The definition of jazz as a musical style has caused decades of disagreement, a fact underscored by Miles Davis, who expressed disapproval of the label throughout his life. In the 1966 documentary The Universal Mind of Bill Evans, the pianist (and Miles alum) offers a point of view that, if not a solution, presents a worthy perspective: “Jazz is not a style,” he says, “it’s a process.” Like jazz, the term “world music” is also subjective. Taking all of this into consideration, here are five tracks I find unique and brilliant in their blending of jazz and world music.
Don’t Try This at Home (Impulse!, 1988)
The concept of a Celtic reel played on EWI in unison with a fiddle, weaving in and out of dissonant tonalities, sounds at first like it could be a jazz parody. But this tune is no joke. While the title captures its composer’s sense of humor, the track—featuring an ensemble channeling the classic bands of Ornette Coleman (and featuring one of his key associates, bassist Charlie Haden), along with a guest appearance by renowned fiddle player Mark O’Connor—is a tour de force unlike any other tune by Brecker. The saxophonist begins very inside yet soon manages to incorporate outside harmonics in a way that brings to mind a turntable changing speeds and then returning to normal.