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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.

4. The Tony Williams Lifetime: Turn It Over (Verve, 1970)

4. The Tony Williams Lifetime: <i>Turn It Over</i> (Verve, 1970)
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Tony Williams, the percussion prodigy who had been Miles Davis’ working drummer for the previous seven years, didn’t appear on Bitches Brew. But guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young, Williams’ partners in his own fusion band Lifetime, did. They’re joined on Turn It Over (Lifetime’s second album, after 1969’s Emergency!) by former Cream bassist Jack Bruce, and perhaps for that reason it’s a bluesier, more rock-inclined album, closer to Jack Johnson, Davis’ followup to Bitches Brew. Yet it still has something of the latter’s gloomy atmospherics—thanks largely to Young’s fearsome long tones and wobbly distortions. Not to mention his psychedelic, dissonant harmonies, which are powerful: On the vocal tracks “This Night This Song,” “Once I Loved,” and “A Famous Blues,” they singlehandedly prevent the tracks from settling on a form, despite the presence of Williams’ singing. Then again, the churning, pulsing work of McLaughlin (here with plenty of overdrive to bring out the Hendrix in him), Bruce, and Williams himself is hard to diminish.

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.