Saturday, August 23, 2008

Keeping the Torch of Fusion

After seeing Return To Forever perform at the Pavilion a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about Jazz Fusion, and where it has gone in the past 25 years or so. When it first emerged in the early 70's this electrified jazz was approached by its musicians as the next step in their musical evolution. Jazz veterans from the 60's, many of whom were taught in the Miles Davis school, were freed by Miles' embracing of the rock sound and electric instruments. Many formed their own ambitious groups, which evolved through the 70's into bands where the chops and complex musical ideas of these jazz guys were beefed up with electric guitars and synthesizers.

The first tier of Fusion groups included Tony Williams' Lifetime, John McLaughlin's Mahivishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, and Return to Forever, all of which were formed by Miles Davis alumni. These groups peaked through the mid to late 70's with a catalog of complex, unbelievable electric music, some of which was accessible enough to become commercially popular. Albums like "Headhunters," "Heavy Weather," and "Romantic Warrior" all sold an unprecedented amount of albums for jazz, and set the bar higher than ever for the amount of popularity jazz music could achieve.

But somewhere around the late 70's and early 80's, something happened. Fusion, or at least quality Fusion, dissappeared. Throughout the 80's there were musicians who definetely kept the torch alive, including Billy Cobham, John Scofield, and Allan Holdsworth. But for the most part, this amazing genre of music was corrupted and diluted by the greedy 80's. In a quest for mass appeal, much Jazz-Rock became shitty, soulless pop improv, with an emphasis on empty virtuosity. One of the few exceptions to this rule throughout the decade was Pat Metheney, who was part of the next generation of Fusion, and continually put out quality music throughout the black hole that was the 80's.

Today, there are bands that still play this type of mind-blowing music, and seeing Bela Fleck and the Flecktones perform an opening set for the re-formed Return to Forever, there definetely was a feeling of tradition being handed down to the next generation. Musicians like Medeski, Martin and Wood, John Scofield, Soulive, Jeff Beck, The Bad Plus, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are still holding it down for this generation, thank God. There is nothing like good Fusion live, and unfortunately many people do not know this, as they have not experienced such an event. Though there was a near-capacity crowd for RTF, Fusion certainly will never be in the mainstream as it was in the 70s.

And for that reason, it is my duty to make you aware of the Aussie female bassist for Jeff Beck's most recent band. Her name is Tal Wilkenfeld, and she is utterly nasty. She is also a 22 year old hottie. She is the future of Fusion, and I love her, probally along with every other male musician who has seen and heard her.

Another hope for Fusion's future is Hiromi, a 29 year old Japanese pianist/composer hottie. She is incredible, an d should be a superstar.

These young women and the incredible music they create give me hope for Fusion's future. I would suggest seeking them out immedietely.

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