“Fusion jazz” is one of my favorite genres because it can encompass the intelligent, episodic prog rock of Guapo, forward-thinking world fusion of Maira Marquez or plain fun instrumental music of Rock Candy Funk Party. Yet, they’re all tied together by a sense of adventuresome and above-average musicianship. The ten chosen here score especially high in those areas and some of these are even inventive.
The diversely talented guitarist John Scofield revisits fusion jazz with a vengence, this being one of his main areas of expertise. It’s just too good to leave off the list on a technicality of being released two days after the first half of the year.
Most of the other winners are by little-known acts who managed to edge out quite good records from the likes of Kevin Eubanks and The Yellowjackets, records I’d still recommend. But these choices below are the cream of the crop at the top of 2013, in no particular ranking or order. Click on the nested links in the titles to get the full reviews…
John Scofield – Überjam Deux: This is funky fun that’s not even close to being lightweight. It’s the rare sequel that lives up to the hype generated by the original installment.
Steve Jenkins and the Coaxial Flutter – Steve Jenkins and the Coaxial Flutter: Jenkins keenly leverages fusion ideas from classic Jeff Beck all the way to David Fiuczynski but this ain’t no retro music. He’s always looking forward by also pulling in ideas from all across the current landscape of modern, edgy music. Jazz-rock of the future.
Koby Israelite – Blues From Elsewhere: Illustrates what a fertile ground the blues can be for avant-garde artists looking to flex their creative muscles into unfamiliar territory. The thing is, Koby Isrealite makes it seem so familiar, like these crazy hybrids were meant to be.
Dave Haskell Group – Pivot Point: There are no filler; the only moments found here are the good ones. While nothing about Pivot Point is groundbreaking, records as solid as this one are just as hard to find. Haskell may have put away his wings, but he’s still soaring.
Kendrick Scott Oracle – Conviction: What makes this truly great is the coherency, depth, and yes, purpose. Just because an album is spiritual doesn’t make it great, but Scott has solved the puzzle on how to apply the power of spirituality into great music that cuts across genres and temperaments
Maria Marquez – Tonada: Marquez shows how reaching back to the rich, under-appreciated rich heritage of Venezuelan music can be pushed forward and made relevant in the 21st century.
Troy Roberts – Nu-Jive 5: Roberts combines an old feel with inspiration from fresh sources, and then throws in enough creases to give the music depth and lasting attractiveness. This is the rare fusion jazz record that excels in all facets of fusion.
Rock Candy Funk Party, featuring Joe Bonamassa – We Want Groove: A record that lives up to the name of the band playing it, We Want Groove is fusion party music that perfectly captures the spirit of when such party music made jazz so much fun for non-jazz fans to listen to.
Sean Nowell – The Kung-Fu Masters: Many sparks are created from two opposing forces: a rhythm section is often moving between 70s style fusion and 21st century electronica while the horn section roots itself firmly in the soulful hard bop tradition of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers or the 60s version of the Jazz Crusaders.
Guapo – History Of The Visitation: In the wide field of instrumental or progressive rock, these are the guys at the part of the spectrum who seem least concerned about commercial impact. That’s the very reason why fans of the purer, more adventurous forms of the style should be paying close attention to them and their latest album.