When progressive rock and jazz fusion first emerged, they have been worlds aside. Simply evaluate Miles Davis’s jazz-rock milestone Bitches Brew and Light Big’s classically influenced, uber-proggy debut. Each blew minds in 1970 with their knowledgeable musicianship and daring new visions, however in addition they underlined the space between prog’s ornate, intricately organized meisterwerks and fusion’s free-wheeling, improv-oriented expeditions.
Don’t peg all progressive bands as stately baroque-rockers although. A subset of 70s prog musicians extra besotted with Miles than Mozart bypassed extremely organized symphonic rock and channeled their heavy-duty chops in jazzier instructions. The crossover encompassed fusion bands born from the prog scene (Gilgamesh, Hatfield & The North, Model X, Colosseum II), progressive rock bands with high-profile fusion offshoots (U.Ok.), and artists who labored either side of the fence (Gong, Frank Zappa).
Most likely the most important single nexus of prog/fusion crossover was the Canterbury scene. Within the late 60s, Delicate Machine was the religious heart for the free agglomeration of bands that took jazz’s heady harmonic improvements and improvisational elan and rendered them with rock instruments. Some key Canterbury bands, like Caravan and the early incarnations of Delicate Machine, leaned nearer to rock. However outfits like Hatfield and the North (which included former Caravan bassist/singer Richard Sinclair) discovered their ft within the fusion realm.
On Hatfield’s self-titled 1974 debut album, the Chick Corea-informed electrical piano impressionism of Dave Stewart (to not be confused with the Eurythmics co-founder) and the splashy swing of drummer Pip Pyle definitively tilt the steadiness in direction of jazz. As usually as not, when voices seem they’re principally used as wordless devices, and when guitarist Phil Miller abandons his post-bop glide for a fuzzier sound, it’s extra John McLaughlin than Jimi Hendrix.
Hatfield have been shut cousins to Gilgamesh. Stewart co-produced the latter’s 1975 debut LP, generally sat in with the band, and later fashioned the equally inclined Nationwide Well being with Gilgamesh keyboardist Alan Gowen. Like Hatfield and the North, Gilgamesh solely lasted for 2 albums, however in contrast to Hatfield, they operated with no hint of rock sensibility, abandoning vocals utterly, as Gowen’s dazzling multi-keyboard mastery introduced the band to even deeper ranges of jazzy harmonic complexity than Stewart’s band.
Gong was based in France, however their numerous lineups had quite a few ties to Canterbury. Initially led by Delicate Machine co-founder Daevid Allen, they began out as psychedelic rock pranksters, however with the arrival of Pip Pyle and saxophonist Didier Malherbe, their high-concept area rock began taking a jazzier flip. And after Allen break up in 1975, they developed right into a full-on fusion band. On all-instrumental information like Gazeuse! and Expresso II, drummer Pierre Moerlen took the reins, instituting a considerably Zappa-ish method that leaned closely on interlocking mallet percussion patterns. (Moerlen, his brother Benoit, and Mirielle Bauer constituted Gong’s mighty percussive triumvirate).
Talking of drummer-fronted bands, Colosseum performed a mixture of proto-prog, jazz, and blues within the late 60s, with hotshot Jon Hiseman main the cost from behind the equipment. However after the preliminary lineup break up – with keyboardist Dave Greenslade beginning the prog band that bore his surname and taking bassist Tony Reeves with him – Colosseum II finally arose as a fire-breathing fusion group.
Hiseman was nonetheless on the fore, surrounded by a completely new crew together with guitar hero Gary Moore, keyboardist Don Airey, and onetime Gilgamesh bassist Neil Murray. After their first album they sacked singer Mike Starrs and centered on their wheelhouse: a jazz-rock shred-a-rama corresponding to Al Di Meola-era Return to Eternally, with licks worthy of UN monitoring as weapons of mass destruction.
You possibly can’t get a lot farther from jazz than 70s Genesis. However simply as Phil Collins was making his first foray from behind the drums to the frontman spot after Peter Gabriel’s departure, he seemingly determined he wanted much more of a problem. So, he let his inside jazzer out and have become a constitution member of British fusion giants Model X. Early lineups even briefly included Sure’s Invoice Bruford and Camel’s Andy Ward on extra percussion.
On 1976’s Unorthodox Behaviour and follow-up Morrocan Roll, Model X was as funky and swinging as any American fusion band. Fleet-footed Collins unleashed all of the jazzy strikes Genesis had no name for, and the seemingly four-handed bassist Percy Jones proved himself to be the UK’s reply to Stanley Clarke.
The aforementioned Bruford had much more jazz in his coronary heart than Collins. And when he’d (a minimum of briefly) had his fill of constructing prog rock historical past with Sure and King Crimson, he buzzed off to guide a fusion band of his personal: Bruford. He introduced alongside superhuman guitarist Allan Holdsworth from his earlier band, prog supergroup U.Ok. The ever present Dave Stewart joined on keys, and American bass phenom Jeff Berlin accomplished the unique lineup.
Feels Good to Me and Certainly one of a Type are late 70s jazz-rock classics, with Holdsworth approaching his guitar like a saxophone, Stewart delivering next-level synth splashes, and Berlin displaying his poetic, Jaco Pastorius-level bass presents. After the band ended, Holdsworth constructed his legend as a solo fusion guitar god, and Bruford forsook electrical energy in his post-bop band Earthworks.
When Bruford vacated the drum stool in U.Ok., he was changed by American octopus Terry Bozzio, whose jazzy, stateside CV may have made his predecessor sigh with envy. Bozzio labored with jazz greats like Woody Shaw and Eddie Henderson in addition to fusion legends The Brecker Brothers, however his most high-profile gig was his stint with Frank Zappa’s band (which at one level additionally included one other member of U.Ok., keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson).
All all through his profession, Zappa flipped between codecs because it suited his muse, leaping between prog, blues, fashionable classical, doo wop, and no matter else was whetting his mercurial whistle in the intervening time. However the merger of jazz and rock was a very candy spot for the mustachioed maestro, and he visited it a number of occasions over the course of his lengthy, eclectic journey.
In addition to being probably the most lyrical and nimble electrical guitar stylists of his era, Zappa (very similar to Miles Davis) consistently surrounded himself with virtuosic gamers. A number of the largest fusion stars of the 70s logged stints in Zappa’s band, together with George Duke and Jean-Luc Ponty. And on albums like Waka/Jawaka, Scorching Rats, The Grand Wazoo, and Sleep Filth, to call just some, Frank and firm got here to the desk with sufficient fiery solos and ensemble bravura to make among the most searing jazz-rock statements ever.
By the point the 80s rolled round, the rarefied cultural local weather that made such complicated, difficult sounds sustainable on a mainstream stage had modified. High-tier prog and fusion bands like Light Big, ELP, Return to Eternally, and Mahavishnu Orchestra had referred to as it quits, and others altered their method so as to survive.
However in that golden window between the ascension of the counterculture and the tabula rasa impact engendered by the punk revolution, lofty musical ambitions weren’t solely tolerated however inspired. And when two of the period’s most bold subgenres crossed their streams, it made for a few of 70s music’s most luminous lightning strikes – brainy and bad-ass in equal quantities.
In search of extra? Try our checklist of the very best 50 prog rock albums of all-time.