Jazz fusion (also known as fusion) is a musical genre that developed in the late 1960s when musicians combined jazz harmony and improvisation with rock music, funk, and rhythm and blues. Electric guitars, amplifiers, and keyboards that were popular in rock and roll started to be used by jazz musicians, particularly those who had grown up listening to rock and roll.
Jazz fusion arrangements vary in complexity. Some employ groove-based vamps fixed to a single key or a single chord with a simple, repeated melody. Others use unconventional time signatures with elaborate chord progressions, melodies, and counter-melodies. These arrangements, whether simple or complex, include extended improvised sections that can vary in length.
As with jazz, jazz fusion employs brass and woodwind instruments such as trumpet and saxophone, but other instruments often substitute for these. A jazz fusion band is less likely to use piano, double bass, and drums, and more likely to use electric guitar, synthesizers, bass guitar, and drums.
The term "jazz rock" is sometimes used as a synonym for "jazz fusion" and for music performed by late 1960s and 1970s-era rock bands that added jazz elements to their music. After a decade of popularity during the 1970s, fusion expanded its improvisatory and experimental approaches through the 1980s in parallel with the development of a radio-friendly style called smooth jazz. Experimentation continued in the 1990s and 2000s. Fusion albums, even those that are made by the same group or artist, may include a variety of musical styles. Rather than being a codified musical style, fusion can be viewed as a musical tradition or approach.
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AllMusic states that "until around 1967, the worlds of jazz and rock were nearly completely separate". Music lecturer and writer Kevin Fellezs has commented that some members of the jazz community regarded rock music as less sophisticated and more commercial than jazz. Miles Davis's album Bitches Brew sessions, recorded in August 1969 and released the following year, mostly abandoned the swing beat in favor of a rock and roll backbeat and bass guitar grooves. The album "mixed free jazz blowing by a large ensemble with electronic keyboards and guitar, plus a dense mix of percussion." Davis also drew on rock music by playing his trumpet through electronic effects and pedals. Although Bitches Brew gave him a gold record, the use of electric instruments and rock beats created consternation among some jazz critics, who accused Davis of betraying the essence of jazz.
By the end of the first year, Bitches Brew sold 400,000 copies, four times the average for a Miles Davis album. Over the next two years the aloof Davis recorded more often, worked with many sideman, appeared on television, and performed at rock venues. Just as quickly, Davis tested the loyalty of rock fans by continuing to experiment. His producer, Teo Macero, inserted previously recorded material into the Jack Johnson soundtrack, Live-Evil, and On the Corner.
A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1971) has been cited as "the purest electric jazz record ever made" and "one of the most remarkable jazz rock discs of the era".On the Corner (1972), at the time of release one of his most reviled, has since been viewed as having "set the precedent for a whole subspecies of DJ culture."
Davis's 1969 album In a Silent Way is considered his first fusion album. Composed of two side-long improvised suites edited heavily by Teo Macero, the album was made by pioneers of jazz fusion: Corea, Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, and John McLaughlin. Drummer Tony Williams left Davis to form The Tony Williams Lifetime with McLaughlin and Larry Young. Their debut album Emergency! of that year is cited as an early jazz fusion album.
According to music journalist Zaid Mudhaffer, the term "jazz fusion" was coined in a review of David Axelrod's Song of Innocence when it was released in 1968. Axelrod once said Davis had played the album before conceiving Bitches Brew.
Miles Davis dropped out of music in 1975 mainly because of problems with drugs and alcohol, but his sidemen took advantage of the creative and financial vistas that he had opened up. Herbie Hancock brought elements of funk, disco, and electronic music into commercial successful albums such as Head Hunters (1973) and Feets, Don't Fail Me Now (1979). Several years after recording Miles in the Sky with Davis, guitarist George Benson became a vocalist and had enough pop hits to overshadow the fact that started his career in jazz.
Like Hancock and Benson, Chick Corea had worked with Miles Davis, but while Davis was dropping out, Corea was plugging-in. In the early 1970s he combined jazz, rock, pop, and Brazilian music in Return to Forever, a band which included Stanley Clarke on bass guitar and Al Di Meola on electric guitar. Also like Hancock and Benson, Corea seemed to divide the rest of his career into acoustic and electric, non-commercial and commercial, jazz and pop rock. He had a band for each: the Akoustic Band and the Elektric Band. Although English guitarist John McLaughlin had worked with Miles Davis, he was influenced more by Jimi Hendrix and had played with English rock musicians Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger before creating the Mahavishnu Orchestra around the same time that Corea started Return to Forever. McLaughlin had been a member of another jazz rock band, Tony Williams's Lifetime. He brought to his music many of the elements which interested other musicians in the 1960s and early 1970s: the counterculture, rock and roll, electronic instruments, solo virtuosity, experimentation, the blending of genres, and an interest in exotic genres such as Indian music.
He formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra with drummer Billy Cobham, violinist Jerry Goodman, bassist Rick Laird, and keyboardist Jan Hammer. The band released their first album, The Inner Mounting Flame, in 1971. Hammer pioneered the use of the Minimoog synthesizer with distortion effects. His use of the pitch bend wheel made a keyboard sound like an electric guitar. The Mahavishnu Orchestra was influenced by both psychedelic rock and Indian classical music. The band's first lineup broke up after two studio albums and one live album, but McLaughlin formed another group under the same name with Jean-Luc Ponty, a jazz violinist.
At its inception, Weather Report was an avant-garde experimental jazz group, following in the steps of Davis's In a Silent Way. The band received considerable attention for its early albums and live performances, which included pieces that might last up to 30 minutes. The band later introduced a more commercial sound, which can be heard in Weather Report's hit song "Birdland" (1977). Weather Report's albums were also influenced by different styles of Latin, African, and European music, offering an early world fusion variation. Jaco Pastorius, an innovative fretless bass guitarist, joined the group in 1976 on the album Black Market, was co-producer (with Zawinul) on 1977's Heavy Weather, and is prominently featured on the 1979 live recording 8:30. Heavy Weather is the top-selling album of the genre.
The term "jazz rock" (or "jazz/rock") is sometimes used as a synonym for the term "jazz fusion". However, some[who?] make a distinction between the two terms. The Free Spirits have sometimes been cited as the earliest jazz rock band.
The rock groups that drew on jazz ideas (like Soft Machine, Colosseum, Caravan, Chicago, Spirit and The Mothers of Invention) turned the blend of the two styles with electric instruments. Davis' fusion jazz was "pure melody and tonal color", while Frank Zappa's music was more "complex" and "unpredictable". Zappa released the solo album Hot Rats in 1969. The album contained long instrumental pieces with a jazz influence. Zappa released two LPs (The Grand Wazoo and Waka/Jawaka) in 1972 which were jazz-oriented. George Duke and Aynsley Dunbar played on these LPs.
AllMusic states that the term jazz rock "may refer to the loudest, wildest, most electrified fusion bands from the jazz camp, but most often it describes performers coming from the rock side of the equation." The guide states that "jazz rock first emerged during the late '60s as an attempt to fuse the visceral power of rock with the musical complexity and improvisational fireworks of jazz. Since rock often emphasized directness and simplicity over virtuosity, jazz rock generally grew out of the most artistically ambitious rock subgenres of the late '60s and early '70s: psychedelia, progressive rock, and the singer-songwriter movement."
According to jazz writer Stuart Nicholson, jazz rock paralleled free jazz in how it was "on the verge of creating a whole new musical language in the 1960s". He said the albums Emergency! (1970) by the Tony Williams Lifetime and Agharta (1975) by Miles Davis "suggested the potential of evolving into something that might eventually define itself as a wholly independent genre quite apart from the sound and conventions of anything that had gone before." This development was stifled by commercialism, Nicholson said, as the genre "mutated into a peculiar species of jazz-inflected pop music that eventually took up residence on FM radio" at the end of the 1970s.
While in the United States modern jazz and electric R&B may have represented opposite poles of blues-based Afro-American music, British pop music of the beat boom developed out of the skiffle and R&B championed by jazzmen such as Chris Barber. English fusion guitarist John McLaughlin, for example, played what Allmusic describes as a "blend of jazz and American R&B" with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames as early as 1962 and continued with The Graham Bond Organisation (with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker) whose style Allmusic calls "rhythm & blues with a strong jazzy flavor". Bond had begun playing straight jazz with Don Rendell, while Manfred Mann, who recorded a Cannonball Adderley tune on their first album, when joined by Bruce turned out the 1966 EP Instrumental Asylum, which fused jazz and rock.
In the UK, the jazz fusion movement was headed by Nucleus, led by Ian Carr, and whose key players Karl Jenkins and John Marshall both later joined Soft Machine in what became known as the Canterbury scene. Their best-selling album, Third (1970), included one track per side in the style of Miles Davis. An English band in the jazz rock style of Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago was If, which released seven albums in the 1970s.
By the early 1980s, much of the original fusion genre was subsumed into other branches of jazz and rock, especially smooth jazz, a radio-friendly subgenre of fusion which is influenced by R&B, funk, and pop music. Smooth jazz can be traced to at least the late 1960s, when producer Creed Taylor worked with guitarist Wes Montgomery on three popular music-oriented albums. Taylor founded CTI Records and many established jazz performers recorded for CTI, including Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, George Benson, and Stanley Turrentine. Albums under Taylor's guidance were aimed at both pop and jazz fans.
In the mid- to late-1970s, smooth jazz became established as a commercially viable genre. It was pioneered by George Benson, Larry Carlton, Dave Grusin, Don Grusin, Bob James, Chuck Mangione, Sérgio Mendes, Lee Ritenour, Joe Sample, David Sanborn, Tom Scott, Spyro Gyra, and Grover Washington Jr.
The merging of jazz and pop/rock music took a more commercial direction in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the form of compositions with a softer sound palette that could fit comfortably in a soft rock radio playlist. The AllMusic guide's article on fusion states that "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."
Artists such as Al Jarreau, Kenny G, Ritenour, James and Sanborn among others were leading purveyors of this pop-oriented mixture (also known as "west coast" or "AOR fusion"). This genre is most frequently called "smooth jazz" and is not considered "true fusion" among the listeners of both mainstream jazz and jazz fusion, who find it too rarely contains the improvisational, melodic or harmonic qualities that originally surfaced in jazz decades earlier, deferring to a more commercially viable sound more widely enabled for commercial radio airplay in the United States.
Michael and Randy Brecker produced funk-influenced jazz with soloists. David Sanborn was considered a "soulful" and "influential" voice. However, Kenny G was criticized by both fusion and jazz fans, and some musicians, while having become a huge commercial success. Music reviewer George Graham argues that the "so-called 'smooth jazz' sound of people like Kenny G has none of the fire and creativity that marked the best of the fusion scene during its heyday in the 1970s."
Afro-Cuban jazz, one the earliest form of Latin jazz, is a fusion of Afro-Cuban clave-based rhythms with jazz harmonies and techniques of improvisation. Afro-Cuban jazz first emerged in the early 1940s with the Cuban musicians Mario Bauza and Frank Grillo "Machito" in the band Machito and his Afro-Cubans, based in New York City. In 1947 the collaborations of bebop innovator Dizzy Gillespie with Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo brought Afro-Cuban rhythms and instruments, most notably the congas and the bongos into the East Coast jazz scene. Early combinations of jazz with Cuban music, such as Dizzy's and Pozo's "Manteca" and Charlie Parker's and Machito's "Mangó Mangüé", were commonly referred to as "Cubop", short for Cuban bebop. During its first decades, the Afro-Cuban jazz movement was stronger in the United States than in Cuba.
Although the meaning of "fusion" became confused with the advent of "smooth jazz", a number of groups helped to revive the jazz fusion genre beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s. In the 1980s, a critic[who?] argued that "the promise of fusion went unfulfilled to an extent, although it continued to exist in groups such as Jeff Lorber, Yellowjackets, Tribal Tech and Chick Corea's Elektric Band". Many of the most well-known fusion artists were members of earlier jazz fusion groups, and some of the fusion "giants" of the 1970s kept working in the genre.
The relaxation of orthodoxy which was concurrent with post-punk in London and New York City led to a new appreciation of jazz. In London, the Pop Group began to mix free jazz and dub reggae into their brand of punk rock. In New York City, no wave took direct inspiration from both free jazz and punk. Examples of this style include Lydia Lunch's Queen of Siam, Gray, James Chance and the Contortions, who mixed soul music with free jazz and punk rock, and the Lounge Lizards, the first group to call themselves "punk jazz".
John Zorn took note of the emphasis on speed and dissonance that was becoming prevalent in punk rock and incorporated this into free jazz with the release of the Spy vs Spy album in 1986. The album was a collection of Ornette Coleman tunes done in the thrashcore style. In the same year, Sonny Sharrock, Peter Brötzmann, Bill Laswell and Ronald Shannon Jackson recorded the first album under the name Last Exit, a blend of thrash and free jazz.
M-Base (short for "macro-basic array of structured extemporization") centers around a movement started in the 1980s. It was initially a loose collective of young African-American musicians in New York which included Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, and Gary Thomas developing a complex but grooving sound. In the 1990s most M-Base participants turned to more conventional music, but Coleman, the most active participant, continued developing his music in accordance with the M-Base concept. His audience decreased, but his music and ideas influenced many musicians[who?] M-Base changed from a loose collective to an informal Coleman "school".
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Joe Zawinul's fusion band, The Zawinul Syndicate, began adding more elements of world music during the 1990s. One of the notable bands that became prominent in the early 1990s is Tribal Tech, led by guitarist Scott Henderson and bassist Gary Willis. Henderson was a member of both Corea's and Zawinul's ensembles in the late 1980s while putting together his own group. Tribal Tech's most common lineup also includes keyboardist Scott Kinsey and drummer Kirk Covington; Willis and Kinsey have both recorded solo fusion projects. Henderson has also been featured on fusion projects by drummer Steve Smith of Vital Information which also include bassist Victor Wooten of the eclectic Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, recording under the banner Vital Tech Tones.
Allan Holdsworth was a guitarist who performed in jazz, fusion, and rock styles. Other guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen praised his fusion playing. Holdsworth often used experimental instruments such a SynthAxe guitar synthesizer in his recordings of the late 1980s, which he credited for expanding his composing and playing options. Holdsworth continued to release fusion recordings until 2001 and toured worldwide until the early 2010s. Andy Summers of The Police, released several fusion albums in the early 1990s.
Guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell have both made fusion recordings over the past two decades while also exploring other musical styles. Scofield's Pick Hits Live and Still Warm are fusion examples, while Frisell has maintained a unique approach in drawing heavy influences from traditional music of the United States. Japanese fusion guitarist Kazumi Watanabe released numerous fusion albums throughout the 1980s and 1990s, highlighted by his works such as Mobo Splash and Spice of Life.
Brett Garsed and T. J. Helmerich are also watched as prominent fusion guitar players, having released several albums together since the beginning of the 1990s (Quid Pro Quo (1992), Exempt (1994), Under the Lash of Gravity (1999), Uncle Moe's Space Ranch (2001), Moe's Town (2007)) and collaborating in many other projects or releasing solo albums (Brett Garsed - Big Sky) all them falling in the genre.
The saxophonist Bob Berg, who originally came to prominence as a member of Miles Davis's bands, recorded a number of fusion albums with fellow Miles band member and guitarist Mike Stern. Stern continues to play fusion regularly in New York City and worldwide. They often teamed with the world-renowned drummer Dennis Chambers, who has also recorded his own fusion albums. Chambers is also a member of CAB, led by bassist Bunny Brunel and featuring the guitar and keyboard of Tony MacAlpine. CAB 2 garnered a Grammy nomination in 2002. MacAlpine has also served as guitarist of the metal fusion group Planet X, featuring keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Virgil Donati. Another former member of Miles Davis's bands of the 1980s that has released a number of fusion recordings is saxophonist Bill Evans, highlighted by 1992's Petite Blonde.
Fusion shred guitar player and session musician Greg Howe has released solo albums such as Introspection (1993), Uncertain Terms (1994), Parallax (1995), Five (1996), Ascend (1999), Hyperacuity (2000), Extraction (2003) with electric bassist Victor Wooten and drummer Dennis Chambers, and Sound Proof (2008). Howe combines elements of rock, blues and Latin music with jazz influences using a technical, yet melodic guitar style. Ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy formed the band Liquid Tension Experiment with guitarist John Petrucci, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and bass guitarist Tony Levin. Their style blended the complex rhythms of jazz fusion and progressive rock along with the heavy sound of progressive metal.
Drummer Jack DeJohnette's Parallel Realities band featuring fellow Miles' alumni Dave Holland and Herbie Hancock, along with Pat Metheny, recorded and toured in 1990, highlighted by a DVD of a live performance at the Mellon Jazz Festival in Philadelphia. Jazz bassist Christian McBride released two fusion recordings drawing from the jazz-funk idiom in Sci-Fi (2000) and Vertical Vision (2003). Other significant recent fusion releases have come from keyboardist Mitchel Forman and his band Metro, former Mahavishnu bassist Jonas Hellborg with the late guitar virtuoso Shawn Lane, keyboardist Tom Coster, and Marbin with their unique blend of jazz, rock, blues, gospel, and Israeli folk music.
According to bassist Randy Jackson, jazz fusion is a difficult genre to play. "I...picked jazz fusion because I was trying to become the ultimate technical musician--able to play anything. Jazz fusion to me is the hardest music to play. You have to be so proficient on your instrument. Playing five tempos at the same time, for instance. I wanted to try the toughest music because I knew if I could do that, I could do anything."
Jazz rock fusion's technically challenging guitar solos, bass solos and odd metered, syncopated drumming started to be incorporated in the technically focused progressive metal genre in the early 1990s. Progressive rock, with its affinity for long solos, diverse influences, non-standard time signatures and complex music had very similar musical values as jazz fusion. Some prominent examples of progressive rock mixed with elements of fusion is the music of Gong, King Crimson, Ozric Tentacles and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
The death metal band Atheist produced albums Unquestionable Presence in 1991 and Elements in 1993 containing heavily syncopated drumming, changing time signatures, instrumental parts, acoustic interludes, and Latin rhythms. Meshuggah first attracted international attention with the 1995 release Destroy Erase Improve for its fusion of fast-tempo death metal, thrash metal and progressive metal with jazz fusion elements. Cynic recorded a complex, unorthodox form of jazz-fusion-influenced experimental death metal with their 1993 album Focus. In 1997, Guitar Institute of Technology guitarist Jennifer Batten under the name of Jennifer Batten's Tribal Rage: Momentum released Momentum - an instrumental hybrid of rock, fusion and exotic sounds. Mudvayne is heavily influenced by jazz, especially in bassist Ryan Martinie's playing.
Another, more cerebral, all-instrumental progressive jazz fusion-metal band Planet X released Universe in 2000 with Tony MacAlpine, Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater) and Virgil Donati (who has played with Scott Henderson from Tribal Tech). The band blends fusion-style guitar solos and syncopated odd-metered drumming with the heaviness of metal. Tech-prog-fusion metal band Aghora formed in 1995 and released their first album, self-titled Aghora, recorded in 1999 with Sean Malone and Sean Reinert, both former members of Cynic. Gordian Knot, another Cynic-linked experimental progressive metal band, released its debut album in 1999 which explored a range of styles from jazz-fusion to metal. The Mars Volta is extremely influenced by jazz fusion, using progressive, unexpected turns in the drum patterns and instrumental lines. The style of Uzbek prog band Fromuz is described as "prog fusion". In lengthy instrumental jams, the band transitions from fusion of rock and ambient world music to jazz and progressive hard rock tones.
In the last 20 years there have been some important record labels which have specialized in jazz-fusion. Some of them include ESC Records, Tone Center on Shrapnel Records, Favoured Nations, AbstractLogix, Heads Up International, Mack Avenue Records, and Buckyball Music. Due to the small market for instrumental music such as jazz-fusion, artists often release music under their own label or under subdivisions of larger record companies. Some examples include Chick Corea/Ron Moss'  Stretch Records  under the Concord Music Group, Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen's GRP Records through Verve Music Group, Carl Filipiak's Geometric Records, Merck's Alex Merck Music GmbH,Frank Gambale's Wombat Records,Anders Johansson/Jens Johansson's Heptagon Records and Richard Hallebeek's Richie Rich Music.
circular and highly complex polymetric patterns which preserve their danceable character of popular funk-rhythms despite their internal complexity and asymmetries
Pianist Vijay Iyer, who was chosen as Jazz Musician of the year 2010 by the Jazz Journalists Association, said, 'It's hard to overstate Steve's influence. He's affected more than one generation, as much as anyone since John Coltrane.'
His recombinant ideas about rhythm and form and his eagerness to mentor musicians and build a new vernacular have had a profound effect on American jazz.