The Best of 2009, Part 3: Fusion Jazz

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by Pico

I was going to start off this year’s version of the Fusion Jazz list by explaining what exactly we are calling “fusion jazz,” until I recalled that I already attempted to define it last year. And looking back, it seems so damned convoluted. So disregard that: if it’s at least somewhat jazz and it’s not traditional/modern jazz and it’s not whack jazz, it’s fusion. Period.

Within this broad guidelines, a lot of new records we examined in the last year fall within the “fusion” moniker, and a large majority of those I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. There’s even a few that I didn’t get around to reviewing, but regretted not doing so. The list below is going to be a long one, and one dominated by relative newcomers. Heck, one of those newcomers made what I consider the best fusion record of the year. There’s also a few well-known acts that didn’t make the list, like the Corea/McLaughlin project Five Peace Band; not because they were bad records, but were often victims of higher expectations. If you’re not familiar with some of the names, just click through the links in most cases you’ll get the whole Something Else lowdown.

With a Steve Smith drum roll, here are the selections:

Best CD Of The Batch:
Ede Wright – Earthbound Gravity

This time last year I didn’t know who Ede Wright was, but this Atlanta-based guitarist Ede Wright came from nowhere to take the prize. A in-demand session player, Wright’s playing style is fluid and fleet without being overly showy. He can swing and rock with equal authority. What’s more, he writes compositions that showcase these abilities well while paying attention to harmony and melody, knowing that for most listeners, the song itself has to be compelling to hold their attention. Even covers, such as a stirring version of Bjork’s “Army Of Me,” is transformed into a sizzling, shuffling tune that Wright discovers all sorts of bop possibilities out of what was originally dark, industrial rock. “Funk In Five” is literally a rare groove, one in 5/4 time. “Noche Besso” shows Wright to be a skilled texturalist, too, and his crack three piece band leaves no sonic voids.

The self-released Earthbound Gravity is one shining example where the do-it-yourself ethic triumphs over big names and big labels.

Best Song Of The Batch: Chris Potter Underground – “Facing East”

Chris Potter put out a fine record with Ultrahang, but one track stands above the others. “Facing East” is a multiple phase jam with an aggressive solo by guitarist Adam Rogers, punctual electric piano work by Craig Taborn and Potter himself switching between tenor sax and bass clarinet pouring out thoughtful, in-the-pocket notes. This is a song composed by creating in the moment, much as straight jazz is done, but with a healthy infusion of modern grooves.

Potter has long been a top saxophonist in the rough and tumble NYC scene, but edgy cuts like “Facing East,” I would surmise that he’s not anywhere near resting on his laurels.

Best Of The Rest:

Joe Higham & Al OrkestaWhere Are We Now?
: Jazz shrewdly blended with ancient and modern music from all over Europe and the Middle East. Higham has imagination, and the know-how to bring his wild ideas to fruition.
Build An ArkLove, Part 1: I missed BAA’s second album Dawn altogether and nearly missed this one, their third(?). But it’s pretty clear they haven’t lost the mojo of that righteously trippy first album.
Eva Scow & Dusty BroughSharon By The Sea: This is precisely the kind of record that makes defining “fusion” an exercise in futility. But it’s easy to describe this folk/bluegrass/jazz/Brazilian/classical/etc. record in glowing terms.
Ada Rovatti Green Factor: Rovatti can play a mean sax, but she also has the vision to pull off a very successful merging of fusion with Celtic music forms.
Fabrizio Bosso/Francesco Bearzatti/Eivind Aarset/Aldo VigoritoAbout A Silent Way: Made by Europeans, for Europeans, this clever rearranging of the chords from the songs from the Miles Davis classic In A Silent Way is very hard to find on these shores. But well worth seeking out.
John ScofieldPiety Street: Scofield tackles gospel and like everything else he tackles, he brings the wood.
RudderMatorning: A supergroup of super sessionists and sidemen lives up to the potential.
Jon HassellLast night the moon came dropping its
clothes in the street
: New age? Nah. Hassell takes his “Fourth Wave” concept to places new age would never dare go.
Medeski, Martin & WoodRadiolarians II: Sharper and more focused than Radiolarians I, this is the best MMW in many years.
OHMphreyOHMphrey: Turns out there were a lot of synergies in this merger of two bands.
East West QuintetVast: A tight, tough NY jazz unit makes a successful transition to a tight, tough NY jazz-rock unit.
Chris Potter UndergroundUltrahang: Potter’s fusion is immediate, aggressive, funky and yet remians fimrly rooted in jazz sensibilities.
Oz NoySchizophrenic: This is one funky, fun record.
Vital InformationVitalive!(reissue): An early live document from drummer maestro Steve Smith’s fusion outfit gets retrofitted with some skillful remastering.
Bobby PrevitePan Atlantic: Previte goes for evocative textures and and an old-school jazz-rock vibe with some fresh European talents.
Jacques Schwarz-BartAbyss: Most likely the best world fusion record of 2009.
Tom GullionCarswell: Gullion makes a very listenable record using principles often applied to avant garde jazz.
Garage A TroisPower Patriot
: A lineup change doesn’t disturb this groove.
The Worst Pop Band EverDost Thou Believeth In Science?: A bunch of delightful jazz subversives north of the border who revel in adding an edge to pop melodies.

Next: Mainstream and Modern Jazz…

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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