Joni Mitchell did something very special in the mid to late 1970’s. Something that impacted on me personally roughly 25 years later. She began to combine folk oriented singer/songwriter instrumentation with jazz chords and harmonies. Her approach at this evolved from working with Crusaders Joe Sample and Wilton Felder to fretless bass icon Jaco Pastorius-all between 1974 and 1974. In particularly on 1975’s The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Mitchell’s music was her own unique hybrid. Neither jazz or folk. This all came to a tremendous head with her 1977 release Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.
It was an album where the cover art (as was typical done by Mitchell herself) drew me into its musical world. It depicts three images of herself. One seems to be a herself as a teenager. The other is a character she portrayed at a Halloween party named Art Nouveau. This was based on a black man she met who complimented her at that time. Mitchell describes her soul as “not being that of a white woman”. And that she often writes from a black perspective. Embracing the jazz aestetic, from be bop style poetics to the music itself, all became a part of what made this 1977 double LP what it was.
The song “Cotton Avenue” starts the album with an overture, one where Mitchell is playing six differently tuned guitar tracks simultaneously. The song itself is a swinging number-heavily textured by Jaco’s atmospheric bass lines. The faster “Talk To Me” and the slower “Jericho” both explore the approach of Mitchell’s guitar with Jaco’s bass-playing in an almost Salsa like rhythm on the former, and back to the jazzy swing on the latter. “Paprika Pains” is a 16+ minute cinematic number, showcasing Mitchell’s improvised piano with full jazz orchestration.
“Paprika Plains”‘s music also serves as the soundtrack to a first person description of a late night bar gathering of Canadian First Nations tribe’s people-poetically touching on matters of alcoholism and despair. “Otis & Marlena” is a fairly conventional country tinged folk number. Its based in the acoustic guitar. Its a character sketch of two people vacationing in Miami while “Muslims are sticking up Washington”. “The Tenth Worlds” is primarily the work of Puerto Rican percussionist Manolo Badrena, one which focuses only on his fluid Afro-Latin percussion and improvised vocal chants.
Weather Report member Alex Acuna joins in for “Dreamland”, my personal favorite number on this album.”Dreamland” merges an even broader (and somewhat slower) Salsa percussion sound with the highly hummable, Caribbean folk style melody of Mitchell’s. Chaka Khan provides a very tribal sounding back up vocalese right along with Mitchell’s on the song. The title song is somewhat similar to “Talk To Me” from earlier in the album-as well as “Coyote” from her previous album Heijra. The more rocky “Off Night Backstreet” and the folk oriented “The Silky Veils Of Ardor” close out the album.
Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter represents the official birth of what could best be described as a Joni Mitchell sound. Its true that jazz always accommodated other musical styles into it. Mitchell wasn’t new at doing that. But she did manage to expand on the possibilities of jazz fusion at the same time as she did the same for her own songwriting style. That coalition of personal and overall creative intent would is likely a lot rarer a thing than it might seem. And just for creating a welcoming and enticing entry point into Joni Mitchell’s musical hybridizing makes this album one of her most iconic ones.
Somehow it hit me listening to this…just how much of my adult musical understanding comes out of the artistry of the late George Duke. Painted his portrait several times. Made a friend because of him,who had me speak to Duke himself on a radio show and later taught me how to play chords on the keyboard to the man’s song “Capricorn”. Obviously this is not the first time I’ve heard this particular album.
It was the first record by him I ever heard of. And the first of his I ever saw sitting in the record store CD racks. It was a major album for the man career wise. So many jazz/funk lovers and fellow musicians have aurally eaten this album whole over the decades. So hear is what I hear when listening to it.
Opening up with the cinematic bass synthesizer of “The Beginning”,the album goes right into the powerful guitar/bass interaction based jazz/rock fusion of “Lemme At It”. Opening with a fanfare on the electric piano,”Hot Fire” deals with some heavy duty Afro Cuban rhythms and melodies. The title track of course finds the classic half rapped/half sung slow bass synth funk stomp holding down what amounts to a “P-Jazzfunk” masterpiece.
“Just For You” is a melodically complex pop/soul ballad with an electronically symphonic instrumental chorus. “Omi (Fresh Water)” and “Diamonds” are both kinetic,uptempo Brazilian fusion jams while “Searchin’ My Mind” is an EWF like uptempo pop/funk number sung by singers Dee Henrichs,Deborah and Sybil Thomas.
“Watch Out Baby!” is a grinding hard funk stomp with the bass/guitar rhythmic chunkiness of Stanley Clarke and Michael Sembello leading the way. “The End” concludes the album similarly to how it began,while the additional unreleased bonus selection “Bring It On Home” deals with a down home bluesy soul instrumental. What George Duke and his extremely talented band of players does here is really quite amazing. For the last several years before this?
He’d musically sought to locate and lock down the unifying rhythmic/melodic threads between jazz, soul, rock, blues and the music of Brazil. The unifying factor he discovered was a strong sense of musical Afrocentrism. And that’s the quality that this album,across it’s oozing mix of musical genres,possesses in abundance. Exciting, joyous and adventurous jazz/funk that I feel is among the most essential of it’s particular spectrum
Armando Anthony Corea,known by his professional name of “Chick”, is a native of Chesterfield,Massachusetts. Son of a former Dixieland musician from Boston, Corea took up drums and notably piano on his own. A largely self taught player who seriously sought out musical learning on his own, he began playing gigs throughout high school. While attending both Columbia and Julliard university’s later, his be-bop style piano took on avant garde elements. After a pair of solo recordings,he began working with Miles Davis on his ground breaking 1969 fusion recording In The Silent Way.
Just about every musician who touched Miles creatively became an innovator in their own right. And Corea was no exception. He formed Return To Forever in 1970-originally including the Brazilian duo of Airto Moriera and Flora Purim. By 1973 though the band consisted of bassist Stanley Clarke,drummer Lenny White and the young guitarist Al Di Meola. RTF’s albums generally focused on the more progressive,pyrotechnical variation of jazz/rock fusion. It was on their 1975 album No Mystery that the fluidity of funk flowed into their sound. Especially on songs such as “Sofistifunk”.
Corea’s computerized synthesizer riff starts off the song-followed soon by White’s nimble stop/start jazzy funk drumming. Di Meola’s guitar squawks and Corea’s extra melodic synth come into play-as well as Clarke’s very supporting bass line keeping a very funky groove. That could amount to the chorus of the song. On the refrains,the drum is fuller with more fills. And Di Meola takes on some rocking solos with Corea’s synth acting as straight up melodic support. The song has a long conclusion of the chorus before the synths and guitar fall apart into near incoherence as the songs crescendo.
“Sofistifunk”,or rather a variation of that phrase based upon this song,is actually an adjective I used to describe certain types of what’s referred to as post disco or boogie funk that’s live instrumental and well produced. This song however is nothing like that. It is melodically and harmonically complex jazz-funk-full of intense rhythmic turns and soloing that Return To Forever did so well. Still it lives up to its title by melding the intensity of all the players into a fluid musical flow. That’s not too easy to accomplish. And Chick Corea with Return To Forever really made it work very well in this case.
Miles Davis began 1985 having just received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize, which is the highest musical honor in the country of Denmark, in the last month of the previous year. Danish composer Palle Mikkelborg was so inspired by Miles’ achievement that he composed that he decided to compose a suite for him to record. The only major arranger Miles Davis had continually worked with before was Gil Evans. And even later on in their collaborations, Evans wasn’t as fully involved as he’d been when he’d helped to begin Miles’ career as a bandleader with the 1949 album Birth Of The Cool.
The album that came from Mikkelborg and Miles’ collaboration was called Aura. It was recorded early in 1985. Miles Davis was in the process of leaving Columbia for Warner Bros Records at the time. Despite the historic three decade association between Miles and Columbia, Aura wasn’t released until 1989 due to a contractual conflict of interest. It was music of many moods flowing together. It was composed based on notes corresponding to all the initials of Miles Davis’s first and last name. As for the rest of the album, I wrote an Amazon.com 9 years ago that digs deeper into what Aura was and still is.
Miles Davis,just about to leave Columbia records after a lucrative 30 year career with the label turned to Danish composer and musician Palle Mikkelborg to record a ten piece suite in Copenhagen in the late winter of 1985. After a frenetic fusion intro there are nine compositions titled after different colors of the “aura”: white,yellow, orange,red, green, blue,electric red,indigo and violet. Most of these songs,while musically very much in keeping with the early 80’s part of the “electric Miles” period showcase impressionistic “sound paintings” that not only bare a striking resemblance to Miles’ work with Gil Evans on albums like Sketches of Spain at least in terms of arrangement.
The main difference is that on these Miles plays against the melody most the time rather then with it,which while very much in the jazz improvisation tradition gives the music that sense of organized chaos common in Miles’ electric music:the idea melodies and rhythms that are completely different from each other and never coming to a resolution.In this context it could be seen as mixing different shades to make primary colors. The only really funky tune here is “Orange” which is indeed very fiery in nature. “Electric Red” and “Violet” are a slower burning kind of groove whereas “Blue” expresses a light reggae feeling for another musical “color”.
“Indigo” is the only real acoustic piece here. Some of these songs also feature the guitar of John McLaughlin who worked with Miles back in his Bitches Brew days. While the complex,almost ambient nature of ‘Aura’ might qualify elements of this album as off putting and some jazz fans might find some of these songs leaning towards the new age sound it is definitely one of the more unique and individual recordings in Miles’ vast catalog and he has many.
Aura is a true example of why albums matter a lot with instrumental jazz musicians such as Miles. When I first heard it,it was in the form of 30 second previews at a listening station when the remastered CD first came out. It sounded like dull electronic “new age” music in that context. And always avoided it. Upon purchasing the CD later and listening to it, it became clear these were songs that developed in sound and even genre as they went along. In that context,its innovative orchestrated jazz fusion. Therefore I recommend seeking out the Aura album on its own terms-to take in its brilliance.
*Listen to the funkiest song on this album called “Orange” here!
Larry Coryell is a somewhat unique musician for me to discuss. My friend Henrique informed me of the guitarists passing this past Sunday-at the age of 73. Generally speaking when doing a tribute to a fallen musician,I come at it from the point of view of strong knowledge about their music and often their back round. In the case of Mister Coryell,the exact opposite is true. Haven’t actually had much experience (if any) with his music at all. Still,an outsiders perspective might be an interesting place to come at him from. So I’ll start out discussing my only experience with him.
Again,this is a family musical story about me and my father. He was my first inspiration in terms of music and knowledge of it. This story started out with one of our many musical discussions when I was in my late teens. The subject was Miles Davis and his innovation of jazz fusion. And my father mentioned Larry Coryell as an artist who also innovated fusion. The only album he had by Coryell at that time was a cassette of a 1970 album called Spaces. With John McLaughlin,Miroslav Vitous,Chick Corea and Billy Cobham aboard, the album is apparently considered a ground zero for fusion along with Miles’s Bitches Brew.
Perhaps from listening to so much music,particularly electric jazz in all its forms,the memories I have of the Spaces album have also faded somewhat with time. Do remember that it was the first jazz records I heard that was heavily based in acoustic guitar. In the ensuing years,I began to listen to other acoustic jazz guitar maestros such as Earl Klugh. The only other time within the next two decades that I heard Coryell’s playing again was when I reviewed the Larry Young song “Moonwalker” on this blog,which featured Coryell’s playing on it.
In a case similar to the also recently departed David Axelrod, my musical case with Larry Coryell represents something that I’ve often disliked being done by other people. And that is embracing an artists music only after they pass away-the cult of the dead being a motivating factor in appreciating a musician. All that being said,if any of you out there haven’t checked out musical innovators who are still living,it would be a great idea to do so. There’s something so creatively rewarding about embracing art while the artist themselves are still with us. Even if their music will never simply die with them.
John McLaughlin might very well be the best electric guitarist in the jazz fusion genre. He worked through the UK psychedelic rock scene,even giving guitar lessons to a young Jimmy Page. Finding much of this creatively unsatisfying,he picked up with Tony William’s Lifetime in 1969. As well as launching his own solo career.This led him to his iconic work with Miles Davis on his fusion breakthrough album Bitches Brew the following year. With the enormous acclaim working with Miles earned him, McLaughlin formed his own group The Mahavishnu Orchestra shortly thereafter.
Mahavishnu Orchestra’s actual lineup remained fluid over the years outside McLaughlin. In its original lineup though it consist of drummer/percussionist Billy Cobham,bassist Rick Laird,violinist Jerry Goodman and keyboard player Jan Hammer. In a similar manner to Miles,the band would become a platform for many future fusion band leaders. Their debut album in 1970 is called The Inner Mounting Flame. It consists entirely of McLaughlin compositions and is considered a fusion classic today. One of the songs on it that best epitomizes their style and groove for me personally is entitled “Dawn”.
Cobham and Hammer slowly accompany each other on a slowly funky mixture of cymbal heavy drumming and appropriately melodic electric piano. Cobham’s drums become louder as Laird’s bass (playing the exact counter line to Hammer’s keyboards) comes in for Rick Lairds violin solo-one which has a high pitched,sustained tone. He blends directly into McLaughlin’s guitar solo-full of Hendrix like flamboyance yet Santana style sustains. On the bridge of the song,the rhythm goes into a funkified hump with everyone playing their own accompanying solos together before fading out on its original theme.
“Dawn” is a song that’s full of feeling and passion. Listening to the way it instrumentally progresses,it does sound a lot like the day as it comes in. Its all very funky actually. The song has a slow grooving beginning-with the very hummable melody accented strongly. The bridge of the song,where the tempo gets into a faster and funkier groove,is like the sound the bright morning sunshine might make if it could. Jerry Goodman’s violin seemed to weep. And McLaughlin’s guitar seemed to be speaking and singing all at the same time. Its the best example of funky jazz fusion that can really speak to core of the listener.
Jean-Luc Ponty is an artist who probably most represents my adult focus on jazz fusion/funk. A virtuosic violinist from Avranches,France Ponty was born into a family of classically trained musicians. While graduating fairly young from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with their highest honor,he began listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane while playing with one of the countries major symphony orchestra’s Concerts Lamoureux. Ponty became known by the end of the 60’s as being a premier example of “jazz fiddle”.
The jazz community at the time had similar doubts as to the violin’s viability in jazz as they had when Rufus Harley introduced bagpipe into the genre. But with his mixture of be-bop phrasings and European classical movements,Ponty became part of the link between jazz fusion and what would become the new age music genre. He released his first solo album at the age of 22 in 1964’s Jazz Long Playing. He played with key members of the modern jazz movement until Frank Zappa wrote songs for his 1969 album King Kong. He emigrated with his family to America when asked to join Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention.
Ponty participated in the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra albums in the early 70’s as well,before restarting his solo career in 1975. By the early 80’s,he’d toured the world and recorded more than a handful of premier jazz/rock fusion albums. In 1983 he released his 15th studio album Individual Choice. The title song was given one of the first jazz music videos. He also re-ignited his collaboration with the late George Duke. He and Duke recorded a collaborative album together in 1969. And he was the chief composer of my favorite song on Ponty’s 1983 release entitled “In Spiritual Love”.
The main body of this song entirely surrounds the rhythm. Its a funky R&B shuffle done up on a brittle drum machine-surrounded by multiple synthesizer parts. One is a jangling guitar like one,the other is a bluesy bass line while a low and high orchestral one accent both. The melody begins with Ponty plucking the main melody,than playing the last part out on his violin. The song also contains two separate instrumental solos. The first is a classic Minimoog solo from George Duke. The second one is is a full violin solo from Ponty before the song fades back out on its main theme.
Over the last decade or more,I’ve heard most of Jean-Luc Ponty’s 70’s and 80’s studio albums. And enjoyed them strongly based on their album oriented context and impeccable playing. Yet of all the individual songs he’s done,”In Spiritual Love” is one of a handful that stand out strong on its own. The solos are strongly based on Ponty and Duke’s keen understanding of harmonic virtuosity and an inviting sense of melody. But the rhythmic base of the entire song is,outside its electronic presentation,a very funky rhythm & blues shuffle. So this really puts Ponty’s entire musical focus into excellent perspective.
Joe Zawinul had a tremendous history in the development of hard bop jazz onto jazz fusion. He immigrated to the US from Austria in 1959. A year later he was part of Cannonball Adderley’s quintet. And he wound up being the composer of Cannonball’s best known song “Mercy Mercy Mercy”. By the late 60’s,Zawinul was playing and writing with Miles Davis on his fusion process album In A Silent Way. When he and another fellow Miles alumni Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report two years later,Zawinul was again pioneering jazz instrumentation into the era of synthesizers.
Between 1971 and 1984,Weather Report recorded 14 albums. Many of them were iconic in the annals of the fusion genre. The band was also well known for developing pioneering bass players. This included Miroslav Vitous,Alphonso Johnson and best known of all the late Jaco Pastorious. The bands final album in 1986 came totally by accident. They thought they’d fulfilled their Columbia contract with their previous album in 1985’s Sportin’ Life. This didn’t end up being the case,so they had to make one more album. And Zawinul really made it one for the road with the title song to their final album called “This Is This”.
Mino Cinelu starts off with some fast paced Afro-Latin percussion mixed up high. Peter Erksine plays a steady,marching groove that fits like a glove into the spaces left in Cinelu’s percussion. Zawinul and new bassist Victor Bailey rolled right along upfront with one of Zawinul’s most melodically hummable synth bass lines. He provides two for this song-the other a deeper 8-note one later on. Carlos Santana also provides two different guitar parts here-one is high pitched,cosmic guitar atmospherics and some of his exciting lead soloing as well playing call and response to Zawinul’s synth bass lead..
Santana actually get’s accompanied by Zawinul providing two synth brass lines-the first orchestrated big band style ones. This part comes into play after the first few choruses. On the last few choruses of the song, the other synth brass part arrives playing more succinct,funkier charts. By this time Santana’s guitar,Cinelu’s percussion,Erksine’s drums and Zawinul’s synth bass all come together in a beautiful,rhythmic unison of colorful sounds. Little by little,each instrumental element drops out of the mix. And the song slows back into percussion,bass and guitar as it fades.
Before people like Billy Preston and of course Prince,Joe Zawinul was a major pioneer of the bass synthesizers. By 1986,synth brass was the big thing in American pop music with the advent of the Minneapolis sound. With Zawinul having worked it for years,”This Is This” is a highly underrated song for Weather Report-perhaps one of Zawinul’s strongest compositions. The groove is strongly Afrocentric,and the playing is as funky as they come. It really brings out the best in ever instrumentalist involved and allowed Weather Report to go out again innovating with some electro funk style world fusion.
Filed under 1986, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Carlos Santana, Columbia Records, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, guitar, jazz fusion, Joe Zawinul, Mino Cinelu, percussion, Peter Erksine, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizers, Victor Bailey, Weather Report, world fusion
While I am sure Larry Coryell deserves a lot of credit for his innovations in fusion the concept of jazz-funk fusion probably starts with this album. Basically what Miles and his quintet are dealing with here is transitions of both a musical and personal nature. Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea alternate (on various cuts) on electric piano and the same goes for Ron Carter and Dave Holland. I’ve heard it said that had to do with the fact that while he had nothing against fusion jazz,Ron Carter wasn’t as comfortable playing electric bass as he was an acoustic one.
But no matter who is playing what this album is,as they might’ve said in the late 60’s,”now”. For the past several album Miles and his Quintet created a unique type of jazz that blended be-bop with avant garde techniques and on this album,Miles’s strong influence from soul and R&B (from listening to Sly Stone and James Brown and perhaps his wife Betty Mabry) has had an impact on the music as well. For one Tony Williams,always a rock and R&B fan himself was still improvising on drums as only he could but his general rhythm has a funkier,more syncopated tone here…at times.
That being said,perhaps that colliding with the Fender Rhodes soloing “Frelon Brun” is definitely in on the new jazz-funk style completely.Even though they wiggle and wobble between what Herbie Hancock calls “jazz and rock n roll back beats” jumping in and around each other “Petits Machins” and the title song both illustrate something of the same feeling.”Toute De Suite” and the alternate take of it presented here are as we see now yet another innovation:the beginnings of what we might call “acid jazz” now;mid-tempo funky rhythms,LOTS of Fender Rhodes solos and a bluesy jazz feel-amazing tune either way you cut it.
In dedication to his wife Davis also included “Mademoiselle Mabry”,a elongated blues showcasing,as the rest of these songs do a very pretty melody. One thing Miles managed to do on this album was maintain his melodic jazz flair and also cloth it in a brand new setting. This is definitely one of those albums where Miles begins to lean heavily into the style that would soon become known as fusion.Not too long after this Miles would release his landmark In a Silent Way and it was off to the races for him;his songs developed more concise grooves and became even longer in length. Nonetheless this will always hold a very special place in Miles’ vast musical legacy.
Originally posted on May 6th,2008
LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!
Listen to “Frelun Brun”,a key funk/jazz process number on YouTube here.
Filed under 1960's, Betty Mabry, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, drums, electric jazz, Fender Rhodes, Fusion, Herbie Hancock, jazz funk, Miles Davis, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, trumpet, upright bass, Wayne Shorter