Styles & Forms | Fusion & Jazz Rock | Jazz

Fusion’ can be applied to any music that blends two or more different styles, though it is normally used to describe the electronic jazz rock movement that emerged in the late 1960s. Some of the musicians expanded the boundaries of both jazz and rock, while others focused on producing sophisticated, but shallow, ‘background’ music.

Although fusion records have never sold in huge quantities, the style has remained popular within the musical community during the past 30 years. The term ‘musician’s musician’ is often used to describe the top exponents.

It is widely accepted that Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew (1969) album was the first influential jazz rock recording. It combined modal jazz with rock guitar and drum sounds, and introduced jazz to a wider rock audience. The album featured an extraordinary selection of musicians, including Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea (keyboards), Wayne Shorter (saxophone), John McLaughlin (electric guitar) and Lenny White (drums). These players went on to form three of the most celebrated and influential fusion bands in the early 1970s: Weather Report (Zawinul and Shorter), Return To Forever (Corea and White) and The Mahavishnu Orchestra (McLaughlin).

Weather Report And Mahavishnu

Weather Report was one of the most successful fusion bands, with albums reaching the Top 50 charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Their earliest recordings were patchy, but Black Market (1976) featured strong compositions and introduced the legendary Jaco Pastorius on bass guitar. The combination of strikingly original tunes, Shorter’s searing sax lines, Zawinul’s colourful synth passages (played on Arp and Oberheim instruments) and Pastorius’s jaw-dropping bass work (ranging from ‘singing’ melodic passages to unusual harmonics and ultra-fast riffs) proved to be an even bigger success with their next album, Heavy Weather (1977). Further recordings, such as Mr. Gone (1978), Night Passage (1980) and Weather Report (1982), confirmed the band’s status as a top-flight jazz act, although Pastorius left in 1982 and the band eventually split in 1986. Sadly, Pastorius died in 1987 after he was beaten up outside a nightclub in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra was more rock-oriented than Weather Report. Formed by John McLaughlin during the early 1970s and influenced by Eastern mysticism, the original band featured McLaughlin on electric guitar, along with Jan Hammer (keyboards), Jerry Goodman (violin), Rick Laird (bass) and Billy Cobham (drums). Their explosive creativity broke new boundaries in jazz, both in terms of virtuosity and complexity, and their albums The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds Of Fire (1972) are widely regarded as fusion classics. Hammer, Goodman and Cobham left to work on their own projects a year later, and McLaughlin reformed the band with various other line-ups for the next two decades. He also formed Shakti, an exploratory ‘Eastern’ acoustic fusion band, with renowned Indian classical musicians such as L. Shankar (violin) and Zakir Hussain (tablas) during the mid-1970s,...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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