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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.

5. Bennie Maupin: The Jewel in the Lotus (ECM, 1974)

5. Bennie Maupin: <i>The Jewel in the Lotus</i> (ECM, 1974)
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By the time he debuted as a leader with The Jewel in the Lotus, Bennie Maupin was one of the best-traveled musicians in jazz fusion. His bass clarinet had made its distinctive mark on not just Bitches Brew, but three subsequent Miles Davis records; Herbie Hancock’s recordings with both his Mwandishi and Head Hunters bands; and Woody Shaw’s free-fusion subversion Blackstone Legacy. None were quite in the same dimension as The Jewel in the Lotus, a meditative and mesmeric affair that found Maupin as occupied with flute and soprano saxophone as with his bass clarinet. Featuring Hancock and most of Mwandishi (though trumpeter Charles Sullivan stands in for Eddie Henderson), Jewel also adds a second drummer (and marimbaist), Freddie Waits, alongside Billy Hart, and Bill Summers on bells and percussion. Two drummers and a percussionist do not usually a meditation make. Here, though, Maupin pulls it off. Even “Song for Tracie Dixon Summers,” which starts off with Buster Williams doing a mean Mingus riff, becomes an ethereal piece that hangs in the air on the frame of Hancock’s acoustic piano.

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.