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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.

7. Compost: Take Off Your Body (Columbia, 1971)

7. Compost: <i>Take Off Your Body</i> (Columbia, 1971)
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Brilliant and revolutionary as Miles Davis’ fusion work was, it might have been the now-forgotten band Compost that best, out of all the early fusion ensembles, captured the zeitgeist of black popular music. They were as pop-friendly, rhythmically ingenious, and socially conscious as Sly and the Family Stone; as warm and humorous (if not as cartoonish) as Parliament; as forthrightly African as Fela Kuti; as trippy as Jimi Hendrix and Funkadelic; as melodically charged as Stevie Wonder; and as curious and experimental as all of the above. They also just happened to feature Bitches Brew percussionist Juma Santos and drummer Jack DeJohnette. In fact, DeJohnette was also the group’s keyboardist, vibraphonist, primary composer and, most remarkably, lead singer. Joining them were saxophonist Harold Vick, bassist Jack Gregg, and drummer Bob Moses, who could set a sumptuous groove with the best of them, then extemporize on it (“Bwaata,” “Sweet Berry Wine”) better than the best. Take Off Your Body was the first of only two Compost albums: DeJohnette later diagnosed them, probably correctly, as too experimental to last. But oh, what criminally overlooked greatness they achieved during that short time.

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.