The Best of 2008, Part 3: Rock Fusion & World Fusion Jazz

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photo: Rueters (R.I.P. Esbjörn)

by Pico

With the best releases of the more mainstream type of jazz examined, it’s time to take a look at jazz hybrids, or fusion. In years past,”fusion” usually meant just jazz-rock fusion. Increasingly, even jazz-rock music has become more fragmented, as we’ve seen an explosion of electro-acoustic jazz that adorns advanced modern jazz with an accouterments of electronic effects, sampling and instruments. And what was once soul-jazz is now called acid jazz.

Furthermore, this year I’ve had the opportunity to take in a lot more world fusion than before. Thus, a truly well-rounded fusion list needs include those internationally-flavored jazz releases, too.

In fact, it’s a world fusion album that won the prize over all other fusion records this year:

Best CD Of The Batch: Akoya Afrobeat – President Dey Pass

Continuing in the tradition of Afro-Beat pioneer Fela Kuti, Akoya Afrobeat is a collective of baker’s dozen’s worth of musicians from all over the world, and the international flavor shows up in the music: African and Latin rhythms, American funk, Jamaican reggae, British Canterbury jazz-rock, and a smidgen of other worldly styles. This is a band that’s loose and fervent, full of great musicians like guitarist Ryan Blotnick and saxophonist Cedric ‘Im Brooks. They keep the sound grounded and organic, meaning it’s the best party record you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying.

Fusion doesn’t have to be fun, but it sure helps. The high fun factor on Akoya Afrobeat’s President Dey Pass is what puts this CD above all the other fusion records this year.

Best Song Of The Batch: Garaj Mahal – “Semos”

This is one of those fusion songs that make you shake your head in disbelief. I mean, how does the guitarist and bass player pull off that quicksilver unison line so cleanly? How does the keyboardist lays down such diabolical analog synth figures? And manage to keep it all locked down to a funky, tight, evershifting groove? It’s just sick, I tell ya.

The icing on the cake is that guitarist, Fareed Haque, invoking Pat Martino on his solo turn. You gotta know what the hell you’re doing if you’re going to reach that high, and Haque does it and does it all well in the pocket.

It’s the immense talents of every single group member that makes this tune sparkle, though. “Semos” ain’t no wimpy tune and Garaj Mahal ain’t no wimpy band. Muscular fusion is fine, but the added kick of being funky and melodious makes it the complete rock-fusion song.

Best Of The Rest:

Pete RobbinsDo The Hate Laugh Shimmy: Fusion with the smarts and subtleties of modern jazz.
Dave Douglas & KeystoneMoonshine: An intelligent blend of live and studio; electro and acoustic; traditional and future jazz.
Francisco MelaCirio: Mela electrifies the crowd with further advances in Afro-Cuban jazz.
AzymuthButterfly: Still the kings of Brazilian jazz-rock fusion.
Garaj Mahalw00t: Return To Forever has reunited, but their rightful heirs are already in place.
Esbjörn Svensson TrioLeucocyte: Mr. Svensson leaves us just as he was taking e.s.t. into exciting, uncharted territory.
Pork PieTransitory: A lost 1974 classic of trans-Atlantic fusion finally sees the digital light.
Dixon-Rhyne ProjectReinvention: If you buy just one soul-jazz release from 2008, here’s what you get.
Brian Blade FellowshipSeason Of Changes: Brian Blade needs to make Fellowship records much more often.
Jovino Santos NetoAlma do Nordeste: Proof that great Brazilian music started long before Jobim.
Sam BarshI Forgot What You Taught Me: Barsh didn’t forget what good, mellow fusion sounded like before it morphed into smooth jazz.
Lucia PulidoWaning Moon: Can one really effectively meld traditional Columbian music with advanced jazz? Oh yeah.
Steve Reid Ense
: Reid returns to his adopted Africa to make some groove-heavy jams.
Nik Bärtsch’s RoninHolon: Bärtsch calls it “ritual groove music.” Works for me.

Next: Whack Jazz…

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