In the late 1960s, jazz musicians began mixing the forms and improvisational techniques of jazz with the electric instruments of rock and the rhythms of soul and rhythm and blues. At the same time, some rock artists began adding jazz elements to their music. The 1970s were the most visible decade for fusion, but the style has been well represented during more recent times. Rather than being a codified musical style, fusion can be viewed as a musical tradition or approach. Some progressive rock music is also labeled as fusion.
Fusion music is typically instrumental, often with complex time signatures, metres, rhythmic patterns, and extended track lengths, featuring lengthy improvisations. Many prominent fusion musicians are recognized as having a high level of virtuosity, combined with complex compositions and musical improvisation in metres rarely seen in other Western musical forms, perhaps best recognized in the work of jazz composers Michal Urbaniak, Dave Brubeck and Don Ellis.
Fusion music generally receives little radio broadcast airplay in the United States, owing perhaps to its complexity, usual lack of vocals, and frequently extended track lengths. European radio is friendlier to fusion music, and the genre also has a significant following in Japan and South America. A number of Internet radio stations feature fusion music, including dedicated channels on services such as AOL Radio and Yahoo! Launchcast.
By 1963, the last link to Davis' original quintet, formed in 1955, left with the departure of bassist Paul Chambers, along with the rest of the quintet. Having to build from scratch, by year's end he settled upon a line-up of saxophonist George Coleman, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams. Wayne Shorter replaced Coleman in 1964 for what came to be known as the trumpeter's second great quintet, stable for four years until early 1968. This band recorded four studio albums, E.S.P. in 1965, Miles Smiles in 1966, and Sorcerer and Nefertiti in 1967. Their 1968 album Miles in the Sky is the first of Davis' albums to incorporate electric instruments, with Hancock and Carter playing electric piano and bass guitar respectively on the track "Stuff," and George Benson added on electric guitar to the quintet for "Paraphernalia." Davis furthered his explorations into the use of electric instruments on another 1968 album, Filles de Kilimanjaro, sessions for which had pianist Chick Corea and bassist Dave Holland substituting for Hancock and Carter, the latter of whom departed the quintet, at the time uninterested in Davis' new direction. Compositionally, both of these albums continued in the vein of the earlier four.
In 1969, Davis introduced the full-blown electric instrument approach to jazz with In a Silent Way, which can be considered Davis's first fusion album. Composed of two side-long suites edited heavily by producer Teo Macero, this quiet, static album would be equally influential upon the development of ambient music. It featured contributions from musicians who would all go on to spread the fusion evangel with their own groups in the 1970s: Shorter, Hancock, Corea, pianist Josef Zawinul, guitarist John McLaughlin, Holland, and Williams. Williams quit Davis to form his own fusion band soon after, and over the course of three days in August Davis recorded the sessions that would be released as the album Bitches Brew in 1970. In addition to the previous musicians, the sessions included Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet, Larry Young on electric piano, Harvey Brooks on bass guitar, and percussionists Lenny White, Jack DeJohnette, Don Alias, and Juma Santos. Bitches Brew abandoned traditional jazz in favor of a style of improvisation more typical of rock, with emphasis on the backbeat. The album gave Davis a gold record, and created consternation within the jazz community that remains to this day, many critics and musicians breaking with Davis after his forays into fusion. Davis would continue to work in the genre until his temporary retirement in 1975, releasing the albums A Tribute to Jack Johnson, Live-Evil, In Concert, On the Corner, Dark Magus, Agharta, and Pangaea. Sessions from this period were fashioned by producer Macero and Davis into the compilation albums Big Fun and Get Up With It.
Herbie Hancock first continued the path of Miles Davis with his experimental fusion albums, such as Crossings in 1972, but soon after that he became an important developer of "jazz-funk" with his seminal albums Head Hunters 1973 and Thrust in 1974. Later in the 1970s and early 1980s Hancock took a yet more commercial approach, though he also recorded acoustic jazz with a reunion of the mid-sixties Davis quintet with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard in place of Davis. Hancock was one of the first jazz musicians to use synthesizers.
At its inception, Weather Report was an avant-garde experimental fusion group, following in the steps of In A Silent Way. The band received considerable attention for its early albums and live performances, which featured songs that might last 30 minutes or more. The band later introduced a more commercial sound, most noted Joe Zawinul's hit song "Birdland". Weather Report's albums were also influenced by different styles of Latin and African music, offering an early world music fusion variation. Jaco Pastorius, an innovative electric bass player, joined the group in 1976 on the album Black Market, and is prominently featured on the 1979 live recording . Heavy Weather is the top-selling album of the genre.
In England, the jazz fusion movement was headed by Nucleus, led by Ian Carr, and whose key players Karl Jenkins and John Marshall both later joined the seminal jazz rock band Soft Machine, oft-acknowledged leaders of what became known as the Canterbury scene. Their best-selling recording, Third (1970), was a double album featuring one track per side in the style of the aforementioned recordings of Miles Davis. A prominent English band in the jazz-rock style of Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago was If, who released a total of seven records in the 1970s.
Chick Corea formed his band Return to Forever in 1972. The band started with Latin-influenced music (including Brazilians Flora Purim as vocalist and Airto Moreira on percussion), but was transformed in 1973 to become a jazz-rock group that took influences from both psychedelic and progressive rock. The new drummer was Lenny White, who had also played with Miles Davis. Return to Forever's songs were distinctively melodic due to the Corea's composing style and the bass playing style of Stanley Clarke, who is often regarded with Pastorius as the most influential electric bassists of the 1970s. Guitarist Al Di Meola, who started his career with Return to Forever in 1974, soon became one of the most important fusion guitarists. In Di Meola's influential solo albums, he was one of the first guitarists to perform in a "shred" style, a technique later used in rock and heavy metal playing which uses alternate-picking, tapping, and sweep-picking to perform very rapid sequences of notes.
John McLaughlin formed a highly-regarded fusion band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra with drummer Billy Cobham, violinist Jerry Goodman, bassist Rick Laird and keyboardist Jan Hammer. The band released their first album, The Inner Mounting Flame in 1971. McLaughlin played Gibson EDS-1275 (also used by Jimmy Page), and frequently engaged in extended and fierce soloing duets with Cobham or violinist Jerry Goodman. Hammer pioneered the Minimoog synthesizer with distortion effects making it sound more like an electric guitar. The sound of Mahavishnu Orchestra was influenced by both psychedelic rock and classical Indian sounds that inspired McLaughlin since he discovered it on the radio at the age of 13. The eastern influence was furthered by McLaughlin's spiritual guru, Sri Chinmoy, who also granted McLaughlin the title "Mahavishnu."
The band's first lineup split after two studio and one live albums, but McLaughlin formed another group under same name which included Jean-Luc Ponty, a jazz violinist, who also made a number of important fusion recordings under his own name as well as with Frank Zappa, drummer Narada Michael Walden, keyboardist Gayle Moran, and bassist Ralph Armstrong. This band also had a string trio to back Ponty and a vocalist whose rich voice complemented the strings. The first album by this lineup, Apocalypse, also included the London Symphony Orchestra. McLaughlin was also an original member of drummer Tony Williams' The Tony Williams Lifetime fusion band with organist Larry Young, which existed in several versions between 1969 and 1976 and later included Cream bassist Jack Bruce and guitarist Allan Holdsworth.
McLaughlin also worked with Latin-rock guitarist Carlos Santana in the early 1970s. Santana's San Francisco-based band blended Latin salsa, rock, blues, and jazz, featuring Santana's clean guitar lines set against Latin instrumentation such as timbales and congas. Fusion influences can be heard in Santana's use of extended improvised solos and in the harmonic voicings of Tom Coster's keyboard playing on some of the groups' 1970s recordings. In 1973 Santana recorded a nearly two-hour live album of mostly instrumental music, Lotus, which was only released in Europe and Japan for more than twenty years. Santana also studied under guru Sri Chinmoy, and was granted the title "Devadip".
Other influential musicians that emerged from the fusion movement during the 1970s include fusion guitarist Larry Coryell with his band The Eleventh House, and electric guitarist Pat Metheny. The Pat Metheny Group, which was founded in 1977, made both the jazz and pop charts with their second album, American Garage (1980). Although jazz performers criticized the fusion movement's use of rock styles and electric and electronic instruments, even seasoned jazz veterans like Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Dexter Gordon eventually modified their music to include fusion elements.
The influence of jazz fusion did not only affect America. The genre was very influential in Japan in the late 1970s, eventually leading to the formation of Casiopea in 1976 and T-Square (The Square) in 1978. The younger generations embraced this new genre of music and it gained popularity quickly approaching the early 1980s. T-Square's song Truth would later become the theme for Japan's Formula One racing events.
Music critic Piero Scaruffi has called pop-fusion music "...mellow, bland, romantic music" made by "mediocre musicians" and "derivative bands." Scaruffi criticized some of the fusion albums of Michael and Randy Brecker as "trivial dance music" and stated that alto saxophonist David Sanborn recorded "[t]rivial collections" of "...catchy and danceable pseudo-jazz". Kenny G in particular is often criticized by both fusion and jazz fans, and some musicians, while having become a huge commercial success. Music reviewer George Graham argues that the “so-called ‘smooth jazz’ sound of people like Kenny G has none of the fire and creativity that marked the best of the fusion scene during its heyday in the 1970s”.
Jazz fusion has been criticized by jazz traditionalists who prefer conventional mainstream jazz (particularly when fusion was first emerging) and by smooth jazz fans who prefer more "accessible" music. This is analogous to the way swing jazz aficionados criticized be-bop in the mid-1940s, and the way proponents of Dixieland or New Orleans style "jass" reviled the new swing style in the late 1920s. Some critics have also called fusion's approach pretentious, and others have claimed that fusion musicians have become too concerned with musical virtuosity. However, fusion has helped to break down boundaries between different genres of rock, jazz, and led to developments such as the 1980s-era electronica-infused acid jazz.
Miles Davis continued his career after having a lengthy break in the late 1970s. He recorded and performed fusion throughout the 1980s with new young musicians and continued to ignore criticism from fans of his older mainstream jazz. While Davis' works of the 1980s remain controversial, his recordings from that period have the respect of many fusion and other listeners.
In 1985 Chick Corea formed a new fusion band called the Chick Corea Elektric Band, featuring young musicians such as drummer Dave Weckl and bassist John Patitucci, as well as guitarist Frank Gambale and saxophonist Eric Marienthal. Joe Zawinul's new fusion band in the 1980s was The Zawinul Syndicate, which began adding more elements of world music during the 1990s.
One of the notable bands that became prominent in the early 1990s is Tribal Tech, led by guitarist Scott Henderson and bassist Gary Willis. Henderson was a member of both Corea's and Zawinul's ensembles in the late 1980s while putting together his own group. Tribal Tech's most common lineup also includes keyboardist Scott Kinsey and drummer Kirk Covington - Willis and Kinsey have both recorded solo fusion projects. Henderson has also been featured on fusion projects by drummer Steve Smith of Vital Information which also include bassist Victor Wooten of the eclectic Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, recording under the banner Vital Tech Tones.
Allan Holdsworth is a guitarist who performs in both rock and fusion styles. Other prominent guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen have praised his fusion and rock playing. He often used a SynthAxe guitar synthesizer in his recordings of the late 1980s, which he credits for significantly expanded his composing and playing options. Holdsworth has continued to release well-regarded fusion recordings and tour worldwide on a regular basis. He has often worked with drummers Chad Wackerman, Vinnie Colaiuta, or Gary Husband, who have all released fusion records under their own names. Another former Soft Machine guitarist, Andy Summers of The Police, released several fusion albums in the early 1990s.
Guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell have both made fusion recordings over the past two decades while also exploring other musical styles. Scofield's Pick Hits Live and Still Warm are fusion examples, while Frisell has maintained a unique approach in drawing heavy influences from traditional music of the United States. Japanese fusion guitarist Kazumi Watanabe released numerous fusion albums throughout 1980s and 1990s, highlighted by his works such as Mobo Splash and Spice of Life.
The late saxophonist Bob Berg, who originally came to prominence as a member of Miles Davis' bands, recorded a number of fusion albums with fellow Miles band member and guitarist Mike Stern. Stern continues to play fusion regularly in New York City and worldwide. They often teamed with the world-renowned drummer Dennis Chambers, who has also recorded his own fusion albums. Chambers is also a member of CAB, led by bassist Bunny Brunel and featuring the guitar and keyboard of Tony MacAlpine. CAB 2 garnered a Grammy nomination in 2002. MacAlpine has also served as guitarist of the metal fusion group Planet X, featuring keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Virgil Donati. Another former member of Miles Davis' bands of the 1980s that has released a number of fusion recordings is saxophonist Bill Evans, highlighted by 1992's Petite Blonde.
Fusion shred guitarist, and session musician extrordinaire Greg Howe, a prolific writer, has released numerous highly acclaimed solo albums such as Introspection (1993), Parallax (1995), Five (1996), Ascend (1999), Hyperacuity (2000), Extraction (2003) with electric bass virtuoso Victor Wooten and world class drummer Dennis Chambers, and Sound Proof (2008). Howe combines elements of rock, blues and Latin music with jazz influences resulting in a stylized fusion sound. His records focus is Howe's highly technical, yet very melodic, guitar style that has established him as one of the most innovative guitar instrumentalists of our time and a true guitarist's guitarist. Howe's solo albums have always been laden with musical integrity and have gained a significantly growing audience, as the name Greg Howe has become synonymous with modern musical virtuosity.
Drummer Jack DeJohnette's Parallel Realities band featuring fellow Miles' alumni Dave Holland and Herbie Hancock, along with Pat Metheny, recorded and toured in 1990, highlighted by a DVD of a live performance at the Mellon Jazz Festival in Philadelphia. Jazz bassist Christian McBride released two fusion recordings drawing from the jazz-funk idiom in Sci-Fi (2000) and Vertical Vision (2003). Other significant recent fusion releases have come from keyboardist Mitchel Forman and his band Metro, former Mahavishnu bassist Jonas Hellborg with the late guitar virtuoso Shawn Lane, and keyboardist Tom Coster.
The band Atheist - a groundbreaking progressive jazz metal innovator - produced albums Unquestionable Presence in 1991 and Elements in 1993 containing heavily syncopated drumming, changing time signatures, instrumental parts, acoustic interludes, and Latin rhythms. They used jazz as inspiration for their bass driven rhythm section and applied dynamic variation to resemble soundtracks in their music. Cynic, one of the first progressive jazz metal band hybrid recorded a complex, unorthodox form of jazz-fusion influenced experimental death metal with their seminal 1993 album Focus. Their primary influences soon included jazz and fusion, such as Chick Corea, Allan Holdsworth, Pat Metheny but also Frank Zappa. They sometimes played soft acoustic segments and long instrumental parts, applied synth guitar, fretless bass and a Chapman Stick and interwove this with heavy riffs and syncopated drumming. In 1997 G.I.T. guitarist Jennifer Batten, Glen Sobel (drummer for Tony MacAlpine, Impellitteri, Gary Hoey), and Ricky Wolking working under the name of Jennifer Batten's Tribal Rage: Momentum released Momentum - an instrumental hybrid of rock, fusion and very exotic sounds, including African percussion, Australian didgeridoo, Caribbean steel drums and Scottish bag pipes and other diverse influences and sounds. Jennifer Batten also used a guitar synthesizer, a mainstay in fusion on some tracks. Members of progressive metal band Dream Theater joined bass player Tony Levin formerly from prog rock legends King Crimson and keyboardist Jordan Rudess (who has worked with the prog rockers Dixie Dregs) in a playful, all-instrumental, progressive, fusion-like jam in Liquid Tension Experiment and released their first self-titled album in 1998. Another, more cerebral, all instrumental progressive jazz-metal band Planet X released Universe in 2000 with Tony MacAlpine, Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater) and Virgil Donati (who's played with Scott Henderson from Tribal Tech). The band has had various guests musicians (including Brett Garsed, Billy Sheehan) and blends fusion style guitar solos and highly complex syncopated odd metered drumming equally with the heaviness of metal. Tech prog fusion metal band Aghora formed in 1995 and released their first album, self titled Aghora, recorded in 1999 with Sean Malone and Sean Reinert both former members of Cynic. Their sound incorporates new exotic influences making it a bit jazzier and more oriental sounding than their former band. Gordian Knot another Cynic-linked experimental progressive metal band directed by bass guitarist Sean Malone released its first album Gordian Knot in 1999 which successfullly explores a wide range of styles from jazz-fusion to metal. At times its shifting lineup has included Steve Hackett of Genesis, Bill Bruford of King Crimson and Yes, Ron Jarzombek from Watchtower and Spastic Ink as well as Jim Matheos of Fates Warning, several of Malone's former bandmates from Cynic and John Myung from Dream Theater. Tech prog metal guitarist Fredrik Thordendal (Meshuggah, Fredrik Thordendal's Special Defects) cites Allan Holdsworth as one of his major influences, and can be heard in is playing style, although it has been heavily modified to sound more crazy, abstract and unpredictable to suit the aesthetics of metal.
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