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JT Essentials: Forgotten Fusion Classics

The Gary Burton Quartet, Jack DeJohnette and more

Dave Liebman
Gary Burton

Fusion was all the rage among creative musicians in the late ’60s through the mid-’70s, with open-minded jazzers readily cross-pollinating with similarly motivated rock players. Many projects spawned big-selling albums and tours, but here are a few of the era’s underappreciated gems.

THE ELEVENTH HOUSE
Introducing the Eleventh House With Larry Coryell

(Vanguard, 1974)

Larry Coryell, who had gained acclaim via his work with Herbie Mann and Gary Burton, used his searing lead guitar and unpredictable flights of improvisation to lead a group of future stars including trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Alphonse Mouzon, along with pianist Mike Mandel and bassist Danny Trifan. The ambitious compositions are alternately trippy and hinged to fierce grooves informed by funk, rock and jazz. The psychedelic-leaning atmospherics are enhanced by Coryell’s experimental touches and Brecker’s wah-wah. Opener “Birdfingers,” with its speedy lines and shapeshifting form, is a highlight that sets the tone for the rest of the 10 tracks.

THE GARY BURTON QUARTET
Duster (RCA Victor, 1967)

With the addition of the fiery guitar playing of a young Larry Coryell, vibraphonist Gary Burton offered music that came to be considered a harbinger of the shape of fusion to come. The combination of the intense four-mallets vibes attack and the brittle blues-edged guitar, driven by the rambunctious rhythms of bassist Steve Swallow (on upright, before his switch to electric) and drummer Roy Haynes, is infectious. Some tunes, like Burton and Coryell’s “One, Two, 1-2-3-4,” move at a breakneck pace, while others, including Swallow’s “General Mojo’s Well-Laid Plan,” sprawl gorgeously.

JOHN ABERCROMBIE/DAVE HOLLAND/JACK DEJOHNETTE
Gateway (ECM, 1975)

ECM standout guitarist John Abercrombie teamed with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette, both of whom had participated in Miles’ first electric recordings, for a set of highly interactive music (something of a follow-up to Abercrombie’s Timeless) that was viewed as brilliantly unclassifiable and often challenging. Strains of free jazz and rock-edged fusion are littered throughout these half-dozen tracks, including frenetic pieces like Holland’s 11-minute “May Dance,” the Abercrombie/DeJohnette composition “Unshielded Desire” and the bassist’s relatively laidback, uncluttered “Waiting” and “Jamala.”

THE NAT ADDERLEY SEXTET & RICK HOLMES
Cannonball Adderley Presents Soul Zodiac (Capitol, 1972)

Soul jazz, psychedelia, spacey rock, electronic textures and spoken-word readings by a Los Angeles DJ combined for a double album that was one of the most offbeat entries of the fusion era. Each track, named for an astrological sign, varies wildly from the next: Nat Adderley’s long notes and runs on cornet ride over Mike Deasy’s metallic guitar on “Aries”; flute figures prominently on the acoustic “Libra”; and hard-bop horns open and then underscore the mellow “Capricorn.” Cannonball guests on two tracks, and the group also includes pianist George Duke, bassist Walter Booker, drummer Roy McCurdy and saxophonist Ernie Watts.


Lookout Farm (ECM, 1974)

Liebman’s ECM debut had the rising-star saxophonist-on soprano, tenor and flute-playing fusion-tinted, free-minded modern jazz with an eclectic group of musicians, including guitarist John Abercrombie, pianist Richie Beirach, bassist Frank Tusa, drummer Jeff Williams and two East Indian players on tablas and other percussion. It’s an inherently exotic acoustic-electric sound, with the musicians unwinding on long, multi-segmented compositions. Liebman’s provocative soprano playing is showcased on “Pablo’s Story,” and his dark-toned tenor leads the way on the moody “M.D./Lookout Farm.”

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Originally Published