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Any Major Fusion Vol. 1

March 15th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

It began with Miles Davis and broke down with Kenny G. Jazz Fusion, and the various guises in which it revealed itself, began with the experimental fusion of jazz and rock of Davis’ 1968 album Miles In The Sky. The likes of John McLoughlin, Herbie Hancock, Al Di Meola, Chick Corea, Bob James and so on continued in that avant garde vein. But other, more funk and soul oriented musicians, emerged in the 1970s, and many of the avant garde crowd also contributed to the rise of the more accessible form of fusion, the kind that would be saddled with the horrible moniker “smooth jazz”.

And it’s from the tradition of that horribly monikered “smooth jazz” that this compilation draws, with the intention to rehabilitate the genre, and to reclaim it from the generic and often utterly dull rubbish that also goes by the horrible (but in their case entirely apt) moniker. Be assured that there’s also some unsmooth material by people like Oliver Sain and Bill Summers, plus a great jazz-disco number by veteran saxophonist Houston Person (and check out his phallocentric LP cover; will the lady blow it?).

There is nothing wrong with smooth. Marvin Gaye was smooth. Many great things are smooth. Smooth can be bad. Kenny G is smooth and bad. Gerald Albright is smooth and dull. But in his day, Grover Washington Jr was smooth and great.

Many of the fusion greats were session musicians. And many great session musicians would play on their colleagues’ records. I would wager that the jazz fusion scene was the most racially integrated genre in modern music.

Dave Grusin is probably most famous as the Oscar-winning composer of film scores (he wrote the music for films such as Tootsie, The Milagro Beanfields, The Fabulous Baker Boys and The Firm), but through his GRP label, he fostered much great jazz. His beautiful Anthem International features Lee Ritenour on guitar and Steve Gadd on drums. You’ll have heard Gadd’s drumming: on Steely Dan’s Aja, perhaps, or on Paul Simon’s One Trick Pony (which also featured guitarist Eric Gale), or you might have seen him on DVD, backing Simon & Garfunkel in Central Park and Eric Clapton at Hyde Park.

Gadd also appears on Grover Washington’s East River Drive, alongside the great percussionist Ralph McDonald (who also produced the album it comes from), the brilliant bassist Marcus Miller (who played with Ritenour on Tom Browne’s Funkin’ For Jamaica), keyboard player Richard Tee (whom you’ve also seen on Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park; but just check out his amazing list of credits, accumulated before his death at 49) and Eric Gale.

Meanwhile, Hugh Masekela guests on Eric Gale’s equally gorgeous Blue Horizon, and Earth, Wind & Fire turn up on Ramsey Lewis Whisper Zone (whose keyboard solo reaches a note that might shatter crystal). EWF’s Maurice White also co-produced Roy Ayers’ Everybody Loves The Sunshine.

The Montana Sextet aren’t very famous, though the Heavy Vibes single did fairly well. They were led by and named after Vincent Montana Jr, founder of the Salsoul Orchestra and percussionist of Philadelphia International’s houseband MFSB. The man’s credits are dizzying.

We encounter Joe Sample in this mix as a member of The Crusaders, but also as the composer of Blue Mitchell’s catchy Asso-Kam, on which he also did keyboard duty.

All but two of the acts on this mix are American; quite by chance, the exceptions are the opener, Iceland’s Mezzoforte, and the closer, Sadao Watanabe, who is Japanese – and whose track features Dave Grusin, Ralph McDonald, Richard Tee and Steve Gadd.

I had been planning to do this mix for a long time. And when I was toying with the idea, I always had in mind a fellow blogger, Arnel of The Best of Both Worlds blog, a great fan of fusion. Sadly, I procrastinated too long: Arnel died last July 21. His final piece was about Jimmy McGriff, posted the day he died. So this mix is dedicated to Arnel’s memory.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and comes with homebrewed front and back cover.

 TRACKLISTING:
1. Mezzoforte – Garden Party (1983)
2. Montana Sextet – Heavy Vibes (1982)
3. George Duke – Brazilian Love Affair (1979)
4. Ramsey Lewis – Whisper Zone (1980)
5. Spyro Gyra – Morning Dance (1979)
6. Tânia Maria – Come With Me (1982)
7. Blue Mitchell – Asso-Kam (1973)
8. Eric Gale – Blue Horizon (1981)
9. Dave Grusin – Anthem Internationale (1982)
10. Grover Washington Jr. – East River Drive (1981)
11. The Crusaders – Keep That Same Old Feeling (1976)
12. Oliver Sain – London Express (1975)
13. Bill Summers & Summers Heat – Brazilian Skies (1977)
14. Houston Person – Do It While You Can (1977)
15. Roy Ayers – Everybody Loves The Sunshine (1976)
16. Sadao Watanabe – Nice Shot (1980)

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  1. rob
    March 15th, 2012 at 17:19 | #1

    ANOTHER GREAT IDEA FOR A THEMED COLLECTION- AND TO THINK I’D NEARLY FORGOTTEN FUSION (MUCH MALIGNED AS IT IS). ON GO THE FLIP FLOPS, INTO THE FLAT TOP AND OFF FOR A BEACH DRIVE! SUMMER CAN’T BE FAR AWAY! …. and thanks for all the brilliant tangents you explore

  2. March 16th, 2012 at 18:54 | #2

    “It began with Miles Davis and broke down with Kenny G.”

    No truer words have been written. Kenny G. broke a lot of things.

  3. Geoviki
    March 24th, 2012 at 03:20 | #3

    Great mix, as usual. You’re the only other person I know who’s a Tania Maria fan, and of course I adore Sadao Watanabe…but he predates the rest of my Japanese music fixation by a good 30 years. I learned some great sax tunes just by playing along with him on my crappy horn.

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