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Sound Ideas #27 - Jazz Rock Fusion
Welcome to an hour of Jazz Rock Fusion. Thanks for stopping by for an electric experience.
Artist Track Album
Miles Davis U'N'I Star People
Steely Dan Bodhisattva Alive in America
Cannonball Adderley Why (Am I Treated So Bad) Best of Cannonball Adderley
The Chicago Transit Authority Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? The Chicago Transit Authority
Rodney Franklin The Groove You'll Never Know
Ramsey Lewis Sun Goddess Sun Goddess
Blood, Sweat, and Tears Spinning Wheel Blood, Sweat, and Tears
The Crusaders Chain Reaction Newport Jazz '87
Ronnie Laws Always There Pressure Sensitive

Beginning in the late 1960s and becoming prevalent during the 1970s a musical melding of jazz, funk, and rock idioms took place and for many years found radio airplay under the moniker of Jazz Fusion, or simply Fusion. The more mainstream jazz community did not always react positively to the rise of fusion. In part this was due to personal tastes of hard core boppers, but also in part due to the reality that a lot of what was passed off as fusion, simply wasn't very good or even remotely descendant from the jazz tradition. Nevertheless, there were some performers who managed to make a convincing run at fusing jazz with other more popular idioms of the time, and in this hour we will explore some of these endeavors.

Miles Davis is often credited for starting fusion with his Bitches Brew album in 1969, although there is a contingent that would argue Eddie Harris and his electric saxophone beat Miles to it. By the early 1980s Miles was very different from past eras, but then again, Miles was always reinventing himself. U'N'I was from one of his more successful albums of the early eighties.

Our second set begins with Steely Dan, one of the most commercially and artistically successful fusion bands. Next is Cannonball Adderley when Joe Zawinul was still his pianist, and we hear the direction that both were headed and especially with Joe, the underpinnings of what was to come with Weather Reports is evident. We close out the set with an early recording from the Chicago Transit Authority, later known simply as Chicago, with the full, or FM-radio only, version of one of their biggest hits.

In the late 1970s, the Quiet Storm, a precursor to Smooth Jazz, was being heard on an increasing number of urban radio outlets in the USA. Rodney Franklin would be associated with this sound, but as you can hear in The Groove, there is still some serious improvisation and complex chord voicings evident; these are features that would largely by vanquished by the Smooth Jazz that followed. Ramsey Lewis spent the 1970s making a lot of records, but few seemed to have any serious jazz content; Sun Goddess is probably the best track recorded during that time. Blood Sweat and Tears achieved commercial success with their highly edited Top-40 recordings, but the full version of one of their biggest hits reveals a swinging trumpet solo that never made it to AM-radio.

The Jazz Crusaders were a prolific hard bop group during the 1960s that were unknown to the few outside the jazz circles. Dropping Jazz from their name in the early 1970s they become one of the preeminent fusion groups ever since. By the mid 1980s the band still played much of their fusion catalog, but at times would revert to their hard bop heritage, as we hear from this live recording of Chain Reaction. Our last track is from the jazz-funk vein. Always There achieved commercial success and was often used as an intro of signature piece for other radio and television programs during the 1970s. It's instantly recognizable.

Jazz Fusion died down in popularity during the 1980s with many of its proponents moving back to their roots of more straight ahead jazz; however, Smooth Jazz would emerge and take its place as a radio format in the 1990s and early 21st century. As a confessed jazz purist, I admit that much of fusion was trivial to my tastes. Nevertheless, there were those who explored the idiom with a degree of artist creativity and sincerity and their works are a valid part of the large tree of music we refer to as jazz. As the Duke said, "there are only two kinds of music, good, and bad". And I for one, rarely have the time to play bad music.