Fusion for the jazzily inclined :: Shakti, Brand-X, Return to Forever & Pat Metheny

OK. With not one but two false starts at identifying some jazz fusion music most folks can enjoy, here are a few examples from the genre I really hope you will like … maybe even love.

Remember Shakti :: Lotus Feet

One of my favourite pieces of music in any genre: Lotus Feet. Remember Shakti features renowned guitarist John McLaughlin, a principle and leading member of the legendary and influential fusion ensemble, The Mahavishnu Orchestra as well as the band to which the formation of this one is loving a tribute, Shakti. Here, South Asian intruments, scales and themes fuse with McLaughlin’s gentle acoustic guitar. Absolutely lovely. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Brand-X :: Morrocan Roll :: Disco Suicide (1977)

My rock-n-roll guru, Steve, and I consider Morrocan Roll one of the finest, and probably most unsung albums in the genre. Released the same year as Passport’s Iguacu, and Di Meola’s Elegant Gypsy, it features compositionally deep and broad arrangements of multi-layered themes. The synth is used sparingly and is occasionally a tad thin, but it appears within such a dense sonic space that its sound generally becomes one thread in a timbral tapestry, rather than a disturbing note unto itself.

Disco Suicide has both girth and length, but the the rhythm section, featuring Morris Pert (percussion), Phil Collins (yes, that Phil Collins) and Percy Jones (bass), keeps the arrangement moving along briskly, Meanwhile, the melodious themes developed by guitarist John Goodsall and keyboardist Robin Lumley take you on a jaunty tour of North Africa, like riding the train to Marrakesh.

Return to Forever :: Romantic Warrior :: The Romantic Warrior (1976)

OK. So, you’re going to have to stick with this one a bit, because the keyboard doesn’t introduce the main theme until 2:45. Before you get there, guitar, keys, and a bowed standup bass (isn’t that so much more lovely a timbre than a synthetic sawtooth wave?) take a somewhat random meander through sonic space. However, with the theme established, the band launches into some tasty jazz, with just one thankfully brief interruption by a weak synth timbre. The guitar you may recognise as Di Meola. On bass is Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea runs the keyboards, mostly an electric piano, I believe.

Pat Metheny :: Offramp :: Are You Going With Me? (1982)

Pat Metheny is a bit more difficult to pin a genre on. His most popular music could easily find itself in the so-called smooth jazz category, while two of my favourite albums feature lyrical guitar work with no other instrumental accompaniment — technically, not fusion at all. However, this number certainly belongs in this post. Listen for the synthetic horns. Metheny is playing them on his guitar, connected to a computer/synthesizer by one of those old ribbon cables.

Check the release date again. Yeah, 1982. That was the year the Commodore 64 went on sale. To say the least, Metheny was an early adopter of using computers to digitally process electric guitar ouput.

So…do you like any of these? Do you love at least one? Or, do you hate them all? Let me know, ‘kay? (I’d go all in on Lotus Feet as a winner <smile> )

4 Responses to “Fusion for the jazzily inclined :: Shakti, Brand-X, Return to Forever & Pat Metheny”

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  1. Karen says:

    Unfair :)

    You deliberately posted Lotus Feet first knowing that it would be extremely hard to NOT love it….And I do…And I need to have it
    I awoke early, stumbled into the kitchen, sat back, coffee in hand, eyes closed and this one transported me…love the subtleness and smoothness of it all….Mmm….massage….this one is massaging my soul, very meditative, I can happily add this one to one of my morning chill lists.
    (I can see the corners of your mouth turning into the hint of a smile) 1 to you. (you know I’m being flippant here, don’t you?)

    No.2 – again, a little too frenetic for my untrained jazz fusion ear. I can’t dissect the chaos I hear in it, but loved the piano. Your description of a train ride through Marrakesh is apt

    No. 3 – I really liked this one, even surprizing myself! I could distinguish the instruments and had no trouble riding the rhythm from one theme to the next. Loved the guitar work, and the stand up bass is…stand out – around 4.30> then the guitar kicks in around 5.30…nice

    No. 4 – A clear winner, but I’m probably biased as (believe it or not!) I have this one and quite a bit more Pat Metheny, ironically, a gift from same friend who bored me all those years ago with jazz fusion 7 nights per week (interspersed with what I call traditional jazz)
    I love the vid as well, and think this one is a must to add to my roadtrip lists
    Y’know, I’m thinking that my tunnel vision in not liking jazz fusion is due largely to the fact that I was bombarded with a heap of it, when I was moving towards Blues way back then, so I didn’t really give it a chance

    So, 3 out of 4 thumbs up from me….I think I’m about to be inducted into the Patrick Jennings “Jazz Fusion Appreciation Society” , albeit a probationary member :)

    Now, a confession (and a sheepish one at that!)

    I knew I had the “Between Nothingness & Eternity” CD in a box somewhere and on further investigation and rifling through many old CD’s I not only retrieved that for listening to today, but also Apocalypse – didn’t even realise I had it, and obviously purchased and never listened to! Guess what I’m doing today?

    Thanks Patrick :)

  2. Patrick says:

    A confession of my own:

    I’ve owned a few Mahavishnu Orchestra albums over the years, and haven’t yet found one that moved me enough to play more than once every now and again. That’s also true with Spyro Gyra, Weather Report and (gasp!) Miles Davis. Go figure.

    Brand-X, however, I can listen to several of their albums over and over. Metheny, Shakti, Stanley Clarke omg Stanley, Santana, Steely Dan…

    Now…as for the music here.

    1> Lotus Feet was my sure thing. It’s not strictly speaking jazz fusion, but nestles in alongside the genre well enough to be inclusive, and John McLaughlin is one of very few guitar gods of fusion.

    2> Yeah, there’s a lot going on with this song…tempo changes and time signature changes. The melodic line trades off between several lead instruments. Intertwining themes. Very complex. I can understand that Disco Suicide might take some listening time to find the thrill in it.

    When I first encountered it in 1979, I was also being bombarded with a whole variety of music new to me, and eating it all up. What thrills me about the dense complexity of this music is that every time I listen to it, there’s some new element to unearth and enjoy.

    For me, Disco Suicide really kicks in at about 1:04 leading with the bass crescendo before the piano lights up the main theme.

    3> It’s interesting that you “get” The Romantic Warrior and not Disco Suicide. I’d think the latter is more ‘accessible,’ as we often say about sophisticated music that’s difficult for an unaccustomed ear to find pleasure in.

    4> Metheny has released a lot of music that’s very easy to listen to, even for those who say, “I don’t like jazz of any sort.” So, it doesn’t surprise me he’s found a way into your playlist.

    On the other hand, Offramp offers some selections I’m guessing wouldn’t make it onto your iPod. In fact, I find the title song pretty much unlistenable.

    I’m glad I got you on 3 out of 4…given a chance, I think you’d find the charms in the fourth, as well. ;)

  3. Stephen Guy says:

    “Yes, I’ll have the comment with spam, spam, spam, and a side of spam”
    Sorry I’m just here to ‘mess up some walls’.
    Well anyway, Pat thank you for attempting to introduce someone or anyone to any of these fine offerings. This music is that of, for Pat and I, “Talking ’bout my generation”… we came up in that time of the electric ‘push the rock envelop’ into the territories of Classical and Jazz musical diciplines or values.. the value here was the ambition to be MORE than just a rock guitarist… or maybe, it was a Jazz musician who wanted MORE than to be that unknown acoustic bass player in a trio in a hotel ballroom… when electified, intensified, sped up like Bach on 78 rpm, he could capture that rock stadium hero worhip position… maybe for a season… and disc sales!
    Fusion… Jazz rock… classical rock… it was a time of aspiration to propel playing ablility to higher heights, to bring the popular music audience to the new appeal of the musician’s values… like the American Abstract Impressionists introducing the painter’s values to the populace…
    ok gotta go

    • Patrick says:

      [smile] And those, folks, are the words of the man who brought this genre to my attention. Having managed to turn myself on to progressive rock while still in high-school, Steve had already plonked down several boxes of vinyl on the floor of our dorm room when I entered it for the first time at Rochester Institute of Technology.

      I’m pretty sure the sound system and speakers were the first things he unpacked. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if something fusion wasn’t the first to get spun on his turn-table (though I rather think it was probably Black Sabbath, Paranoid).

      Thanks for sharing, Steve. =)

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