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Jazz-Rock: A History by Stuart Nicholson

As interminably long and discouraging a time as the reign of jazz-rock seemed to serious jazz musicians of the late ’60s through the early ’80s, it is safe to say that with the publication of British historian Stuart Nicholson’s latest book most of the juvenile nonsense attending its rise to favor and the commercial motivations behind its incredible stranglehold on the music industry will be blown asunder. Author of biographies of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence, Nicholson brings to his current subject the same degree of level-headed scrutiny that characterizes his earlier works. That he is well-grounded in his material is obvious from his objective analysis of some hundreds of musicians and groups and some thousands of recordings. These well-knit and highly focused discussions reveal not only a sincere interest in this once highly popular movement, but also Nicholson’s distant remove from anything resembling the self-serving, inflated hyperbole of both the performers and their market-obsessed recording companies.

Following comprehensive survey of the blues-based British rock bands that came to influence the American scene in the mid-’60s, Nicholson goes on to examine, elucidate and variously excoriate or ennoble the efforts of such diverse individuals and groups as Larry Coryell; Wes Montgomery. Blood, Sweat & Tears; Chicago; Miles Davis; Jimi Hendrix; Dave Liebman; Tony Williams; John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orchestra; Billy Cobham; Cannonball Adderley; the Brecker Brothers; Weather Report; the Yellowjackets; Jaco Pastorius; Pat Metheny; Frank Zappa; Santana; Woody Herman; Buddy Rich; Maynard Ferguson; Chuck Mangione; Gil Evans; Carla Bley; Ornette Coleman; Kevin Eubanks; Jack De Johnette; John Abercrombie; Bill Frisell; and scores of others of equal or lesser popularity, up to and including experimentations in world music fusions, punk- and acid-jazz, and hip hop.

Originally Published