In a 1991 Village Voice column by Gary Giddins on drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, the author makes the point that fusion, despite its outsized popular following, doesn’t have much to show for critical reception. “[V]irtually all commentary is focused on things like equipment or technique,” Giddins writes, and he’s expectedly right-on (case in point: we even reinstated our tech-geek “Gearbox” capsules for this issue’s Return to Forever cover story). Critics such as Bill Milkowski, who helmed a very serious biography on bass demigod Jaco Pastorius, have done much to canonize jazz-rock, but writerly profiles on loft-dwelling skronkers outnumber elevated journalistic insights on Allan Holdsworth and Dave Weckl tenfold.
Music writers like to project, they like romantic struggle, and they prefer music that can be impressionistically interpreted rather than academically quantified, almost as a rule. Giddins turned out a masterful column on Albert Ayler for this magazine in 2004, but what about some love for Steve Khan? Of course, not all fusion is created equal, so the closest most A-list jazz writers get to endorsing the f-word is Miles’ ’60s output, the Tony Williams Lifetime, the Mahavishnu Orchestra or, as in Giddins’ column, Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time free-funk and its ilk (which is, oddly, only rarely remembered as fusion despite its in-the-red electricity).