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Old Fusion…… New Fusion

By Brian l. Knight


Lookin’ for some of the best in jazz fusion from yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Here’s the shortlist

Miles Davis 

Trumpeter Miles Davis and his fusion experiments are best known with his 1969 double album Bitches Brew.  What is less known is that Bitches Brew was simply the beginning of a long string of albums that pushed the envelope of what was perceived as modern jazz.  Two such post Bitches Brew efforts were 1972’s On the Corner and 1974’s Big Fun and Get Up With It.  These three albums have been recently re-released by Columbia-Legacy and even though the album’s funky tones did achieve critical applause at the time of their release, their influence today is more than obvious.   All three albums featured veterans of the Bitches Brew sessions – guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist Dave Liebman, keyboardist Joe Zawinul , drummer Billy Cobham,  bass clarinetist Bennie Maupin, keyboardist Herbie Hancock, keyboardist Chick Corea, tabla player Badal Roy, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.  This short list of musicians would go on to play in classic 1070s fusion groups such as Headhunters, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Weather Report as well as today’s bands, Impure Thoughts and Jazz is Dead.  On the Corner was Miles Davis’ most overt response to the funk explosion that was occurring nationwide.  It was jazz answer to Blaxploitation with its urban cover and Sly and the Family Stone bass driven beats.  The most memorable aspect of this album is the use of loops.  Through songs such as “Black Satin,” “One and One” and “Helen Butte/Mr. Freedom X”, Davis provides a feeling of incessant grooves, thanks to the assistance of producer Teo Macero’s loops.   Although released in 1974, Big Fun is a collection of songs written and recorded between 1969 and 1972.  The 2000 re-release of Big Fun features four tracks that were only available on the Bitches Brew Box Set - “Recollection,” “Trevere,” “The Little Blue Frog” and “Yaphet.”  Similarly, Get Up With It is a collection of songs recorded between 1970 and 1974.  The album has some great funk pieces such as the Brazilian influenced “Maiysha” and “Honky Tonk” but also contains the thirty-two minute atmospheric requiem, “He Loved Him Madly” which was a tribute to the recently deceased Duke Ellington.  The most interesting aspect about Get Up With It, is that the famed trumpeter plays a raunchy organ throughout the sessions.  Dave Leibman, who played flute throughout the On the Corner and Get Up With It recordings, spoke of the albums’ legacy in the 2000 reissue: Get Up With It was a work in progress from a fearless creator, going his own way and bringing everyone along with him.  Surely, he was being influenced by sounds around him at this time but also exerting his own way of doing things as was always true with Miles.  No wonder that now as we listen, it is clear how the music from this period has had a big influence in recent years.  When I was there playing it, I had little idea of what we were doing and I remember both audiences and musicians alike scratching their heads in wonderment……..there is no question that he was on the cutting edge in this first half of the 1970s, a position that he had been in for several decades already.” 

If there is one common theme amongst all of these three albums, it is Davis’ trademark sparingly solos, the use of repetitious vamps, multi-layered percussion, and bombastic bass lines.  There was an obvious nod to the Afro-American urban grooves at this time but at the same time Davis was also nodding to the music of other cultures.  The most notable examples were tabla player Badal Roy, sitarist Khalil Balakrishna, and percussionists Mtume and Airto Moreira, who provided multi-cultural sub-grooves throughout these sessions.  Besides these albums contributions to the cross over between jazz and rock & roll, the real impact of them was their eventual influence on modern music.  Davis’ use of samples ushered in a new age of music.  Even though sampling is a regular part of today’s musical lexicon, it was a new and initiated musical technique in the 1970s.  In his autobiography, Davis explained the duality between reaching the black population and attaining musical innovation: “I had begun to realize that some of the things Ornette Coleman had said about things being played three or four ways, independently of each other, were true because Bach had also composed that way.  And it could be real funky and down.  (On the Corner) was a combination of some of the concepts of Paul Buckmaster, Sly Stone, James Brown and Stockhausen.  The music was about spacing, about free association of musical ideas to a core kind of rhythm and vamps of the bass line.  It was with On the Corner and Big Fun that I really made an effort to get my music over to young black people.” 

Jaco Pastorious

From a recording point of view, bassist Jaco Pastorious is best remembered for six legendary years with the fusion group, Weather Report as well as the countless bootleg live recordings that have made into the mainstream.  Culturally, Jaco Pastorious will be remembered as a jazz musician that was highly regarded by punks, folkies, hippies, and metal heads.  Stylistically, he will remembered for redefining the way that the sound of the jazz bass guitar.  Jaco single handedly elevated the bass player from a traditional role of rhythm maker and into the spotlight as a band’s lead instrument that could play harmony and melody.  Technically, he use of the fretless bass has been unmatched.  Tragically, he also will be remembered for dying penniless and in the gutter. 

However, before he all too early departure from this earth, Jaco left a legacy of innovation and this legacy begins with his debut album.  Featuring a vast array of musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Hubert Laws, Lenny White and Don alias, Jaco’s debut recording The records opens with a short and sweet version of Miles Davis’ “Donna Lee” which highlights Pastorious in a duet with a percussion player Don Alias.  The soft and subtle intro gives way to the disco-funk “Come On, Come Over.”  For “Continuum,” the mood assumes an electronic ambience feel while “Portrait of Tracy” has Jaco all alone on the electric bass and the island calypso blues of “Opus Pocus” is the perfect meeting of the sounds of both Weather Report and the Headhunters.  With Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock sitting in, it is easy to see why.  In a 1978 interview, Clive Williamson, a BBC radio journalist, talked to Jaco about some of the songs on the album.  This is what he head to say: “ Oh, you should just listen to the whole album!  Listen to 'Opus Pocus' and 'Continuum'... and 'Portrait of Tracy' is a thing with harmonics, if you know what that is about?  I'm playing all this harmonic stuff--and this is the first time it was ever done--is on this solo album.  The whole tune is played using nothing but harmonics, and only on one bass, but it sounds like five guys!  So you gotta check it out!” Those words were spoken like a man who loves music more than anything in the world.

For the tunes “Kuru/Speak Like a Child,” and “Forgotten Love,” Jaco teamed up with Herbie Hancock as well as a full stringed orchestra for an exploration into numerous African grooves, traditional jazz pieces, and funky beat.  In the liner notes to the 2000 re-release, guitarist Pat Metheny spoke of Jaco: “Jaco at his best, as on this record, defines what the word jazz really means.  Jaco used his own experiences, filtered through an almost unbelievable originality informed by a musicianship as audacious as it was expansive, to manifest into a sound through improvisation a musical reality that illuminated his individuality.  And besides all that, he simply played his ass off – in a way that was totally unprecedented on his instrument, or ANY instrument for that matter.”

The Mahavishnu Orchestra

If there is one band that easily define the jazz-fusion sound it would have to be the Mahavishu Orchestra.  Consisting of guitarist John McLaughlin, violinist Jerry Goodman, keyboardist Jan Hammer, bassist Rick laird and drummer Billy Cobham, the Mahavishnu Orchestra went far beyond repetitive vamps, funky licks and rock &roll backbeats to make their music fuse.  With McLaughlin and Goodman trading ferocious solos song after song, the Mahavishnu Orchestra was more like hard-rock meets jazz than anything else.  After the tremendous success of 1971’s The Inner Mounting Flame, the Mahavishnu Orchestra came out firing with their second album, Birds of Fire.  Before these two albums, McLaughlin had already output his stamp on the fusion movement with his performances on Miles Davis albums such as Bitches Brew and Tribute to Jack Johnson as well as Tony Williams’ Lifetime and the early rock group, the Graham Bond Organization.  Before the Mahavishu Orchestra, violinist Jerry Goodman played with jazz-rock group The Flock while drummer Billy Cobham had played on Miles Davis’ fusion as well.  Jan Hammer’s impact on fusion would follow his time with Mahavishnu – he would go onto play in the great eclectic bands of Jeff Beck.  The members of the Mahavishu Orchestra definitely had a rock kneeling in their music, but by no means were they strangers to the jazz idiom.  Their collective resume consisted of Davis, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, and Sarah Vaughn – only Jerry Goodman came from a full-blown rock & roll background.    One only needs to hear the opening salvo of “Birds of Fire” or the interplay of “Miles Beyond” or “Open Country Joy” to realize that the Mahavishu Orchestra was a band for fans of Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer as much as it was for fans of Miles Davis. (The tune “Sanctuary” which features intense soloing by all five members is no different than the Grateful Dead or Allman Brothers amidst a “The Other One” or “Mountain Jam”, respectively).  The album’s slow point arrives with "Thousand Island Park" which is a acoustic ballad featuring only the trio of McLaughlin, Hammer and Laird.  The song may be slow but the music is still fantastic.  In addition to the music itself, the album stands out as the recording signifies the first time that Cobham used the double bass drum and Hammer the synthesizer – two future trademarks for these two musicians.   In a 1972 Downbeat Magazine article, a reviewer (who misidentified McLaughlin as Mahavishnu) describes the band’s performance at the Winterland Theater in San Francisco: “Mahavishnu opened: "We would like to dedicate our music to the Supreme Lord, the Supreme Musician," and what followed was straight-on playing. The qualities were starkly apparent: these men are virtuosos, and they are true artists. Whereas so many groups, even if competent, betray a commercial perspective, the Mahavishnu Orchestra conveys the feeling that they have transcended "practical" mundane considerations.”  Just as this reviewer immediately felt the higher mission of the Mahavishu Orchestra’s live sound, I think any listener can find the same goals within Birds of Fire.  The album obviously is a staple in playing abilities but there is also the sense of spiritual attainment. 

The Living Daylights

Seattle’s Living Daylights say they are a trio, but they are never afraid to increase their ranks.  Two years ago at the High Sierra Festival, they joined with the Slip to create an all out improvisational sextet.  For their new album, Electric Rosary (Liquid City 2000), the legendary guitarist Bill Frisell augments the trio.  Frisell has one of the most unique guitar voices in jazz today.  In an earlier interview with the Vermont Review, guitarist John Scofield said the following about Frisell, “He’s somebody who changed the way I play music and play the guitar. ….Getting to play the same music with him really influenced me a lot, and I’m glad I know him. He’s magic.”  When Frisell nestles up with the already exciting sounds of the Living Daylights, the resulting sound supercedes magical. 

‘Pike or Pine”, “Pine” and the title track all have Middle eastern touches while “Get Bone A Fide” and “I Dare You” are both upbeat funk tunes.  Both tunes not only have Frisell jamming out some wicked solos, but they also highlight Jessica Lurie’s saxophone which has the spiritual passion of Coltrane, the lyricism of Sonny Rollins and the in your face partying of Maceo Parker.  On “Mayakovsky’s Smile”, Frisell’s trademark yet very subtle guitar style helps lay down a great dancing groove.  The song is signature Living Daylights: at first listen, the song seems like a basic extended groove but closer scrutiny reveals subtle counter melodies, syncopated percussion and exploratory solos.  The guitarist for the Slip, Brad Barr, spoke about  the Living Daylight’s bassist. Arne Livingston: “(He is) definitely a total individual. You hear him play, it is just Arne – no one else sounds like that. What he has to offer is a gift. Playing with him is definitely a huge thrill. He fills up the space. …………I think he is a master of setting up textures and cushioning people. His soloing is exceptional too but his strong point is setting up textures.”

When listening to Electric Rosary, you know that you are listening to a group of musicians who are not only near instrumental virtuosos but also consummate songwriters who thrive to create a full, robust, polyrhythmic and textured sounds.    In an earlier interview with the Vermont Review, bassist Arne Livingston took a stab at a question about describing the Living Daylights sound: “….another thing I like to say is that we don't have a style, we have a sound. We "sound" like the Living Daylights, which is a big style-stew.”  After hearing the Middle East rhythms, the slow blues grooves, the funky backbeats, the avant-garde stretches and everything else on Electric Rosary, Livingston could have not been closer to the mark.  The band comes from a common background of traditional jazz but they throw in everything they have learned along the way to create a stellar Living daylights “stew.”  or

The Porterhouse Quintet

In the land that has promoted two avant-garde groove bands such as Rockin’ Teenage Combo and the Living Daylights, the Porterhouse Quintet is less focused on the far out side of fusion and more on the down and dirty boogaloo jams.  Keyboardist Joey Porter had already shown his panache for grooving heavy with the band Five Fingers of Funk.  Porter is joined by Josh Cliburne (tenor and alto sax), Derek Sims (trumpet, flugelhorn), Micah Kassell (drums, percussion), and Sean Foote (bass) and their debut album, Thumbs Up Little Buddy, is an amazingly produced foray into the world of horn inflected, Hammond B-3, massively syncopated and always polyrhythmic dance til you drop grooves.  With three songs, "Juicy,” “Marination” and "Steak Sauce Part 1 (Bring on the Sauce),” the band shows the quintessential relationship between funk and food.  Just look to Jack McDuff, the Meters and Lou Donaldson for other great funky culinary pieces.  The Porterhouse Quintet picks it up right where the Greyboy All-stars left off, and fill a boogaloo.   Unlike the Greyboy All-Stars, the Porterhouse Quintet is proud with the fact that “No guitars were used in the making of this album."  It seems that the guitarist is an essential instrument to today’s funk, jazz and jam bands.  The Porterhouse Quintet shows that it is far from the case.

Fat Mama – Loadstar

This album, which is officially titled Load”*”, 8, 1 but is easier to be referred to as Loadstar, is yet another installment from the great cataloguers of live jam band music at Phoenix Media.   This release is especially special considering the fact that Fat Mama was the “Best New Groove” at this year’s inaugural Jammys.  Fat Mama winning this award is particularly encouraging for Fat Mama is not remotely close to being a Phish or Grateful Dead clone, which is often associated with jam bands.  With Fat Mama’s control of hip-hop ambient sampling, 1970s Miles Davis funk, avant-garde jazz and progressive rock, it goes to show that Jam Bands go well beyond “noodling.”  This album is recorded at the Theater 99 in New York City during May of 2000 and the recording is a great look into the instrumental proficiencies of the ban members.  For “Bloodborne Pathogens,” Eric Deutsch is a madmen with the electronic keyboards with Joe Russo (drums) and Jonti Siman (bass) throwing down a vicious rhythm line.  For “Knucklehead,” Kevin Kendrick takes control of the turntables and introduces a urban trance groove  in which Jon Gray (trumpet, trombone) and Brett Joseph (saxophone) provide relaxing solos.  “The Kichel Stomp” is Fat Mama’s take on the sounds of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, which breaks down into an avant-garde sampling mélange.  This breakdown eventually gives way to some classic swinging soul-jazz with “Road Derby” that highlights guitarist Jonathan Goldeberger’s ability to play accompanying rhythms as well as taking a vicious solo that finds a home amongst the solos of Carlos Santana, James “Blood” Ulm76er and John McLaughlin.  “Rusty Trombone” is an in-your face brass piece that would make Steven Bernstein of the Sex Mob drop his jaw in amazement.  The band got their name from an 1970s Herbie Hancock album but since their creation, Fat Mama has gone much further than any funk-jazz revival.  With traditional jazz arrangements, ambient electronics, endless dance grooves and cacophonous breakdowns Fat Mama has attained a musical style that they truly can call their own.  It is a fusion of all styles.  In a March interview with the Boston Phoenix, Erik Deutsch described the Fat Mama sound, "We try to push the sonic envelope to create cool tones, gigantic soundscapes, new textures, and waves of layers."  Well, after listening to Loadstar, you will hear that the band lives up to their words.

Ray’s Music Exchange – Alivexchange

When you hear the name of Ray’s Music Exchange, one  may think about the great scene from the 1980s movie, The Blue Brothers, where the Jake, Elwood and company arrive at Ray’s Music Exchange (You know the place – its where Murph and the Magic tones purchased the amplifiers that were upholstered with thick red shag).  The scene culminates with the tune “Shake a Tail Feather” that has Ray Charles leading the way on the keys.  As for the present day band, Ray’s Music Exchange, there is an obvious  homage to the great movie and its cast, but musically, this band goes way beyond simple R&B influenced blues.  Consisting of Paul Hogan (electric piano, organ, clavinet), Matt Hawkins (percussion) Jason Smart (drums), Brad Myers (guitar) and Joe McLean (guitars), Nick Blasky (bass) and Michael "Mad Dog" Mavridoglou (trumpet), Ray’s Music Exchange came together in 1997 in Cincinnati, where many of the band members were attending the  University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music.  Ray’s Music Exchange’s debut album is Alivexchange, which was recorded from two nights of shows at Ripley's Alive in Cincinnati.  With the albums capturing of the different faces of Ray’s Music Exchange - a little bit of Miles Davis’ On the Corner, Sun Ra, James Brown and many others, Alivexchange won the Cincinnati Music Awards 1999 Album of the Year.  Sometimes the music is cerebral and at other times, it is all about danceable grooves.  In addition to their own collection of Latin, funk, free-jazz and groove songs, a typical Ray’s set will features versions of Miles Davis’ “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down”, “Milestones” and “Bitches Brew”, the Meters’ “Cissy Strut”, Frank Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” and the Mahavishnu Orchestras’ “Miles Beyond”.  This is why their music appeals to both the jazz fans and the groovers alike.  In a 2000 Interview with Downbeat magazine, the now departed Hogan described the band’s musical mission: "Our concept of music is that it's a very open-minded type of situation, involving many stylistic ideas that ultimately affect an eclectic unity……and Ray's is founded on exploration in the search of unity. Every one of us is bringing ideas from different places, and an important part of our music is trying to find who we are as individual musicians and as a group."

In another interview with, the band took a stab at describing their sound:”….It is a mixture of compositional and improvisational music that has a variety of styles and sounds. It is hard to be truly objective when describing what you do from the bottom of your heart and soul. It is music you should listen to and try and describe it to a friend.”  A good answer to a question that most musicians hate to answer.  However, when you listen to Ray’s Music Exchange on their album and how they transform from percussive ambient groves to collective improvisation to Latin funk, you will realize that the music is coming from deep inside.

Fat Dragon

When listening to various world jazz beats and rhythms of Fat Dragon’s Dream After a Large Lunch (Pomegranate Records, 2000), there is a little doubt that the core members (bassist Jonathan Robinson and keyboardist Greg Burk))of the group studied under the great world music innovator, Yusef Lateef.  For the last 50 years, Lateef has combines jazz, avant-garde, funk, rock and roll and the music of all cultures for his countless projects.  Now some of his students are carrying the torch. 

After leaving UMASS, Burk and Robinson met up with percussionist Mathias Kunzli, drummer John Babu and saxophonist/flautist Eric Erhardt.  Between the Berklee and New England Conservatory education of Kunzli and Erhardt and Babu’s road experience, a band of superior musical vision and sound came to fruition.  With Erhardt’s masterful soprano saxophone playing and Burk’s funky Rhodes notes, the sounds of Headhunter’s era Bennie Maupin and Herbie Hancock immediately come to mind.  But instead of in your face, funky backbeats of Headhunters, Fat Dragon slows the pace down to an almost In A Silent Way mode.  Babu, Kunzli and Robinson lay down heavy and steady rhythms in which Erhardt and Robinson are able to take the music in any direction imaginable.  This can be heard with the first two tunes “Italian Scallion” and “Inchworm.”  For “Bottomless Box,” Robinson picks up the flute and with Kunzli’s polyrhythmic percussion work, Fat Dragon head to the Caribbean for some island dancing rhythms.  The title track, written by Babu, provides an almost trance groove while albums longest cut, Burk’s nine minute “Look to the Lion” is a multi-themed excursion into tribal rhythms and the song is great spotlight on the various percussive abilities of the Swiss born Kunzli.  One of the albums most interesting cuts is “Dharma from Metropolis”, which is not only the album’s only collective songwriting effort but it is also a great foray into dancing backbeats and a hip hop vibe similar to that of Lake Trout.  There are have been two albums that have captured the slow deliberate jazz funk of the 1970s: Michael Wolff’s Impure Thoughts and Fat Dragon.  They are both CDs that will remain in my rotation for months to come.

Tuscan Groove

Similar to Fat Dragon, Tuscan Groove came together at UMass Amherst.  Unlike Fat Dragon’s  nod to In A Silent Way, Tuscan Groove’s music is a bit of New Orleans influenced, rhythm driven funk thrown in with tight progressive-like jams.  It is a bit of Pink Floyd space jams and vocals and it is a whole lot of progressive chord changes.  The band consists of Matt Wasley (Guitar, lead vocals), Doug Lubowitz (Guitar, vocals)-Mike Fitzpatrick (Bass), Brian Factor (Drums) and Matt Elkin (Percussion).  Besides some impressive original songs such as the impressive 14 + minute groove “The Road” and “Hopfest”, which is a workout between funky licks and progressive interludes, Tuscan Groove is also known for some inventive covers such as “Tangled Up in Blue”, “Day Tripper” “Cool It Down” “Shakedown Street”, and “Obscured By Clouds”.  Tuscan Groove’s debut album, Swingin', Tryin' to Work It Out, may be the only snapshot that one gets out of this talented band for their playing has been shelved for over a year now!!  Hopefully, Tuscan Groove will not end up like another western Massachusetts eclectic groove sensations, yeP!  Both bands posses the ability to capture large scale audiences, but in yeP!’s case, there were apparently greener pastures to be sought out.  Only Tuscan Groove knows their own fate.

Ernest Ranglin – Modern Answers to Old Problems (Telarc Jazz, 2000)

To the fans of Jamaican music, guitarist Ernest Ranglin requires little introduction.  Born in Manchester, Jamaica in 1933, Ranglin first learned the banjo and ukulele and than moved on to the guitar.  As a youth, he played dance bands throughout Jamaica and all over the Caribbean. Ranglin is definitely a jazz guitar player.  He is a student of the playing of Charlie Christian, Tal Farlow, and Barney Kessel and he played with Sonny Rollins during his 1961 tour of Europe.  Throughout the early 1960s, Ranglin was a fixture at Ronnie Scott's Club in London where he became an overnight hit.  Despite these jazz inclinations, Ranglin made more of an impression on the world music scene than within jazz circles. 

One of Ranglin’s biggest distinctions is that he is considered the father of Ska music.  The late 1950s tune ”Shuffling Bug” is considered the first Ska tune.  The song's syncopation laid down the framework for the New Orleans R&B explosion led by Lee Dorsey, Fats Domino and the Meters.  In addition, the fast paced rhythm would help lead to the development of 1990s bands such as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bim Skala Bim and Perfect Thyroid.  During the 1970s, Ranglin toured with Jimmy Cliff’s band and in 1973, he was awarded the Order of Distinction in 1973 for his musical contributions to Jamaican culture.  During this same period, Bob Marley asked Ranglin to be his teacher/mentor for guitar playing but Ranglin turned it down in order to keep recording in the studio. As a studio musician, Ranglin’s touch can be heard on the Melodian’s “Rivers of Babylon” and the Wailer’s “It Hurts To Be Alone.”

Although Ranglin has been recording since the late 1950s, his playing has come to the spotlight in the 1990s as he has shown an incredible vision in combining music styles.  1996 saw the release of the album Below The Bassline which took classic Jamaica tunes like the Abyssinians' “Satta  Massagana”,  Toots and the Maytals' classic “54/46 (was  my number)”, the Mighty Sparrow’s "Congo Man" and added his own touch.   In 1998, he recorded In Search Of The Lost Riddim with the African superstar Baaba Maal and his band, Daande Lenol.  For Modern Answers to Old Problems, Ranglin touches on many of the styles that he has come across in his fifty years of playing.  The album has characteristics of Calypso, Ska, Blues, Reggae, Funk, and Jazz, with Ranglin’s melodic guitar always paving the way.  When listening to him, Ivan Boogaloo Jones,  Wes Montgomery, Bob Marley, Charlie Christian, and James “Blood” Ulmer  come to mind, and Ranglin captures all those individual’s styling.  The tunes “Memories of Senegal”, "Swaziland” and “Outernational Incident” are incredibly funky.  The titles and the polyrhythmic funk both direct to Ranglin’s fascination with the music and culture of Africa.  Throughout the album, there is a sense of world-consciousness on the album as well as an enlightening Afro funk groove.

For his band, Ranglin has some of the best in Afro-Funk grooves.  Drummer Tony Allen is a member of the Brooklyn Funk Essentials while Allen and Chris Franck (percussion, guitar) played with the present day African superstar Fela Kuti.  Keyboardist Joe Bashorun played with Annie Lennox for her “MTV Unplugged” date  as well as playing funked up acid Jazz with Ronny Jordan and Tony Remy.   British saxophonist Courtney Pine, who has been leading an African/jazz/hip hop/acid jazz movement in the British Isles,  sits in for “Inflight”.  There was such a good vibe for this Ranglin CD that most of the musicians moved on to form the band Allenkosonic after this session where the play more of the same afro-funk vibe.

Al Di Meola & World Sinfonia – The Grande Passion (Telarc, 2000)

I had the opportunity to see Al Di Meola twice in the last three years.  The first time was at Scullers Jazz Club in Cambridge and Di Meola was in full rock & roll fusion mode.  This performance was no different than the type of music that he was creating with the fusion group of all fusion groups – Return to Forever.  The second time was up at the Montreal Jazz Festival in which he had his new outfit – World Sinfonia.  Instead of histrionic guitar solos that can be heard on his 1970s album such as Elegant Gypsy, Casino or Tour De Force, The Grande Passion is a great endeavor into the different music of the world.  As Ernest Ranglin has shown as well, fusion doesn’t only mean the fusing of jazz and rock & roll; it can mean the fusion of any musical styles.  Armed primarily with an acoustic guitar and a stellar international band consisting of Mario Parmisano (acoustic guitar), John Patitucci (bass), Art Tuncboyacian (vocals), Gumbi Ortiz (percussion), Gilad (percussion) and Hernan Romero (guitar), Al Di Meola touch on the music of the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and European classical music.  For the tunes “Misterio”, “Double Concerto”, ‘Prelude: Adagio for Theresa”, “The Grande Passion” and “Soledad”, the concept of fusion is taken even further as the World Sinfonia is augmented by The Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  The music of this album is a constant melodic shuffle from moving orchestral pieces to quite rhythmic guitar pieces to upbeat percussive jams.  Al Di Meola, no matter if he is playing quasi-metal solos or flamenco pieces or the 48-string bandura, has always been an innovator and leader in jazz guitar.  This album is a testament not only to the acoustic side of Di Meola but also his overall vision for his music.  There is little doubt while Di Meola continuously receives guitar award and accolades, but this album shows an incredible sense of composition.

John Scofield – Steady Groovin’ The Blue Note Groove Sides

With the release of A Go Go in 1997 with Medeski, Martin & Wood, guitarist John Scofield successfully bridged the gap between old school- fusion and new school jam/groove rock.  This year, Blue Note released Steady Groovin’ The Blue Note Groove Sides which is a testament to the fact that Scofield was groovin’ and fusin’ when many of today’s jam banders were practicing their Zeppelin chords in their parents basement.  This compilation culled from six Blue Note albums – 1989’s Time on My Hands, 1990’s Meant to Be, 1991’s Grace Under Pressure, 1992’s What We Do, 1993’s Hand Jive, and 1995’s Groove Elation.  Many of the tunes, such as the opening “Kool,” “Carlos,” and “Do Like Eddie” are reminiscent of the soul-jazz/boogaloo sounds of the 1960s/1970s with Larry Goldings providing the classic organ sound.  For the slow groovin’ “Chariots” and the extremely busy “Camp Out,” saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Bill Stewart joined Scofield, a lineup that he played with throughout the 1990s.  For “Twang”, Scofield joins up with fellow guitarist Bill Frisell and for the hard rocking “Fat Up”, the lineup is Scofield, Lovano, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jack DeJohnette.  The album’s finest cut may come in with the appropriately titled  “Lazy” which has Scofield playing acoustic and Howard Johnson on the tuba.  The album is a great overview of the pre- revival Scofield and the many styles/sounds he incorporated into his music.  Sometimes there was a heavy rock and roll influence.  Sometimes the glorified soul jazz days are prevalent.  Sometimes the texture grooves that Scofield also played with Miles Davis are there.  The album could also be called "The Many Faces of John Scofield.”  The album also shows how much of a hard worker Scofield was during the 1990s- he almost put an album out a year during his Blue Note stint.