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diskant rewind: Bargain Bin Culture #3

Posted: June 14th, 2008, by Wil Forbis

(Originally posted April 2002)

Bargain Bin Culture by Wil Forbis

Many a day will pass where I’ll be reclining in the Secret Diskant HQ (It’s location is so secret I can’t reveal to you where it is, but I will say it has a great view of the Eiffel tower) and young pups such as Greg Kitten or Ollie Simpson will approach me and say, “How do you do it, Wil? How do you get all the chicks? The birds go ape around you!” (I dunno how they found out about my dalliance with the London Zoo’s female gorilla, but that’s beside the point.) “Well, boys,” I’ll sagely reply, while taking a puff from my opium pipe, “You have to dig the right type of music. Girls don’t give a damn about all that indie-noise you waste your time with. You wanna know what gets chicks soggy? Fusion!” “Fusion?!” Greg and Ollie will say in disbelief. “That’s right, lads” I’ll say. “Nothin’ makes a woman hard like a twenty minute moog solo. Or a bass riff harmonized with a ten piece horn section. Or songs with titles like “The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea, Pt. II*” “Gosh Wil,” Greg and Ollie will reply. “That makes perfect sense! Perhaps you could provide us with a brief review as to what you see as being some of the key fusion albums that can easily be pertained in the used record bins of your native America.”

Perhaps, I could, boys… Perhaps, I could…. Oh, you mean right now!

Miles Davis
Bitches Brew, Filles De Killamajaro, Live Evil, Tribute to Jack Johnson etc.
If you really wanna impress the girls with you’re fusion knowledge, you gotta have a strong understanding of the roots. And those roots can be summed up in one word: MilesDavis. Or, if you prefer the more grammatically correct version, two words: Miles Davis. In the late sixties, riding high on 30 odd years of success in the realm of jazz, Miles realized Jimi Hendrix was getting all the pussy and decided to get into this rock thang. Of course, since he was Miles, he wasn’t going to do it like everyone else, and his union of jazz’s harmony and melody with rocks instrumentation and rhythms laid the blueprint for what would be known as fusion. The key albums of this kickoff period (according to me) are discussed below.

“Bitches Brew” is probably the album most credited for actually starting fusion and it is indeed a spacey head trip. Or even a heady space trip. Trumpet riffs bleat out off the distance while distorted guitars and battlefield percussion create an ambiance of sonic panic. There was a lot of crazy music before B.B. and there’s been a lot of crazy music since, but nothing has ever quite captured its combo of reckless abandon and cool jive. (My fondest memory of this album is when my old friend Brady and I took several hits of acid and drove around Olympia, Washington with “Bitches Brew” in the car stereo. We eventually worked our way into a huge crowd that was dispersing from a show at Oly’s famed Capital Theatre. The music rose to a screeching climax as hipster trendoids milled about our vehicle. Finally Brady looked over at me and solemnly said, “They know we’re mad.”)

I go against popular opinion here by saying I think “Filles de Kilimanjaro” is the finest of Davis’ fusion offerings. Nonetheless, I think the first song (who’s title I’ve forgotten) is like a wild animal converted to music – untamed, angry, refusing to fit to form, but also sweetly beautiful. If Britney Spears made fusion it would sound like this.

“Live Evil” is probably the first fusion album I heard, thanks to the fact it was in the collection of albums my Mom had left at my Dad’s house after their divorce. (Included in the pile was an original copy of “Sergeant Pepper’s” with the pull-out poster and everything! Damn, Moms was cool!) “Live Evil” is a sort of a “Bitches Brew, Jr.” showcasing members of the late sixties Davis band in a mostly live setting.

Another seriously ass-kicking Davis offering is “Tribute to Jack Johnson.” Davis felt that the famed black boxer from the 1920’s, Jack Johnson, epitomized the attitude of the 60’s Black Power movement and offered this homage to him. It’s definitely a little funkier and more aggressive than some the other material, pointing in the direction that would lead to Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunters.” (See below)

Now that you got the roots, let’s continue with a look at some other essential fusion albums throughout the years…

Herbie Hancock
Headhunters, Secrets
Headhunters is probably the definitive Hancock album. It’s pretty much impossible to walk into an Wednesday Night bar jam and not have someone start playing the funk-bass line to the album opener, “Chameleon.” But for my money, if you want some serious groove, nothin’ does it like the lesser known LP, “Secrets.” Hancock cut his teeth in Miles Davis’s sixties jazz combos, but “Secrets” has more in common with the soundtrack to the classic 70’s cop show, “The Streets of San Francisco.” Shove this baby in your eight track and you’ll be pimpin’ your woman on a street corner before you know what’s up. (At least that’s what I’m going to tell my parole officer.) And dig this, “Secrets” has Ray Parker, Jr. (of Ghostbusters fame) singing back up! Suhhh-weeet!

Weather Report
Heavy Weather
Let’s be honest, 90% of the music Weather Report created was crap. In fact, 90% percent of this album is crap. But the ten percent that isn’t crap is the song “Birdland” and I will personally slay anyone who says this isn’t the best fusion song of all time. There’s something for everyone in this song – it’s got the weird arrangements required by your hardcore fusion-o-philes, but is driven by a genuinely catching combination of rock melodies and grooves. “Birdland” is the “Free Bird” of fusion.

Stanley Clarke
School Days
Clarke, a skilled bass player and composer, started out in the early seventies, and is still releasing albums. (In the past decade he did a rock group with Stewart Copeland and some soundtrack work.) I find a lot of Clarke’s stuff pompous and boring but 1976’s School Days is one of the greats. The title track is well crafted and ear-pleasing and the rest of the album explores a variety of interesting sounds. I’ve always been partial to the tune “Desert Song” which features stand up bass and acoustic guitar trading off the roles of soloist and accompaniment.

Jaco Pastorius
self titled
If you want some serious funk bass playing, and I don’t mean that slappity bullshit Flea always does, nothing beats the second track off this album, “Come On Come Over.” Jaco is considered by many the premier bass player of all time, and he did his most famous work while playing with the above mentioned Weather Report. He was the quintessential fucked up musician and his emotional undulations and drug abuse prevented him from generating the output he should have, but this album is a nice summation of his abilities. Eventually, Jaco was beaten to death by an angry bouncer in Florida. (I’m actually serious here.)

Al Dimeola
Aww Yeah, what Ice Cube was to gangbangin’, Al Dimeola was to flameco-rock-fusion. “Casino” was a genuinely groundbreaking and mind tripping piece of work, combining Dimeola’s technical mastery of the guitar with Latin rhythms and Spanish melodies. (It’s also a great film starring Bobby DeNiro.) This album is mandatory listening whenever I’m about to make sweet, sweet love to the ladies. (Consequently, I haven’t heard it in awhile.)

Allan Holdsworth
I’ve never had the fullest understanding of Holdsworth’s career, but one interesting tidbit is that he played the psychedelic guitar on Donavon’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” After starting out as a sixties session musician, Holdsworth went on to record several decades of space jazz. My favorite is an obscure eighties album he did called “Sand.” Holdsworth recorded the album almost entirely with a Synthaxe guitar, an electronic instrument which produced the synth sounds of a keyboard with the fluid melodies of guitar. Probably very similar to the music Martians listen to.

Chuck Mangioni
I can’t really recommend any of Chuck’s albums since I’ve yet to hear one I like. But you can’t walked into any used record store without seeing about a thousand of his albums, so for that alone, he deserve a mention. Same goes for Jean Luc Ponty.

As you can see, I did a pretty bang up job of hippin’ Greg and Ollie to the world of fusion, Thus, I was rather surprised when they walked back into the Secret Diskant HQ a few weeks later and said, “You screwed us, Wil! The birds don’t like fusion at all. We tried to play them our copies of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s ‘Inner Mounting Flame’ and they said we were jazz-technoweenies. Our reputations are ruined!” “Gosh, sorry fellahs,” I replied, genuinely surprised. “I guess it ain’t my vast fusion knowledge that gets the chicks. It must be my well-chiseled good looks and trim dancer’s physique. Who’da thunk it?” Who’da thunk it, indeed!

* Actual title From Jean Luc Ponty’s 1977 album “Enigmatic Ocean.”

Wil Forbis

Wil writes for the delectable Acid Logic webzine, as well as for this crackin' outfit here. He's also an obvious habitual liar, going on how he describes himself in his other writings. Truth is, Wil is a two foot tall computerised metal monster who likes nothing better than to CRUSH, CRUSH and CRUSH humanity to within an ounce of its puny life. When he's not CRUSHING, he enjoys tennis and jogging.


2 Responses to diskant rewind: Bargain Bin Culture #3

  1. Marceline Smith

    I’d just like to say this column took me twice as long to post as the others because I was laughing too much at the intro.

  2. wil

    This was a good one — I was actually seriously considering running it in my book. Perhaps next time.