Monday, February 20, 2023

Who was on first?

                                                   Sometimes discussing who originators wereof a musical trend turns into a Who's On First. Someone asked me if Traffic created what is termed Jazz-rock or fusion or "fusion" that combustive melding of jazz and hard rock stylistics that informed much of the instrumental terrain in the mid to late Seventies. Not exactly, I responded, and when on with the following gush of condensed didactics:

Traffic were late comers to the jazz-rock movement, and their greatest strength was hardly their instrumental abilities. As improvisers, they were technically impoverished. Winwood on keyboards and Chris Wood on reeds and flute noodled limply for long passages. They wrote good songs and Winwood was a brilliant vocalist, but their attempts at jazz were weak. Larry Coryell seems to be the first out of the gate at the start of the jazz-rock trend with his efforts with Free Spirits in 1966, but that same year saw another major breakthrough with the release of “East West” by the Butterfield Blues Band. The album featured the man considered by many to be the first guitar hero, Mike Bloomfield. On this album he is showcased in two still-vibrant displays , “The Work Song”, which highlights him digging into an unexpected hard bop style solo complete with octaves, and on the title track, a Coltrane influenced improvisation with a long bit of raga-inspired extemporization from Bloomfield. The musicianship seems a bit rough considering how much more technically adept rock and fusion players have become over the decades, but these songs and indeed the entire album sounds fresh and ethereal all these years later. What Bloomfield was doing in 1966 was something no other 60s generation rock guitarist was doing. 

He was a trend setter who revolutionized the approach to guitar. Bloomfield , that his imagination exceeded his technical grasp . He had a very solid grounding in blues which he played with ferocity, fluidity and feeling, not to mention speed, and he did adapt jazz and raga ideas into his improvisations, but compared to who influenced him regarding —Coltrane, Ravi Shankar—his command of the chromatics was sometimes tentative .Miles Davis’ contributions to jazz fusion have been acknowledged and discussed widely for years; it’s more interesting at this point to revisit the very early experimenters who offered their ideas as to what jazz and rock styles combined might sound like. Coryell, Free Spirits, Butterfield Blues Band, the Blues Project—these pioneers have been overlooked and under acknowledged and now is the moment to examine their contributions at some depth.While we’re at it, lets give some props to Tjay Cantrelli for his splendid Coltranesque sax improv on the 19 plus minute jam “revelation” on Love’s 1966 album “DeCapo”.

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