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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.

9. Joe Zawinul: Zawinul (Atlantic, 1970)

9. Joe Zawinul: <i>Zawinul</i> (Atlantic, 1970)
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Like his future Weather Report partner Shorter, Joe Zawinul also made a pre-WR electric album. This one cut a higher profile than Shorter’s and was clearly the work of the man who wrote “In a Silent Way” for Miles, with its creeping mellowness. (It also features trumpeter Woody Shaw doing a spot-on impression of Miles Davis, though that might just be the echo effect talking.) For that matter, “In a Silent Way” actually appears on the album, achieving the same sort of dreamy stasis as the original, with none other than Shorter playing soprano sax (Shaw and flutist George Davis share the front line). The moody black-and-white cover portrait of Zawinul tells quite a bit of the album’s story; Zawinul uses the same sort of chiaroscuro in its textures, especially the thick stew of side two, where Zawinul’s lush acoustic piano, Herbie Hancock's electric piano, or Hubert Laws’ flute cut through the low arco drone of bassists Walter Booker and Miroslav Vitous. (The closing “Arrival in New York,” however, is all shadow and no light.) The album was in many ways the real aesthetic launchpad for Weather Report, and an audacious masterpiece in its own right.

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.