And now for the final installment of my first-ever, mid-year assessment of what are the best records we’ve covered here on SER. This time, we survey that murky hybrid world called “fusion jazz.” And whenever I think everything’s been done that’s could ever be done in fusion, an artist or record comes along to prove me wrong. There’s been plenty of examples of that just in the first six months of this year, and such records tend to find their way onto my list. I also give high marks to those that tap into the spirit of the vintage 70s fusion, and a few of those records are feted below, too.
As with the first three parts, these eleven fusion jazz selections are unranked and chosen without trying to hit a quota of a certain number of slots (although eleven sure seems to be a pretty nice round number most of the time). The only criterion used is that these were ones I thought stood out above the rest for one reason or another. Click through the titles for the complete reviews …
Spectrum Road – Spectrum Road: Here is a supergroup that actually lives up to the billing, making their debut album the rock-jazz event of the year. And Tony Williams’ legacy gets a long overdue upgrade.
Henry Cole and the Afrobeat Collective – Roots Before Branches: Because Cole does such a bang-up job blending Afrobeat with other strands of music, he broadens the appeal without diluting it.
Manuel Valera – New Cuban Express: Too electric for mainstream jazz and too sophisticated for smooth jazz, Valera’s New Cuban Express figured out how to lay down a modern groove in a way that doesn’t compromise artistry.
Metallic Taste Of Blood – Metallic Taste Of Blood: Metal-dub-fusion from a collaboration of forward-thinking musicians who have all proved it well before joining this ensemble and with their self-titled debut, they’re are already justifying a long-term existence.
Jeff Lorber Fusion – Galaxy: The Jeff Lorber Fusion is not just back in name, it’s back in the music, too. Lorber reasserts his old school self to the delight of his original fans.
Steve Smith and Vital Information – Live! One Great Night: Vital Information has shown once again that seriously elaborate fusion jazz created and performed by seriously good studio musicians can be delivered on stage with compulsion and freakish fun.
Animation – Agemo: A re-mix of a recreation of Bitches Brew manages to cast Miles’ classic Bitches Brew compositions in a fascinating, 21st century light.
Justin Walter – Stars: An unusual mixture of modern creative jazz and experimental indie rock, Walter makes jazz fresh again by annexing bits of contemporary music and various odd sources into it.
Cory Wong – Quartet/Quintet: Wong not only made an album blending a half dozen or so kinds of styles, but also utilized two distinct approaches to performing it. He succeeds with either method.
InterStatic – InterStatic: A fresh take on the venerable organ/guitar/drums format, performing thinking man’s rock-jazz that doesn’t require anyone to strain their brains in order to appreciate it.
Daniel Freedman – Bamako By Bus: Call it jazz fusion, ethnic fusion, Cuban, African or whatever you want, this record succeeds in what Freedman was trying to accomplish: to colorfully and artistically flesh out the musical melting pot he hears in NYC.