By John Ephland
A music that had its origins not only in the pop and rock of the 1960s, but in the currents that flowed from such areas of jazz as soul, funk and rhythm & blues, fusion as a musical genre emerged during the late ‘60s as jazz-rock. Artists and groups such as Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House, Tony Williams’ Lifetime and Miles Davis led the way, incorporating such elements as electronics, rock rhythms and extended tracks, nullifying much of what jazz “stood” for since its inception, namely, a swing beat, primarily blues-based music whose repertoire included both blues material as well as pop standards.
The term fusion was introduced shortly thereafter to include a variety of bands and individuals that came later, such as John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Chick Corea’s Return To Forever. Throughout, the emphasis on improvisation and musicianship remained constant, linking it and its practitioners with the history of jazz, despite detractors claimed they had “sold out” to commercial interests. In fact, these early experiments, when heard today, sound hardly commercial, challenging the listener to engage in what was music of a highly interactive and developed nature.
During the mid ‘70s, fusion devolved into a variant of easy-listening and/or r&b music with little or no edge, compositionally or from a performance standpoint. As a musical form, jazz musicians reclaimed it as a means to express themselves with authenticity during the ‘80s. Such artists as drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, guitarists Pat Metheny, John Scofield, John Abercrombie and James “Blood” Ulmer as well as veteran saxophonist/trumpeter Ornette Coleman creatively took this music in different directions.Previous Next