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JazzTimes 10: Key Post-Bitches Brew Fusion Albums

In the wake of Miles' masterpiece, a new genre emerged—and here are 10 of the best examples

As we celebrate the recent 50th anniversary of Bitches Brew, Miles Davis’ 1969 magnum opus of jazz fusion, we naturally have a great deal to say about the album itself. However, the reason we still talk so much about it today is arguably less about its own musical content and more about the music it inspired. Bitches Brew was one of the most influential recordings of its day, spawning a wealth of imitators.

The most prominent of those imitators, as it turns out, were the musicians who played on the original album. These were legion; Bitches Brew won a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Recording. Think of it as yet another demonstration of Davis’ shrewdness in selecting his bandmates: He wanted to work with musicians who had their own singular visions to which they could adapt Miles’ music, and vice versa. Below are 10 extraordinary examples, some of which have been neglected over the years. They are included here, along with the better-known children of Bitches Brew, in hopes of fostering the attention they deserve.

10. Airto: Seeds on the Ground (Buddah, 1971)

10. Airto: <i>Seeds on the Ground</i> (Buddah, 1971)
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Careful readers will have noticed how frequently Airto Moreira has appeared on this list. His virtuoso Brazilian percussion was a staple of fusion in the ’70s and beyond, a brilliant and efficient way of injecting both polyrhythms and world music into the mix. So why not go straight to the horse’s mouth? His second album tops even Return to Forever in its warm, welcome accessibility, even in its swampier, Bitches Brew-ier moments like “O Sonho,” which quickly coalesces into lyricism courtesy of the great keyboardist Hermeto Pascoal and vocalist (and Moreira’s wife) Flora Purim. Elsewhere it evokes the Tropicália movement that had recently transformed Brazil’s pop scene; Pascoal’s “Papo Furado” is a page out of the Os Mutantes or Caetano Veloso discographies. Yet the two-part epic “Branches of the Rose Tree” is the album’s most sublime, ambitious, flat-out joyous moment. It’s not often mentioned among Miles Davis’ progeny, but Seeds on the Ground is perhaps the beginning of what we now call “world fusion.”

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.