Jazz-Rock Fusion

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Avant-garde jazz when it arose, esoteric and forbidding, clearly presented no immediate solution to the difficult future ahead for jazz vying with popular music and rock, and even internationally renowned mainstream artists such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane found themselves playing to half-empty venues. The album owed a greater debt to rock than jazz in its sleeve design, and also featured the electric guitar, electric Fender bass guitar and electric piano. In 1969, the albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew borrowed instru­ments and techniques from rock and introduced the concept of jazz-rock fusion, a style that won a vast new audience in the 19708

Other members of the group included Chick Corea (b. 1941), adding a third electric keyboard strand, the British electric guitarist John McLaughlin (b. 1942), drummer Tony Williams, appearing in his last recording with Davis, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter (b. 1933). In 'Spanish Key', a rock beat and bass riff combine to support improvisation based on scales (an approach recalling Davis's earlier modal jazz); the music was controlled by spontaneous signals from the leader. Bitches Brew amply repaid Columbia and Davis for their jointly conceived gamble by soon becoming one of the best-selling albums in jazz history. The similarities between Bitches Brew and rock were, in fact, super­ficial: even the heavy backbeats had been heard in earlier hard bop and soul jazz. This emphasis on extended free improvisation reflected the continuation of a quintessential aesthetic preoccupation of jazz, in stark contrast to the largely pre-composed nature of con­temporaneous rock music. Neither mere background music nor sufficiently controlled in structure to demand consistent intellectual attention, Bitches Brew has remained one of the most singular and disconcerting achievements in jazz.

Davis's recordings in the  19705 failed to fulfill its considerable promise, and have been aptly described by jazz critic Stuart Nicholson as 'heavily amplified electronic gang bangs that led nowhere'; Davis's idols at this time were not the jazz masters of the past, but rock stars Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Sly Stone. In 1975, Davis retired from public performances for six years owing to ill health, leaving the development of jazz-rock fusion to the sidemen he had assembled for his three ground-breaking albums in 1968 and 1969. in 1973, Herbie Hancock explored electric-piano, synthesizer and sophisticated recording techniques in Headhunters, an album that eclipsed even Bitches BreW in sales figures. In spite of his commercial success, Hancock continued to take his work as an acoustic (non-electric) jazz pianist seriously. By moving between electric and acoustic jazz, Hancock typified the dual and broadminded approach of many musicians working in the aftermath of the initial fusion boom.

A more versatile development of fusion techniques was to be heard in the work of Davis's other keyboard players, Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea. Zawinul distrusted the notion of a 'jazz-rock' fusion, arguing that jazz-rhythm and blues' was a more accurate designation for his music (and more politically correct, as rock was a white genre and rhythm and blues a black one). Chick Corea had devoted his energies to a restrained form of free jazz while he was also participating in Davis's early fusion bands. After collaborating with Braxton in the short-lived experimental group

Commercial success as a record executive has not sidetracked him from playing acoustic jazz, and his resourceful interpretations of standards by George Gershwin (1991) and Duke Ellington (1993) are a notable contribution to the numerous contem­porary tributes to jazz's past masters.

More varied in both artistic scope and musical technique has been the eclectic work of electric guitarist Pat Metheny (b. 1954) and key­board player Lyle Mays (b. 1953), who epitomize the new generation of American college-educated jazz musicians able to move from style to style with ease. Jarrett's extended solo improvisations succeeded in blending elements of jazz, folk music and classical styles, and the ECM recording of his performance at Cologne in 1975 sold over two million copies. As barriers between classical music, jazz and ethnic music continued to be broken down, Garbarek recorded with Pakistani musicians in the early 19905; and, in 1993, his haunting improvisations on the album Officium against a backdrop of medieval Latin vocal music performed by the Milliard Ensemble became one of the most commercially successful crossover experiments of recent years.

In America, leading bluegrass instrumentalists have adopted the techniques of both acoustic jazz and fusion in a tuneful and buoyant idiom dubbed jazz-grass' or 'new grass'. As interest in acoustic jazz grew during the 19805, a wave of'neo-classicism' aimed to keep earlier jazz styles in circulation and en­courage the preservation of a permanent repertory of masterpieces by perennially acclaimed composers such as Ellington. Other neo-swing bands emerged in the 19805, while the 'cool' school enjoyed a revival in 1981 with the reunion of the original Modern Jazz Quartet. In the 19805 a younger generation of musicians, including tenor saxophonists Courtney Pine (b. 1964) and Andy Sheppard (b. 1957), placed Britain firmly on the international jazz map. Many of Bates's sidemen, notably saxo­phonist Iain Ballamy (b. 1964), have since led influential groups of their own and British jazz continues to flourish and diversify.

The most persuasive advocate of a return to traditional jazz values has been American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (b. 1961). Like Miles Davis, he had both a classical training, at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, and an apprenticeship in jazz, fundamentally different outlook from Davis and openly rejected fusion, which he regarded as an artistic betrayal. Polished interpretations of standards recorded from 1986 onwards by Wynton Marsalis with other sidemen were widely admired, and the trumpeter embarked on a systematic reappraisal of pre-fusion jazz idioms, including the 'growl' style of Duke Ellington and, in the 1988 album The Majesty of the Blues, the early music of his home town, New Orleans. In America, generous state and industrial sponsorship for jazz remains the envy of musicians from other countries: the Jazz Masterworks Orchestra of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, a group founded in 1991, was subsidized by over $300,000 from Congressional funds, and private endowments of jazz education pro­grammes have in several cases topped the million-dollar mark. Today's music is characterized by a diversity of styles -^ .mixing elements of free jazz, the avant-garde, fusion, crossover and traditional jazz — that defy easy categorization.