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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.

8. Wayne Shorter: Odyssey of Iska (Blue Note, 1971)

8. Wayne Shorter: <i>Odyssey of Iska</i> (Blue Note, 1971)
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Before he joined Weather Report, Shorter made a fusion album of his own, deeply influenced by Bitches Brew and, if anything, even weirder. (Among other things, Gene Bertoncini’s guitar wasn’t far removed from what Zoot Horn Rollo was then doing for Captain Beefheart, or what Bern Nix would soon do for Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time.) Yet it might be a bit of a cheat to lump Odyssey of Iska in with the post-Bitches Brew assemblage, because it’s also a rather organic evolution from Shorter’s own previous Blue Notes, 1969’s Super Nova and 1970’s Moto Grosso Feio (though the latter wouldn’t be released until 1974). Even so, it fits like a glove with Miles’ attempts to plumb the darkest underbelly of the avant-garde. What’s more, it uses a similar expanded rhythm section: the twin basses of Ron Carter and Cecil McBee, and triple drums by Billy Hart, Alphonse Mouzon, and Frank Cuomo. It also puts Shorter on the looser, more abstract path of composition that he’s continued exploring ever since.

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.