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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.

2. The Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia, 1971)

2. The Mahavishnu Orchestra: <i>The Inner Mounting Flame</i> (Columbia, 1971)
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It’s no stretch to say that guitarist John McLaughlin was the breakout star of the Bitches Brew project. (Miles clearly thought so, having named a track on the album for him.) McLaughlin next led the Mahavishnu Orchestra to international acclaim and success. Mahavishnu’s heavy guitar and lack of horns led many to consider the band prog-rock with jazz accents rather than full-on jazz fusion; that argument is a valid one. Yet their debut, The Inner Mounting Flame, is naturally descended from Bitches Brew. The dark roar of organ, drums, bass, and guitar at the album’s opening (“Meeting of the Spirits”) all but announces that heritage, with the slow funk of “Dawn” and the bluesy voodoo of “The Dance of Maya” confirming it. Moreover, if tracks like “The Noonward Race” find McLaughlin and company in fairly blatant Hendrix-ian territory, let it be remembered that Jimi Hendrix was both a friend and influence of Davis’. After their second album, 1973’s Birds of Fire, McLaughlin absolutely did double down on Mahavishnu’s prog side. At their beginning, however, the band were still steeped in Miles’ black magic.

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.