DEVELOPMENT OF THE FUSION STYLE IN JAZZ

The word “fusion” was used so often in different situations during the last quarter of the twentieth century, that it became almost meaningless. It would be more correct to call the early stages of this style “jazz-rock”.

Miles Davis

Jazz-rock

The first meaning of the term “jazz-rock” is very clear: it concerns a harmonising of the energy and rhythms of jazz improvisation and rock music. Until 1967, the worlds of jazz and rock were practically independent of each other. However, from then onwards, rock music took on a more creative character, becoming more complicated, and psychedelic rock and soul music emerged. At the same time, several jazz musicians were beginning to tire of pure hard bop, but did not want to play avant-garde music that was difficult to comprehend. As a result, the two different idioms began an exchange of ideas and commenced to join their efforts. From 1967 the “Dreams” band, which included guitarist Larry Coryell, vibraphonist Gary Burton and, from 1969, drummer Billy Cobham and the Brecker brothers, experimented with the possibilities of the new style. At the end of the 60s, Miles Davis had all the potential necessary to switch to jazz-rock. He was one of the founders of modal jazz. Miles, who had recorded the “Bitches Brew” and “In a Silent Way” albums using 8/8 rhythms and electronic instruments based on modal jazz, took it a step further. Most of the musicians who played with him in that period became the faces of this style – John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock and others. The terse, ascetic and philosophical observation so characteristic of Davis were very useful in the new style. In the early 1970s, jazz-rock earned acknowledgement as a creative style of jazz, although it was the butt of mockery by jazz purists. The bands mainly representative of the new direction were “Return to Forever”, “Weather Report”, “The Mahavishnu Orchestra”

John McLaughlim

and Miles Davis’s various bands. The high quality jazz-rock music they played combined patterns of both jazz and rock.

Fusion

The main features of the most interesting jazz-rock bands were a blending of composition and improvisation, using the harmonies and rhythms of rock music, the active harmonies of Eastern melodies and rhythms and a wide use of electronic musical instruments to develop and synthesise sounds. This style used a varied diapason of scales and also expanded exotic scales. In the 70s, jazz-rock gained unbelievable popularity and the most active musicians turned to this direction. Jazz-rock which was more advanced when it came to synthesising different musical processes, began to be called “fusion”. A further inclination towards European academic music (not for the first time in the history of jazz) was another big push for “fusion”. At this stage, fusion was basically a continuation of the “Third Stream” of the 50s.

Even interaction between different cultures influenced the most interesting bands and their work. The most typical example would be “Weather Report”, led by the Americanized Austrian, keyboard player Joseph Zawinul and American saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Both of these musicians had passed through Miles Davis’s school. The band united musicians from Brazil, Peru and Czechoslovakia. Later, instrumentalists and vocalists from almost all around the world worked with Zawinul. The heirs of “Weather Report”, the “Syndicate” project, included musicians ranging from Tuva to South America.

Gary Burton

Unfortunately, after some time, jazz-rock started acquiring features of commercial music, and, at the same time, rock itself began to deny most of its creative developments towards the

Joe Zawinul

mid 1970s. Fusion frequently turned into a combination of jazz and simple pop music with lightweight rhythm-n-blues, a crossover. Fusion music did not fulfil its ambition to expand its capacity and become music with depth. However, in rare cases, for example Chick Corea’s bands and bands like “Tribal Tech”, the search continues.

Electric jazz

Using electronic sound encoders and synthesizers was very attractive to musicians who were close to rock or commercial music in the first place. In fact, there are not many productive examples of electric music in the general run of things. For example, Jo Zawinul managed to unite ethnic and tonal elements quite effectively in his “Weather Report” project. And in the 70s and 80s Herbie Hancock became a musicians’ musician rather than the audience’s musician using synthesizers, a variety of keyboards and different electronic tricks. In the 90s this direction began to move away from jazz. The ability to write music by computer also became an advantage. Despite certain advantages and conditions, this music lost its connection with improvisation, which is the main feature of jazz music.