Noel McGhie & Space Spies ‘Trapeze’

Spiritual fusion excellence from a superb quintet. Jamaican percussionist Noel McGhie recruited Japanese trumpet player Itaru Oki, pairing him on the frontline with Brazilian alto saxophonist Jorge Joao. Pianist Georges Eduard Nouel and bassist Louis Xavier—both from Martinique—round out the quintet. Originally recorded in France back in 1975, this is a 2015 reissue on Superfly who did the one right—heavyweight vinyl & jacket, quality artwork, obi, and insert, and the pressing itself is flat, quiet and sounds fantastic. The music is soulful, groovy, electric jazz, with nods to electric period Miles Davis, and records like Herbie Hancock’s ‘Flood’ or Eddie Henderson’s ‘Sunburst’. Plenty of electricity for fusion appeal, plenty of modal/spiritual jazz vibes for more traditional palettes. The vinyl is limited and growing scarce, but the digital availability of Noel McGhie & Space Spies ‘Trapeze’ is pretty ubiquitous…worth hearing, and in my humble opinion, worth acquiring

Bill Bruford ‘One of a Kind’

Bruford’s ‘One of a Kind’ is in the #1 slot on my list of favorite fusion albums (well, this week anyway). It isn’t a pure fusion record which is one of its appeals—it’s the perfect blend of progressive rock and jazz/rock fusion, without falling into the bad habits of either. This formidable quartet was led by ex-Yes, ex-King Crimson drummer/composer Bill Bruford, along with guitarist supreme Allan Holdsworth, bassist Jeff Berlin and composer/keyboardist Dave Stewart. This is one WILD record with edge-of-your-seat solos and intricate basslines galore. Killer drumming as one would expect is front and center, leading me to the other thing I love about this record which is how it sounds. Bruford’s rototoms and snare drum have a power and finesse that you can actually feel, and they are mixed perfectly. Allan Holdsworth’s guitar retains its trademark sonic footprint, with a fluid, legato sound. But there’s an additional edge to it—some of his lines go down incredibly smooth, but others have serious teeth. And mad props to Dave Stewart who eschews all forms of period-appropriate prog rock fromage in his choice of keyboard sounds—those very choices are big part of what keeps this record sounding fresh, even now. So it doesn’t sound anything like Yes, or King Crimson, nor does it sound as raw and powerful as Mahavishnu, or lean as jazzy as Weather Report. If anything, echoes of Stewart’s previous gigs with National Health/Hatfield & the North, and Bruford/Holdsworth’s recent experiences with U.K. are a closer reference point. Terrific record. This is the copy I’ve had with me since high school, with the original price tag from Stamford Records still attached…Happy Fusion Friday

Mahavishnu Orchestra ‘Birds of Fire’

Never has brutality sounded so beautiful or precise. ‘Birds of Fire’ is considered by many to be the slightly tamer, more compositionally mature brother of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s debut LP ‘The Inner Mounting Flame,’ but I don’t know about this notion of “tamer.” Sure, it’s a bit less raw in terms of production values, and as a band, their relentless touring had made them impossibly tighter. But the molten core of nuclear energy that powered the Mahavishnu Orchestra was hotter than ever, making them one of the few jazz/rock bands that—when in beast mode—could make even the mighty Black Sabbath piss their pants and beg for mercy. At the same time, they could also toss a dozen eggs between them without cracking a single shell, playing with a delicacy and sensitivity that made them one of the most dynamic acts ever to set foot on stage, or enter a recording studio. In the 30 months they recorded and toured together before imploding, they left in their wake a long trail of blown speakers and blown minds. On this I’m thinking strategically: *THIS* is how we defeat the Murder Hornets, people….BIRDS OF FIRE

Miles Davis ‘A Tribute To Jack Johnson’

Incendiary. Recorded on this day (7 April, 1970) in Columbia Studio B, this record moves even further into rock, soul, and funk excursions that began as far back as the waning days of the Second Great Quintet. Those initial sparks grew into a flame with ‘In A Silent Way,’ fire with ‘Bitches Brew,’ and full-on conflagration with ‘A Tribute to Jack Johnson.’ Miles, in particular, is playing at the top of his game—his solos are fierce, edgy, and take NO prisoners whatsoever. As a bandleader, his stated goal was to “put together the greatest rock ’n’ roll band you ever heard.” Mission accomplished: John McLaughlin & Sonny Sharrock (guitars), Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea (keyboards), Steve Grossman (saxophone), Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet), Dave Holland & Michael Henderson (bass), and Billy Cobham & Jack DeJohnette (drums). The two side-long tracks cover a lot of ground. Tension. Release. Tranquility. Fury. The lines between what was planned and what happened are difficult to ascertain, and ultimately I’m not sure it matters. Whether you see this is a rock record with jazz cred or a jazz record that decided to party with a rock band, it’s another example of bending the course of music to his will. And we’re all the better for it

Bobby Hutcherson ‘Montara’

A wildly enjoyable, feel-good, summertime jazz record. Bobby Hutcherson’s ‘Montara’ (originally released in 1975) manages to be energizing and relaxing at the same time—an impressive feat. This album was the “fusion” offering in the Blue Note 80th Anniversary box issued via @vinylmeplease, and a record I’d seen quite a bit in the used bins when I worked retail, but it wasn’t an album I was familiar with. I’ve had a good time getting to know it over the last few weeks. I’ll agree with the sub-genre “fusion” in that it’s an electric jazz offering, and there are Latin-jazz and jazz-rock structures cleverly woven within the framework, but this isn’t a Mahavishnu-esque chops-fest or a one-way ticket to shredsville. It’s busy where it needs to be, often due to the sheer size of the band. They say two’s company, three’s a crowd. This album is either 9 companies or 6 crowds depending on how you want to do the math. The tune “Montara” has come around a few times, with The Roots taking a remix run at it in 1996, Madlib taking another swing again in 2003, and samples show up on all sorts of hip hop albums. It’s definitely one of those grooves that gets into your head and won’t let go. Fans of the Rhodes electric piano will hail the heroic playing by Larry Nash who is a formidable presence throughout the record. A recommended sundown spin as it has a perfect evening vibe. Vinyl is a bit elusive though not impossible, but digital availability is ubiquitous. Happy Fusion Friday

The Mahavishnu Orchestra ‘Between Nothingness and Eternity’ (Live in Central Park 1973)

The first time I heard this album circa Nov 1982, I thought my head was gonna explode. It did. So I played it again. Same result. So I went to the record store and asked the clerk for more. He sold me ‘The Inner Mounting Flame’ and ‘Birds of Fire’. I mentioned the issue with my head exploding so he also sold me King Crimson’s ‘Larks’ Tongues In Aspic’. I played them all. Obsessively. That December, I received a pair of headphones from my parents for Hanukkah. Correlation/causation…you be the judge

Nordic Jazz Quintet ‘Nordjazz’

A loose, jammy, jazz/rock workout from this Scandinavian/Finnish/Icelandic one-off group. “Nordjazz” composed by flautist/saxophonist Knut Riisnaes takes up all of side A, overstaying its welcome just a bit due to an ill-advised drum solo from Petur Ostlund. A well-considered drum break with compositional intent is one thing, a tuneful drum solo with purpose is just fine, but this one is a grandstand-y chops fiesta that just goes on too long. Impressive, but we get the point. The two slightly shorter (though still plenty long) tracks on side B written by guitar whizkid Jukka Tolonen are a bit more compositionally interesting and not too far removed from the sound of his solo albums of that era. All in all, if you dig that mid-70s fusion sound—lots of Fender Rhodes, busy drumming, intricate bass lines, occasional flute/sax breaks and killer guitar playing, it’s a highly enjoyable listen though there’s nothing particularly memorable about the songwriting. Interestingly, for a rather obscure group and a scarcity on vinyl, digital availability is widespread—even HDTracks has this—so groove away on this lovely summer Fusion Friday! Recorded in late 1974 and originally released on the Storyville label (SLP 259). Knut Riisnaes (tenor sax/flute), Ole Kock Hansen (keys), Jukka Tolonen (guitar), Kjell Jansson (bass) &Petur Ostlund (drums