St. Vincent DeJamz: 5-12-14

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A few weeks ago, DeJazz took you on a trip through space and time, introducing you to a plethora of jazz from its beginnings all the way to the modern age. But each of those selections represented only the tip of a very funky iceberg. This mix will explore a subset of jazz, called “fusion,” because of the way it melds the free form of traditional swing or bebop, with the personality and instrumentation of rock or funk. A warning, though: once you know fusion, you won’t think of music the same way again.

1. Miles Davis – “John McLaughlin” – Many consider Davis to be the father of fusion for giving the world this colossal album, “Bitches Brew.” But another key innovator in the burgeoning sound was the man for which this track was named, at the time a young, promising guitarist who would soon take the world by storm.

2. Billy Cobham – “Stratus” – Billy Cobham was rare for being a drummer as well as a sonic innovator. He was the first to develop the left hand lead technique which became a go-to for advanced jazz drummers. He was also another of the forefathers of fusion, with a funk-inspired sound that spawned so much great material. You can hear the bass line to “Stratus” sampled on a number of old hip-hop tracks.

3. Bob James – “Nautilus” – It’s unfortunate that smooth jazz has gotten such a bad rap as of late, but some early examples of it, such as this track by Bob James, speaks volumes about its potential. Another record frequently sampled, check out the mellow Rhodes timbre paired with the now-classic guitar riff.

4. Stanley Clarke – “School Days” – Fusion is certainly a bass-centric genre, which was a huge development for music as recently as the ’70s, after the instrument had long taken a backseat to the more audible members of the band. Stanley Clarke was a true virtuoso, a quality that you see often in jazz instrumentalists. He has such control over his instrument that he can play like a lead guitar, a horn player or fill any number of other roles. “School Days” is his classic from 1976 that still sounds almost new.

5. Petite Blonde – “Two Price Hit” – A bit off the beaten path as far as fusion is concerned, Petite Blonde is a band most notably comprised of Dennis Chambers on drums and Bill Evans on sax. They have an incredible energy on this live album recorded in 1992 in Germany.

6. Thundercat – “It Really Doesn’t Matter to You” – Leading the vanguard of modern fusion is an eclectic and endless list of names and personalities. One who remains outside the jazz snob circle is Thundercat, labelmate on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder Records. Thundercat is a master of the bass approaching Clarke levels, and shouldn’t be missed.