(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")
Arguably, the foundations for the success and the evolution of fusion jazz
came from the pianists raised in Davis' ensembles:
Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Joe Zawinul.
Chicago's pianist Herbie Hancock was perhaps
the ultimate synthesis of the fusion movement, cross-breeding jazz with
everything from rock to hip hop.
After Takin' Off (may 1962), a hard-bop effort that featured
Dexter Gordon on sax and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and included his
Watermelon Man and Empty Pockets,
and My Point of View (march 1963), a more original take on hard-bop (Blind Man Blind Man) for a septet with trumpeter Donald Byrd, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, trombonist Grachan Moncur, guitarist Grant Green, bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Tony Williams,
Hancock was hired by Miles Davis. In the trumpeter's
quintet, Hancock developed an "orchestral" style of accompaniment and a passion
for labyrinthine variations on a melodic theme.
Hancock's more experimental side and his passion for Latin jazz came out on Inventions and Dimensions (august 1963), an improvised jam with bassist Paul Chambers and two Latin percussionists (Succotash, Mimosa).
A more traditional trumpet-based quartet (Hubbard, Williams, Ron Carter on bass)
sculpted the four lengthy tracks of Empyrean Isles (june 1964),
including his signature funky theme Cantaloupe Island and the
14-minute bustling jam The Egg.
By magnifying the point where hard-bop meets modal jazz and free jazz,
Hancock had coined his own language: impressionistic, cerebral, sophisticated
and sometimes even danceable.
Adding saxophonist George Coleman to the quartet, the elaborate pieces of
Maiden Voyage (may 1965), namely Eye of the Hurricane,
the eight-minute Maiden Voyage,
the nine-minute Little One and
the nine-minute Dolphin Dance,
turned that language into an archetype,
one that somehow resonated with the zeitgeist, expressing a sort of fantastic and graceful neurosis, almost an antidote to psychedelic ecstasy.
While the atmosphere was mostly mellow and soothing,
the ten-minute Survival Of The Fittest added a sense of poignancy.
Hancock also composed the score for Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blow Up (november 1966), another figment of the zeitgeist, employing a large band
(including Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Phil Woods on alto, Joe Henderson on tenor, Jim Hall on guitar, Ron Carter on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums)
and playing organ.
But in those years he was mostly busy with Miles Davis.
Despite boasting three horns (flugelhorn, bass trombone and alto flute),
Speak Like A Child (march 1968) focused on the "uneventful" (mellow) component of Hancock's new style and on his
piano playing (the other instruments acting like mere wallpaper).
After ending his five-year tenure with Davis in 1968, Hancock penned a mournful tribute to Martin
Luther King, The Prisoner (april 1969), through five lengthy pieces
scored for a nonet (basically, the previous sextet plus three more winds,
tenor sax, bass clarinet and trombone),
as well as a soundtrack for the cartoon show Fat Albert Rotunda (december 1969), notable as his first venture into lively rhythm'n'blues and funk music.
Now based in California and converted to Buddhism, Hancock
formed a sextet with trumpeter Eddie Henderson, trombonist Julian Priester, reed player Bennie Maupin, drummer Billy Hart and bassist Buster Williams, that allowed him to vent his secret passions: flirting with rhythm'n'blues and rock music, toying with electronic keyboards. Mwandishi (december 1970) the funky 13-minute Ostinato and the laid-back ten-minute You'll Know When You Get There By comparison, Julian Priester's 21-minute Wandering Spirit Song was a wild beast, spanning both free jazz and fusion jazz.
Hancock's attention to tone and texture resulted in his musicians alternating
between different instruments.
Crossings (november 1972) featured a full-time synthesizer player, Patrick Gleeson (in addition to some electronic keyboards played by Hancock himself), an experiment already tried by Paul Bley. Hancock's haunting 25-minute five-movement suite Sleeping Giant was influenced by progressive and psychedelic rock, but added danceable, funky overtones. Bennie Maupin contributed two abstract, ethereal pieces, Quasar and Water Torture, that exploited the textural qualities of the keyboards and of the trumpet in the opposite direction, not narrative but atmospheric.
Hancock's blend of modal jazz, free jazz and fusion jazz was far more versatile than any of the three styles by itself, as each the three styles of the three tracks of Sextant (february 1973) proved: the twenty-minute Hornets was another dense, dynamic narrative juggernaut, while Hidden Shadows showcased the funk element (in a 19/4 meter) and Rain Dance indulged in pure ambience.
Roughly the same sextet recorded two albums credited to (and mostly composed by) Henderson, Realization (february 1973) and Inside Out (october 1973).
Hancock's funk alter-ego eventually won: Headhunters (october 1973), inspired by Sly Stone's psychedelic funk music but heavily electronic in nature, and performed by a new quintet with Maupin (playing several woodwinds), a bassist and two percussionists, created a sensation with its unabashed dance rhythm and front-stage synthesizers. It became the biggest selling jazz record yet, thanks mainly to the 16-minute Chameleon.
On Thrust (august 1974) Hancock seemed more interested in exploring the latest technological innovations than in playing music, but, besides three stereotyped electronic funk tracks, he also penned the eleven-minute Butterfly, one of his most romantic themes.
Despite his commercial sell-out, Hancock was eager to participate in nostalgic operations such as V.S.O.P. (1977), the Miles Davis Quintet (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Tony Williams) minus Davis himself, replaced by Freddie Hubbard, and Quartet (july 1981), i.e. the Miles Davis rhythm section (Hancock, Carter, Williams) plus Wynton Marsalis on trumpet.
Their retro albums of acoustic jazz set the trend for the 1990s. Ironically, Hancock, who had pioneered electronic fusion (and was still cashing in on his invention), ended up also pioneering the neo-traditionalist movement.
Bill Laswell employed Hancock on three electronic albums the industrial-tinged Future Shock (august 1983), the African-tinged Sound-System (1984) and the digital funky Perfect Machine (1988). The first one was notable for the single Rockit, that featured scratching and de facto introduced hip hop to jazz and viceversa.
The best project of the decade was probably the least publicized, Village Life (august 1984), a duet between Hancock on electronic machines and Gambian kora player Foday Musa Suso, particularly the twenty-minute Kanatente. Other jazz musicians had mixed jazz and West-African music, but Hancock added his electronic and funk background, i.e. the temporal contrast of ancient and modern.
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Boston's white pianist Armando "Chick" Corea
moved to New York
in 1961 and cut his teeth in Latin-jazz combos. He rapidly transitioned from the
hard bop of Tones For Joan's Bones (december 1966), also released as Inner Space, with the lengthy Litha and Straight up and Down (Woody Shaw on trumpet, Joe Farrell on flute and tenor saxophone, Steve Swallow on bass, Joe Chambers on drums),
to the free jazz of Now He Sings Now He Sobs (march 1968), with Steps Now He Sings Now He Sobs, in a trio with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes.
Corea used Bud Powell's style as a launching pad but expanded it with a
lyrical, chromatic, percussive and fibrillating technique.
After collaborating with Stan Getz on Sweet Rain (1967), Corea was hired by Miles Davis to replace Herbie Hancock on electric piano.
After leaving Davis, Corea formed Circle, a quartet with avantgarde saxophonist Anthony Braxton, double-bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul. The Gathering (may 1971) contained only one 42-minute Corea composition, the title-track, and each of the four members played multiple instruments. Circle was exploring the boundaries of free jazz and classical avantgarde, and Braxton would make an entire career out of that idea.
At first Corea continued that exploration of extremely free forms with Is (june 1969), mainly taken up by the 29-minute Is, and Sundance (may 1969), both in the company of trumpeter Woody Shaw, flutist Hubert Laws, tenor saxophonist Bennie Maupin, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette and a second drummer, and with The Song of Singing (april 1970) and A.R.C. (january 1971), both in a trio with Holland and Altschul, although the material was often uneven and inconclusive.
But then he pulled back from the brink of the abyss of the avantgarde.
He penned two volumes of Piano Improvisations (april 1971), including
Sometime Ago, the eight-movement suite Where Are You Now and
(on the second volume) the five-movement A New Place,
that were romantic and impressionistic.
He devoted a collaboration with vibraphonist Gary Burton,
Crystal Silence (november 1972), to melodic chamber jazz.
And he formed one of the pioneering fusion bands, Return to Forever, with
Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim, reed player Joe Farrell,
bassist Stanley Clarke and Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira, and
rediscovered his Latin roots. Return To Forever (february 1972)
introduced a new standard of light jazz via the melodic
Return To Forever, the oneiric Crystal Silence, and the
23-minute medley of Sometime Ago and the effervescent La Fiesta.
Light as a Feather (october 1972) was even more relaxed (bordering on
balladry) and included
Light as a Feather,
500 Miles High and one of Corea's most famous compositions,
Spain (basically a rewrite of Steps).
Compared with the other fusion bands of the time, this first version of
Return To Forever displayed more of a spiritual than an earthly tone.
The rock element was kept in the background, overwhelmed by a neoclassical
But the sound changed dramatically on Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (august 1973), recorded by a Return To Forever that was a rocking (and not so much
Latin) quartet with Corea on electric keyboards, Clarke, electric guitarist
Bill Connors (specialized in the distorted sound of psychedelic rock) and
drummer Lenny White. The influence of Herbie Hancock and the Mahavishnu
Orchestra was felt in Captain Senor Mouse and Space Circus.
With the virtuoso guitarist Al DiMeola replacing Connors, Clarke coining a funky style at the electric bass and Corea embracing the synthesizer, Return To Forever cut the very popular trilogy of
Where Have I Known You Before (july 1974), with the 14-minute Song to the Pharoah Kings,
No Mystery (january 1975), with the Celebration Suite and No Mystery,
and the medieval concept Romantic Warrior (february 1976),
with Romantic Warrior and Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant,
that mimicked British progressive-rock of the early 1970s both in sound and
MusicMagic (february 1977) was a Return To Forever album only in name because
it featured a 13-piece orchestra and vocals (and no electric guitar)
In the meantime Corea was flooding the market with erratic recordings, ranging from the gargantuan The Leprechaun (1975), that included The Leprechaun, to My Spanish Heart (october 1976), featuring vocals, synthesizer, string quartet and brass section, that included the multi-movement suites El Bozo and Spanish Fantasy.
Corea's classical ambitions surfaced unabashedly on
Quintet No 2, performed on Live in Montreaux (july 1981) by a quartet with Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Gary Peacock on bass and Roy Haynes on drums;
the acoustic Three Quartets (february 1981) with tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Steve Gadd;
Quintet No 3, that appeared on Again & Again (march 1982);
Duet Suite, off Duet (october 1978), his second collaboration with Gary Burton;
the seven-movement Lyric Suite for Sextet (september 1982), for piano, bass (Burton) and a string quartet;
the five-movement Septet (october 1984);
and Piano Concerto, performed on Corea Concerto (april 1999) by a symphony orchestra and jazz trio (Origin).
In 1985 Corea formed the Elektrik band with virtuoso electric bassist John Patitucci, drummer Dave Weckl and a guitarist, indulging himself in the synthesizer. The band peaked with Inside Out (january 1990), that contained the 20-minute four-movement suite Tale Of Daring. This project was followed by its antithesis, the Akoustic Band, a traditional jazz trio with Weckl and Patitucci. Lacking memorable compositions, their albums mainly highlighted the virtuoso playing of the bassist and the drummer.
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Pennsylvania-born pianist Keith Jarrett moved to New York in 1965. After stints with Art Blakey and Charles Lloyd, Jarrett formed his own trio with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian
(Ornette Coleman's rhythm section),
that recorded Life Between The Exit Signs (may 1967) and Somewhere Before (october 1968). Having proven his passion for the styles of Bill Evans and Paul Bley, besides a familiarity with Ornette Coleman's free-jazz idiom, Jarrett was briefly hired by Miles Davis in 1970 to play electric keyboards. After leaving Davis' group and after the piano-vibraphone collaboration Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett (july 1970), composed almost entirely by Jarrett (Fortune Smiles, The Raven Speaks), he returned to acoustic keyboards.
In 1971 he made three sessions that set the standard for the rest of his career.
The first session of his quartet with Haden, Motian and tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman (the "American Quartet") was documented on three albums: The Mourning of a Star (july 1971), containing the nine-minute The Mourning of a Star (without Redman), Birth (july 1971), with Spirit, and El Juicio (july 1971), with Gypsy Moth and the free-form jam El Juicio.
The second session, Expectations (october 1971), collapsed their talents into lyrical reinventions of Latin jazz (Common Mama), jazz-rock (Take Me Back) and free jazz (the 17-minute Nomads).
His first solo acoustic piano album, Facing You (november 1971), was more articulate in defining his eclectic and visionary personality, that already absorbed influences ranging from gospel to classical music via cool jazz and free jazz, and metabolized them thanks to a melodic and visceral talent for filling the musical space like a living orchestra (In Front, My Lady My Child, Lalene).
The double-LP In The Light album (february 1973), collecting various chamber pieces, including a 21-minute Brass Quintet, a 16-minute String Quartet and the 19-minute Metamorphosis for flute and string orchestra, offered the first clue to Jarrett's neoclassical ambitions.
Luminessence (april 1974) contained Jarrett compositions for saxophone (Garbarek) and string orchestra, notably Luminessence and Numinor, that hardly belonged to the jazz (or classical) tradition.
The American quartet delivered the live Fort Yawuh (february 1973), with the 13-minute Misfits, the 18-minute Fort Yawuh and the dramatic 12-minute De Drums, while
the triple-LP Solo Concerts (july 1973) documented two completely improvised solo concerts, each more than one hour long. His ensemble work may have been intriguing, but these colossal improvisations were unique. They created a warm, soothing ambience and organic structures out of the mutation and replication of minimal gestures, a musical example of self-organization and emergent properties.
The American quartet recorded Treasure Island (february 1974), with The Rich And The Poor, while Belonging (april 1974) inaugurated the "European Quartet", formed with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen, and devoted to less intense and less cerebral music (Blossom, Solstice).
The American quartet, now augmented with Brazilian percussionist Guilherme Franco, cut Death and the Flower (october 1974), mainly devoted to the 23-minute suite Death and the Flower, Backhand (leftovers from the same session), Mysteries (december 1975), that contained the 15-minute free-form jam Mysteries and Shades (december 1975), with Shades Of Jazz.
The double-LP of The Koeln Concert (january 1975) perfected his style of solo improvisation, transforming the stream of his tense, introverted, semi-philosophical ruminations into static zen-like spiritual meditations, and became one of the best-selling jazz albums of all times, besides foreshadowing the boom of new-age music.
On the neoclassical front, Arbour Zena (october 1975) contained abstract music for strings and jazz improvisers (Jarrett, Garbarek and Haden), notably the 27-minute Mirrors.
The 32-minute piano sonata Ritual (june 1976) tried to decouple Jarrett
the composer from Jarrett the performer (he doesn't play it), emphasizing the
pensive and sentimental elements of his art.
Back to the quartet,
Jarrett played piano, soprano sax, bass flute, celesta and percussion on the 48-minute The Survivor's Suite (april 1976) that seemed to bring together his three personas: the jazz ensemble player, the avantgarde classical composer and the solo piano improviser. The composer crafted the stately architecture, the ensemble breathed life into it and the improviser injected a soul into it.
The live 33-minute Eyes of the Heart, off the three-sided LP Eyes of the Heart (may 1976), was a loose corollary to the Survivor's Suite.
However, Jarrett's interest in the American quartet (without Franco) was fading, as proven by the lack of Jarrett compositions on Bop-Be (october 1976) and Byablue (same session).
His solo albums also became too self-indulgent. The suites of
Staircase (may 1976), namely the three-movement Staircase, two-movement Hourglass, three-movement Sundial and three-movement Sand, were languid and uneventful.
The nine-movement Spheres for pipe organ, off
Hymns & Spheres (september 1976), was baroque and redundant.
The ten-LP Sun Bear Concerts (november 1976), containing five
improvisations (each a double-LP), was more megalomania than music.
The European quartet, with its folkish overtones, became the best vehicle for Jarrett's intimate lyricism starting with My Song (november 1977), that included the romantic theme of My Song but also the supernatural atmospheres of Questar, Tabarka, Mandala and The Journey Home.
Their live Nude Ants (may 1979) further stretched the temporal dimension
with the 17-minute Chant of the Soul, the 20-minute Processional, the 30-minute juggernaut Oasis, New Dance and Sunshine Song, pieces that seem to float rather than flow.
The new solo effort, Invocations/ The Moth and the Flame (november 1979), contained Invocations, a seven-movement suite for pipe organ and saxophone (both played by him) recorded in an abbey to take advantage of the acoustics (an idea popularized by Paul Horn), and The Moth and the Flame, a five-movement suite for grand piano.
The triple-LP Concerts (may 1981) returned to his favorite live improvised format.
His interest in classical music increased over the years, leading to
The Celestial Hawk (march 1980), a three-movement concerto for piano, percussion and orchestra,
Book of Ways (july 1986) was a studio album of clavichord studies.
Bridge of Light (1994) collected
Elegy for Violin and String Orchestra (1984),
Adagio for Oboe and String Orchestra (1984),
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1984)
Bridge of Light for Viola and Orchestra (1990).
He wasted a trio (the "Standards Trio") with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette on collections of jazz standards (the first one in 1983).
The trio rarely performed Jarrett originals, but, when it did, they ranked
among his most challenging works, such as
the 30-minute Flying, off Changes (january 1983),
the 15-minute Endless, off Changeless (october 1987).
Solo improvised concerts of the latter days included
Dark Intervals (april 1987),
Paris Concert (october 1988),
Vienna Concert (july 1991),
La Scala (february 1995),
and, after a long hiatus due to illness,
Radiance (october 2002).
The Standards trio finally delivered some innovative music with the live recordings Inside Out and Always Let Me Go (2001) that contained lengthy free-form jams such as From the Body, Inside Out and 341 Free Fade (on the former) and the 40-minute Hearts In Space on the latter.
Jarrett's "fusion jazz" rarely fused jazz with rock or funk, but it was still
a fusion of jazz with other genres, namely folk and classical music.
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Philadelphia's pianist Alfred McCoy Tyner
played on the Jazztet's Meet The Jazztet (1960) and
joined John Coltrane for My Favorite Things (1960).
While being introduced to Eastern philosophy and scales in Coltrane's group,
Tyner lived a parallel life in a more conventional post-bop piano-based trios
that played lightweight bebop: b>Inception (1962), with bassist Art Davis and drummer Elvin Jones, highlighted by the youthful ebullience of Effendi, or Reaching Fourth (1963), with bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Roy Haynes, containing Blues Back. The exceptions to the trio dogma were few, although often more creative, for example Contemporary Focus and Three Flowers, Tyner's lengthy compositions on Today and Tomorrow (1963), performed by a sextet (alto saxophone, John Gilmore on tenor-saxophone, Thad Jones on trumpet, bass and Elvin Jones on drums).
After leaving Coltrane, Tyner proved to be a much more innovative musician,
translating Coltrane's visceral style into his own bebop-bred language.
The Real McCoy (april 1967), for a quartet with tenor-saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Elvin Jones, was entirely composed by him and contained intense pieces such as the ballad Contemplation and the modal and polyrhythmic Passion Dance.
Having acquired confidence in his compositional skills, Tyner embarked in a
personal odyssey of textural exploration.
Scoring for a nonet (Lee Morgan on trumpet, Julian Priester on trombone, James Spaulding on flute, Bennie Maupin on tenor saxophone, plus French horn, tuba, bass and drums) on Tender Moments (december 1967), particularly Man From Tanganika,
helped sharpen his vision.
The quartet of Time for Tyner (1968) with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Herbie Lewis and drummer Freddie Waits helped the vision cohere,
particularly in African Village.
Expansions (august 1968) was the first mature statement of the new style,
boasting four lengthy intricate pieces performed by a septet (trumpeter Woody Shaw, altoist Gary Bartz, tenorist Wayne Shorter, cellist Ron Carter, Lewis and Waits): the vibrant Vision, the Eastern-sounding Song of Happiness, the convoluted Smitty's Place, the melancholy Peresina.
The miscellaneous double LP Cosmos (july 1970) added two innovative pieces, the eight-minute Asian Lullaby and the 13-minute Forbidden Land, for a sextet of piano, flute (Hubert Laws) oboe (Andrew White), saxophone (Gary Bartz), bass and drums.
The sextet of Extensions (february 1970), featuring tenor/soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter, altoist Gary Bartz, harpist Alice Coltrane, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Elvin Jones, pushed the "orchestral" quality of the sound, that had been building up since the nonet session, to an higher degree while hinting
at distant echoes of Africa and Asia, particularly in
the 12-minute Message from the Nile (half way between modal jazz and John Coltrane's style) and the blistering, 13-minute Survival Blues.
These albums shared some of the concerns with space and time of contemporary
The same format (four lengthy pieces) was repeated on Asante (september 1970), although the line-up of piano, alto, guitar, bass and drums, augmented with African and Latin percussion, was less colorful. The 14-minute Malika used vocals to increase the link with ancestral Africa, while the 14-minute Fulfillment was the first significant display of Tyner's uncontrollable urge.
That massive, dense, percussive, chromatic style that released clusters of chords like shrapnel, became the trademark of Sahara (january 1972).
If previous recordings had tried to create an orchestral effect by toying with
the timbres of the instruments (such as harp and cello), Tyner was now achieving the same effect simply by pushing the limits of the piano.
The quartet with saxophonist/flutist Sonny Fortune, Tyner doubling on flute and percussion, bassist Calvin Hill (doubling on reeds) and drummer Alphonse Mouzon (also doubling on reeds) performed the transition from the old, abstract and impressionistic, sound to the new, visceral and explosive, sound of the 23-minute Sahara.
The African and East Asian elements were now fully amalgamated.
Song for My Lady (1972) contained two sessions, one (november 1972)
with the same quartet (that produced Song for My Lady)
and one (september 1972) with an expanded line-up
(Charles Tolliver on flugelhorn, Michael White on violin and a conga player besides the quartet) performing the longer Native Song and Essence.
Ostensibly a tribute to Coltrane, the solo piano album Echoes of a Friend (november 1972) actually had a centerpiece, the 17-minute The Discovery, that showed how different his style was from the master's.
Coltrane may have been the influence to achieve such a degree of intensity,
and to integrate exotic elements, but the spiritual angst of the master was
replaced by a vital energy of the opposite sign.
Tyner tested the limit of his compositional skills on the music for large ensemble of Song of the New World (april 1973).
He then applied the lesson to the more manageable format of the
saxophone-based quartet for the three-movement suite
Enlightnment and the 24-minute Walk Spirit Talk Spirit,
off the live Enlightnment (july 1973).
Sama Layuca (march 1974) again expanded the format to an octet to take advantage of a broader palette of timbres (vibraphone, oboe, flute, Latin percussion), at the same time setting his modal explorations to an insistent rhythm, the result being the ebullient texture of Paradox.
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