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What is jazz rock, and what are some of the most significant albums? Does it still exist? Is there a difference between jazz rock and fusion?
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.
AllMusic - Fusion:
The word Fusion has been so liberally used since the late '60s that it's become almost meaningless. Fusion's original definition was best: a mixture of jazz improvisation with the power and rhythms of rock. Up until around 1967, the worlds of jazz and rock were nearly completely separate. But as rock became more creative and its musicianship improved, and as some in the jazz world became bored with hard bop and did not want to play strictly avant-garde music, the two different idioms began to trade ideas and occasionally combine forces. By the early '70s, fusion had its own separate identity as a creative jazz style (although snubbed by many purists) and such major groups as Return to Forever, Weather Report, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Miles Davis' various bands were playing high-quality fusion that mixed some of the best qualities of jazz and rock. 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. The promise of fusion went unfulfilled to an extent, although it continued to exist in groups such as Tribal Tech and Chick Corea's Elektric Band.All Music - Jazz Rock:
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. 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. The latter drew from the mellower, more cerebral side of jazz, often employing vocal as well as instrumental improvisation; this school's major figures included Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and Tim Buckley. Most jazz-rock, however, was played by higher-energy rock ensembles. Some of them were more jam-oriented, borrowing jazz harmonies and instruments for their extended, rock-flavored improvisations (Traffic, Santana). Others recorded jazz-flavored R&B or pop songs that used the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic sensibilities of jazz, but weren't as interested in improvisation or instrumental virtuosity (Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Steely Dan). Still others used jazz's complexity to expand rock's musical horizons, not just in terms of instrumental technique but in crafting quirky, challenging, unpredictable compositions (Frank Zappa, the Soft Machine). The major exception was Miles Davis, the first jazz musician since the early R&B era to covet the earthy power of rock & roll and the impact it had on young audiences. Starting with 1970's Bitches Brew, Davis' early-'70s fusion workouts -- greatly inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Sly & the Family Stone -- quickly became some of the funkiest, edgiest, most aggressive jazz-rock ever recorded. While figures like Zappa and $Steely Dan continued to record jazz-rock through the '70s, the movement had essentially dissipated by the '80s, as a mellower form of fusion captured its audience.
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Moanin' (Feb 1959)
Blakey was the leading developer of hard bop a jazz style that incorporated blues and RnB, and is considered close to and for many is indistinguishable from soul jazz.
Dave Brubeck – Time Out (Dec 1959)
This is cool jazz, and it sounds fresh and modern even now, and there are elements here that would not be out of place on any fusion album from the Seventies onwards. There seems an understanding of music as a pleasure, rather than a mathematical exercise.
The Cannonball Adderley Quintet In San Francisco (1960)
Considered the first true soul jazz album.
Ray Charles Genius + Soul = Jazz (Mar 1961)
Ray Charles enjoyed blending music styles, and is credited with making popular the blending of gospel and RnB into soul which occurred in the 1950s. Here he adds a bit of big band jazz into the mix.
Booker T. & The M.G.'s Green Onions (Oct 1962)
Soul and RnB with a funky groove and a soul jazz swing. There isn't a huge difference between this and what Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey and Ramsey Lewis were doing, indicating that musicians were sharing and exchanging ideas across genres.
Manfred Mann The Five Faces of (Sept 1964)
From the outset Manfred Mann merged jazz, blues and British RnB.
Graham Bond Organisation - The Sound of 65 (Mar 1965)
Debut album of the short lived GBO, which contained Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker who would go on to form Cream, and Dick Heckstall-Smith who was in Blues Incorporated and would later form Colosseum. This album has a jazzy take on some gritty British RnB.
Ramsey Lewis Trio The 'In' Crowd (1965)
Manfred Mann Instrumental Asylum (June 1966)
Very jazzy versions of some early British RnB on this neglected EP.
Cream Fresh Cream (Dec 1966)
Pop, blues and British RnB backed by a jazz rhythm section, and then in "Spoonful", jazz structures and improvisation are employed.
The Grateful Dead The Grateful Dead (March 1967)
The jazz credentials of the Dead are up for debate, with most jazz fans feeling they are too sloppy, but it's clear they were influenced by jazz and incorporated jazz ideas into their music.
Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced (May 1967)
Contains some jazz inflections and influences, though the structures and songs are blues based.
The Electric Flag The Trip (1967)
The Electric Flag was a music project which aimed to incorporate American music styles such as blues, rock and jazz. The result is a bit of a jumble rather than a coherent whole, and fits more comfortably into psychedelic rock than it does jazz rock. This was their first released album, and is the soundtrack to the film The Trip; their second album is more clearly blues based.
The Free Spirits Out of Sight And Sound (1967)
Jazz musicians playing mainstream poppy psychedelic rock with jazz inflections. This is closer to Manfred Mann and Soft Machine than the fusion of Burton and Davis, though shortly after this the band broke up and two members joined Burton to make Duster.
Gary Burton Duster (June 1967)
This is a modest jazz album that is regarded as one of the earliest fusion albums from a jazz perspective.
James Brown Cold Sweat (Aug 1967)
Brown is the godfather of funk, and, through he had been developing playing on the downbeat since "Out of Sight" in 1964, "Cold Sweat" is the point at which he leaves the blues behind completely, and goes completely for a controlled groove with syncopated guitars which is a completely developed funk sound. That funk sound is present in most jazz-focused jazz rock, and also in some rock-focused jazz rock.
Blood, Sweat & Tears Child Is Father To The Man (Feb 1968) Blood, Sweat & Tears (Dec 1968)
Al Kooper adds horns to an electric blues group. Not jazz. After Kooper left, the band became more mainstream, with a sound that was neither rock nor jazz, but fairly middle-of-the-road big band pop.
Cream Wheels of Fire (Aug 1968)
One electric blues musician and two jazz musicians showed the world the potential for fusing jazz and rock. The point at which psychedelic rock becomes jazz rock is very blurred, and this is not so much jazz rock as jazz influenced psychedelic rock laying down the footprint for progressive rock, hard rock and heavy metal. The influence of Cream is almost incalculable.
Van Morrison Astral Weeks (Nov 1968)
Morrison used jazz musicians and gave them total freedom to improvise around what he was playing. Folk, jazz, rock and soul blended together.
Soft Machine The Soft Machine (Dec 1968)
This is one of the earliest albums to successfully fuse together jazz and rock as a unified approach. As the band were composed of rock musicians rather than jazz, the focus is on jazz influenced rock rather than rock influenced jazz, as such it tends to be overlooked by jazz writers.Chicago Chicago Transit Authority (April 1969)
Big band middle-of-the-road pop jazz rock, similar to Blood, Sweat & Tears. This is their debut, and probably their best.
Colosseum Those Who Are About To Die Salute You (March 1969)
British big band blues based jazz rock. This is their debut, and I feel is their best, and was the album that attracted attention at the time, and was in a lot of people's homes, though critics today feel the second album, Valentyne Suite, is the more worthwhile.
Frank Zappa Uncle Meat (April 1969)
This album incorporates a variety of music styles, including jazz and rock, and sometimes the styles are played simultaneously, sometimes in counterpoint, sometimes merged, and sometimes fused.
Miles Davies In A Silent Way (June 1969)
This is regarded as the most distinctively "fusion jazz" of Davis's late Sixties jazz albums in which he incorporated ideas from rock musicians.
Santana Santana (Aug 1969)
Blending rock with Latin rhythms and a splash of jazz, this was the first of Carlos Santana's albums.
King Crimson In The Court Of The Crimson King (Oct 1969)
Debut album of Robert's Fripp's eclectic band which is generally classed as either heavy rock or progressive rock or both, but, particularly on this album, also incorporated a lot of jazz rock.
Frank Zappa Hot Rats (Oct 1969)
This early form of melodic jazz rock is the roots of the Weather Report style of fusion.
Miles Davies Bitches Brew (March 1970)
This is probably the most famous fusion album. It is jazz. There's no rock here. Commentators note that Davies focuses on the rhythm section and uses electric bass and electric guitar. This is true. But nobody is doing anything particularly rocky. The sound is more funky than rocky. I can't hear any contemporary rock band sound in there, but I can hear rhythm and blues and soul and funk and particularly James Brown. "Spanish Key" does get into a groove that later became associated with rock bands. Was that groove present in rock before this album? Perhaps in The Doors - but they did incorporate jazzy Latin rhythms into their sound. Some of it is a little harsh and cold for my taste, but in places where a groove is laid down, it is attractive.
Cold Blood Sisyphus (1970)
Jazzy funk-rock. Blends of music styles which are explored over lengthy tracks was popular in the late Sixties and early Seventies.
Traffic John Barleycorn Must Die (July 1970)
Traffic incorporated jazz, soul, and folk into their sound without making a fuss about it. Opinions vary, but I feel this is their finest album, though The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys (1971) comes close.
If If (Sep 1970)
Debut and best album of British prog rock / jazz rock band bigger in America and Europe than in the UK.
Tim Buckley Starsailor (Nov 1970)
As with a number of musicians around that time, Buckley was trying out different ideas. On this album he tried out some free jazz ideas alongside his singer-songwriter folk rock, as well as incorporating ideas from Fred Neil, Scott Walker and Captain Beefheart, but not always that successfully. Buckley has a cult following, and this is sometimes regarded as one of his best albums.
Caravan In The World Of Grey And Pink (Apr 1971)
Caravan were the most pastoral of the Canterbury Scene, and this is their most pastoral release.
Weather Report Weather Report (May 1971)
Weather Report were the most popular and long-lived of the fusion groups, and for many people are the epitome of jazz rock; indeed, Weather Report may be the only jazz rock band many people are aware of. This is the band's debut.
Mahavishnu Orchestra The Inner Mounting Flame (Aug 1971)
John McLaughlin, band leader and guitarist of the Orchestra, had been the guitarist on Davies' jazz-rock albums. This album, his first, and widely regarded as his best and most important, took the fusion a step further with the introduction of Indian and Latin music . This is jazz-rock that while still very jazzy, comes at the fusion more from a rock perspective than Davies's work. I like this.
Matching Mole Matching Mole (Apr 1971)
Robert Wyatt's band between Soft Machine and his solo career.
Santana Caravanseria (Oct 1972)
Santana's most overtly fusion album marked a decline in his commercial appeal.
John Martyn Solid Air (Feb 1973)
Probably the most successful and most acclaimed folk jazz album.
Tom Waits Closing Time (Mar 1973)
Debut album (and probably his best, though some of his later albums were more adventurous and imaginative) of a musician who was comfortable in both jazz and folk.
Gong Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy (May 1973 - Oct 1974)
Daevid Allen formed Gong after leaving Soft Machine. The band incorporated jazz, psychedelic rock, progressive rock and space rock into a daft Zappaesque world of Allen's construction. Hugely loved by hippies and acid heads.
Herbie Hancock Head Hunters (Oct 1973)
Hancock was another Miles Davis musician. This is more jazz funk than jazz rock. Liked by the general public, but disliked by the jazz audience who felt it was too poppy.
Steely Dan Pretzel Logic (Feb 1974)
Steely Dan were probably the most refined and successful and popular of the rock focused jazz rock artists. I find this album to be their peak.
Hatfield & The North Hatfield & The North (Feb 1974)
Hatfield were part of the Canterbury Scene along with Gong and Soft Machine. They only released two albums - this was their first.
Camel Mirage (Mar 1974)
A jazzy prog rock band. This is their best album.
Grover Washington Jr. - Mister Magic (Feb 1975)
A pioneer of smooth jazz blending modern soulful RnB with jazz. This was a popular album.
Jeff Beck Blow By Blow (March 1975)
One of the UK's foremost rock guitarists tackling jazz rock in a John McLaughlin style.
Joni Mitchell The Hissing of Summer Lawns (Nov 1975)
Mitchell had been flirting with jazz inflections since her third album; this album was the start of a serious affair that would last a long time.
Return To Forever Romantic Warrior (1976)
Chick Corea (who had played on Miles Davis' jazz rock albums) created Return To Forever to play jazz rock inspired by John McLaughlin. By 1976 the band had largely turned into an ELP-type progressive rock band and this album became their best seller.
Weather Report Heavy Weather (March 1977)
The best selling jazz fusion album, largely due to the popularity of "Birdland".
Steely Dan Aja (Sept 1977)
Considered their most jazzy album.
ABC The Lexicon of Love (June 1982)
Martin Fry's band's debut album (their best) bridged the gap between the New Romantics and sophisti-pop.
The Police Synchronicity (June 1983)
The Police blended pop-rock, prog-rock, jazz rock, and reggae. This, their final album, is widely regarded as their finest.
The Style Council Cafe Bleu (Mar 1984)
Sometimes grouped with sophisti-pop, which was clearly influenced by this album, this was more of a retro tribute to cool jazz and soul albums of the Sixties but informed by modern pop and rock. But, then, that is perhaps a definition of sophisti-pop. Whatever it is, this is cool and genuine. The affection for this music shines through.
Sade Diamond Life (July 1984)
Blending soul, jazz and pop, sophisti-pop was a distinctive jazzy genre during the Eighties. Sade's debut album is generally regarded as the finest example of the genre.
Sting The Dream of the Blue Turtles (June 1985)
Sting's debut solo album in which he more closely follows his interest in jazz than he did in The Police.
Simply Red Picture Book (Oct 1985)
Mick Hucknal's debut is smoky jazz - a blend of smooth and swing, updated with modern RnB which by the Eighties had merged with soul and funk. This type of fusion, more soul jazz than jazz rock, was the most popular in the Eighties, as typified by sophisti-pop, which Simply Red is sometimes associated with.
Tribal Tech Tribal Tech (1991)
Highly regarded modern jazz group playing electric guitar focused fusion music which could have come from the early Seventies, though with more swing and harmony and less of the serious attitude.
Greg Howe Extraction (Oct 2003)
The emphasis is on technical ability rather than deft touch and feeling, so - as is common with such musicians - the playing is fast rather than attractive and meaningful. But this is modern fusion. You know, for all his virtuosity, I bet Howe would give both his testicles to just once in his life play with the sensitivity of a Steve Cropper on something like "Dock of The Bay".
Pat Metheny Group The Way Up (Jan 2005)
Technically accomplished guitarist with a sound that hovers around ambient techno, progressive rock and fusion.
Hiromi Time Control (Feb 2007)
Cool post-bop. It's retro, but upbeat and pleasant.
Planet X Quantum (May 2007)
Planet X are an instrumental "progressive metal" and fusion band. While there are some metal aspects to this album, it most closely resembles fusion from a jazz perspective.
The Aristocrats The Aristocrats (Sep 2011)
Virtuoso musicians playing around with a variety of modern music styles that allow them to display their skills. Heavy metal, fusion, and prog rock all get messed with.
Observations and commentsThe roots of fusion and jazz rock go back to the Fifties when there was a lot of interest among musicians to incorporate different music styles into their own playing, and a fair degree of cross-over between white and black musicians. Modern music starts in the Fifties - modern forms of jazz such as hard bop, modal, free and avant-garde, emerged in the Fifties, along with soul music and the early forms of rock music. Why was the Fifties such a time for musical change and experimentation? Perhaps it was the growing popularity and access of recorded material with the development of the 331⁄3 rpm vinyl album and the 45 rpm 7 inch vinyl single in 1948, so musicians got to hear other forms of music that they hadn't previously known. The Fifties saw the development of the transistor radio as both a car and portable radio, which gave both musicians and audiences greater access to programmes such as Alan Freed's Moondog show in which he played RnB to a white audience. Added to all that is the electric solid body guitar. The electric guitar had been in development and use since the 1930s with some early experiments in the 1920s, but solid body guitars only began emerging in the 1940s, and it wasn't until 1952 and 1954 that the two main solid body electric guitars, upon which all other solid bodies would be based, were issued: the Gibson Les Paul, and the Fender Stratocaster. I think the roots of modern music start in the Fifties because the conditions were just right.
A common feature of fusion music is that the musicians are technically accomplished, and like to display their technical skills, but they appear to lack emotion, touch, or judgement - the concern appears to be with getting it technically right rather than emotionally right. The finished music sounds as if it could have been composed and played by a computer, including the improvisation and the interplay while jamming because it tends to be mathematically predictable - rock music goes to unexplored and unexpected places, jazz obeys the rules. While rock musicians do explore fusion, it is mostly of interest to jazz musicians who incorporate some of the instruments and rhythms of rock, but lack the touch, feel, and authenticity. Rock musicians incorporating jazz into their music, take some of the focus on musicianship, such as drum and guitar solos, jamming, switching time signatures, etc, and so enrich their own music - for example, Cream, Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead. Jazz into rock seems to be more successful than rock into jazz, but that may be me looking at it from a rock perspective.
Jazz rock also touches on progressive rock and psychedelic rock, such that at times they blur. There's also a blurring of the boundary between fusion and funk.
* In defence of
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* Essential albums
* Fusion or Confusion
* AllMusic Fusion
* AllMusic Jazz Rock
* Jazz rock or fusion
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Top albums lists
* Last FM Fusion
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* 20 Essential Fusion
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* 100 Greatest Fusion
932 March 2019