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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.

6. Billy Cobham: Spectrum (Atlantic, 1973)

6. Billy Cobham: <i>Spectrum</i> (Atlantic, 1973)
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The high-adrenaline playing of drummer Billy Cobham sets the tone for Spectrum, on which every element—chops, aggression, tempo, blues, rock, funk, solo excursions—is throttled up to 11. Actually, make it 14. Listening, for example, to the title track, one quickly loses track of the subdivisions Cobham is playing (and in the next tune, “Anxiety,” you’ll forget the count before 15 seconds are out). Guitarist Tommy Bolin, on “Quadrant 4” and “Taurian Matador,” has all the makings of the muscular power guitarist he would become when he joined Deep Purple in 1975, and keyboardist Jan Hammer is at his flashiest and most bravura when he doubles himself on electric piano and Moog. The linchpin of Spectrum, of course, is the long and chilly “Stratus”—which encapsulates the spooky murk of Bitches Brew and its ilk in one surprisingly hooky 10-minute stretch. Hammer opens with a sinister line of Moog fuzz; Cobham follows with an ostentatious drum flex; then comes guest Lee Sklar’s irresistible bass simmer with Hammer, Bolin, and Cobham working out on top.

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.