #130]

Jazz Electronica

It's an interesting mix, but why techno for Scofield? Why now?
''It's sort of like the mountains,'' he says. ''It's because it's there.'' [...]




Trouble is, most of the music I like is hybrid, and its hybridity is high on the list of reasons why I rate it. This raises the question of why some fusions work and others remain composites of disparate sources without any vital spark. The language for judging success or failure in this realm is entirely metaphorical. Successful hybrids invite the imagery of alchemy or metallurgy (crucibles, amalgams, melding, smelting, and so forth), or the essentially similar language of cooking (bouillabaise, gumbo, melting pots, etc). Bad hybrids, like lumpy purees or unsuccessful cakes, are subject to the ultimate put-down: "the end result is somehow less than the sum of its parts". -- Simon Reynolds [...]


When future generations look back upon the nineties, it seems most likely that they will recognize the '90s as a time of fusion. Much like the '70s, most of what has pushed the musical envelope in this decade have been the sounds of combined elements; jazz, disco, house, funk, reggae, soul, you know your black music. Much of what today is hailed as electronica in the US and garage in the UK, falls in line with this very '90s mode of creating music. In lack of a name for this genre, I refer to it as nineties eclecticism.

Miles Davis

It's only natural. In the early '70s, jazz musicians, led by Miles Davis, created fusion by adding electric guitars and rock drumming to their sound. A few years later they created a hybrid of jazz, soul, and funk. In the '80s, they incorporated hip-hop. --Steve Greenlee


It's an interesting mix, but why techno for Scofield? Why now?
''It's sort of like the mountains,'' he says. ''It's because it's there.'' --interviewed by Steve Greenlee, 2002


  1. Headhunters (1973) - Herbie Hancock [Amazon.com]

    After the sometimes "airy" and decidely experiemental "Mwandishi" albums, Hancock was eager to perform more "earthy" and "funky" music. He gathered a new band, which he called The Headhunters, keeping only Maupin from the sextet. The album Head Hunters released in 1973, was a major hit, and crossed over to pop audiences, though it prompted criticism from some jazz fans.

    Despite charges of "selling out," later ears have regarded the album well: "Head Hunters still sounds fresh and vital two decades after its initial release, and its genre-bending proved vastly influential on not only jazz, but funk, soul, and hip-hop." Allmusic.com entry (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=10:3y61mped9f5o~T1)

    Hancock released several more albums with The Headhunters in the 1970s. The group had disbanded by 1980, then reunited in 1998 for another album. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbie_Hancock [Feb 2005]

    Sampled by Ashley Beedle in 'Blacker than Thou'

  2. Thrust (1974) - Herbie Hancock [Amazon.com]
    Fans of Herbie Hancock, you should come here before "Headhunters". Any jazz prententions left over from that are erased in an instant as Hancock swings into full funk mode. The opening "Palm Grease" is highlighted by a beat-heavy percussive groove as the Headhunters lay down a rhythm groovy enough to accomodate Hancock's staccato keyboard work. The next cut,inspired by a zen koan "Actual Proof" is a long,busy cut with a rightously polyrhythmic rhythm with Herbie's downplayed synthesized keyboards flying in all directions. "Butterfly" is a fusion ballad so beautiful and memorable that not only do many jazz artists since have used and covered it's melody but Herbie himself remade it in 1994 on his "Dis Is Da Drum" album-it's a Hancock classic and could be the highpoint of this record. The closing "Spank-A-Lee" is a pure funk jam that is the records statement of intent. "Thrust" is unique in so many ways-unlike most period fusion or funk/jazz it isn't excessive or bombastic, the arrangements while very funky are subdued and the overall instrumentation subtle and most important-while predominantly uptempo the album is not incredibly dancable-our feet arn't this limber, but that doesn't mean you don't want to try! Plus despite it's funkiness the music is heavily improvised, giving it a pseudo jazz feel. Overall this is the Hancock/Headhunters statement of intent that "Headhunters" is said to be but all too often is not-jazzy funk instead of jazz that's funky. -- Andre' Scot Grindle for amazon.com

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