Bill Cosby “Badfoot Brown & The Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band” (1970)

Believe it or not, this ultra-obscure 35-minute shot of heady psychedelic jazz-funk came from the mind and soul of Bill Cosby. Yes, THAT Bill Cosby!

A crate-digger’s delight, the album was originally released in 1971 and features two extended tracks (“Martin’s Funeral” and “Hybish Shybish”) the album does a remarkable job of bringing to musical life the tense, tumultuous, but ultimately invigorating era in which it was recorded. Cosby is no slouch on the keys; and though he is galaxies away from the man, the comedian’s bursts of electric piano at times recall Sun Ra. An oddity given its association with Cosby, the album remains an excellent slab of heavy, spaced-out jazz funk and will be of interest to any fan of the style.

Larry Young “Lawrence of Newark” (1973)

Even by Larry Young standards this is a strange album, which is to say this is a very very strange album, but also a very good one. There seems to be two different styles present on this album. Half of the songs are in a mystical psychedelic African fusion style, and the other half seem to be Young’s unique take on minimalism, with the different instruments in his large ensemble playing repeating riffs in forceful, and sometimes almost chaotic fashion. The unifying factor throughout this album is a very low-fi production and purposefully sloppy mixing that has instruments at strangely mismatched volumes. Always one to chart his own course, Larry seems to be trying to strip any gloss or sheen off his music by not allowing any sort of post production work. On a couple of tunes you can actually hear the tape machine start up mid-jam while the band is already playing.

Trying to describe this music is a bit tough, but let’s start with a mix consisting of a low-fi version of Santana’s Caravanserai, some of Sun Ra’s African grooves, John Cale’s rock-minimalism experiments with Terry Riley, Miles’ Bitches Brew with it’s constantly noodling instruments bubbling up from the background and possibly Keith Emerson’s distorted B3 extended psychedelic jams with the Nice. All throughout this album Larry’s Hammond B3 is run through a variety of reverbs and distortion devices, and he constantly manipulates the tone bars creating shifting psychedelic sounds that can instantly rush from a shimmering whisper to a full on roar.

This album isn’t for everybody, I think the lack of production values would be a big turn off for many, but for me the rough sound is part of this album’s appeal. Larry’s solos on here are powerful and creative as he proves he ranks high with the very best jazz fusion and progressive rock Hammond B3 artists. His massive ensemble is equally talented as the percussionists play hypnotic poly-rhythms and the saxophonists create counterpoints to Larry’s bold melodies. —JS

Miles Davis “Filles de Kilimanjaro” (1969)

Miles was cranking out about two studio works a year with this, his great 60’s quintet when “Filles De Kilimanjaro” was recorded, and he was about to embark on his groundbreaking “jazz/fusion” era of career. It’s a time of transition too with Miles adding electric piano, played here by Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, and Dave Holland providing bass on two of the cuts in place of Ron Carter. On this album, Mile’s mood seems to be much lighter than displayed on “Neffertiti” the year before. The soundscapes seem to hold much more color, and there’s even an element of funk beginning to creep in. As with just about everything this group recorded, the playing is flawless. My favorites are “Tout De Suite”, and the beautifully rambling “Mademoiselle Mabry”. This is Miles in a state of transition with his music to be sure, although I doubt there was ever a time in his career that his music wasn’t in transition. That’s part of being a genius. Here he begins to explore acoustically for the most part, the territory that he would tear wide open with electric instruments in just a few years. That alone is enough to make this great album important, but the music alone more than speaks for itself. —Tim

Chick Corea “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs” (1968)

If you enjoy music, you need this album. When listening to this disc, one gets the sense that Chick is putting his entire self into the piano. The dark atonal passages delivered in perfect rhythm will send chills down your spine. The first two tracks, Steps-What Was and Matrix, are worth the price alone. Corea plays with the fury and passion of the 1960s in the language of European modernists like Bartok and Stravinsky. The interesting part is that this album also swings. Hard. Roy Haynes is absolutely fabulous as always, and has the perfect sound to accompany Chick. Miroslav Vitous provides an extremely powerful rhythmic and harmonic presence, as well as virtuosic, freaklike proficiency in his solos. This is an overlooked masterpiece, and one of the best trio performances of all time. —BKnola

Wayne Shorter “Native Dancer” (1975)

Native Dancer is a wonder of a record. Wayne Shorter is the greatest (especially soprano) sax player in the history of Jazz, and here, he plays at his best. The music is not really Jazz. Instead, Brazilian star Milton Nascimento sings and adds his unique wizardry to the lush, tropical mood of the set. There’s not a trace of Bossa Nova in this music but Nascimento’s idiosyncratic handwriting instead. The compositions sound natural, though, and not as forcefully “intelligent” as the music Shorter would record after this. The musicians (what a lineup!) cook up a unique sound; no one tries to show off, it’s all mood and sensuality. It’s useless to pick out tunes – the flow is perfect, and so is this LP.

Native Dancer has been slandered and overlooked even by Wayne Shorter fans, perhaps because it doesn’t cater for the preconceived concepts of the average Jazz connoisseur, but make no mistake, Native Dancer is a timeless classic, irrespective of the tags attached to it (Jazz/MPB). To me, it’ll always be one of the 70s’ definite highlights. —Yofriend

Miroslav Vitous “Magical Shepherd” (1976)

Magical Shepherd is one of the most significant releases in mid ’70’s electro fusion jazz music, and ironically remains largely unrecognised. It is most decidedly unlike anything that else Miroslav Vitous recorded, with funky bass lines and extensive tape looping. A collaboration with Herbie Hancock, Magical Shepherd expands beyond the usual format of fusion jazz at the time, and ends up (on side one at least) producing sounds more reminiscent of modern house and jungle music (check out the use of the disco beats and loops in New York city). The atmospheric vocals by Cheryl Grainger and Onike would fit nicely into any recordings by Goldie. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

If you like electro fusion jazz and do not have a copy, then your life is the poorer for such an omission. If you like Herbie Hancock’s electro fusion work then this album is compulsory listening. I have played it extensively on my Radio program and have always received calls from local club DJs amazed at the existence of the recording. As coordinator of [my station’s] Jazz Show it has become my personal mission to ensure that this recording gets the wide recognition that it deserves. —Peter

Charles Mingus “Let My Children Hear Music” (1972)

One of the more convincing attempts to fuse jazz with classical. Certainly an unusual album, even by Mingus’s standards (witness the sampling of an elephant in full-trumpet) but it seems to hold together in spite of the potential for catastrophe. There’s so much going on here that, however meticulously composed it may be, at times one can’t help thinking of the opening moments of Coltrane’s free-jazz masterpiece Ascension. Everyone of the instruments here is doing something worthy of attention at all times but there’s little one-upmanship. It is a collaborative effort if ever there was one. This is orchestral jazz in the most literal form. Musically there are times when it is considerably leaning more to the classical side of things than jazz, although classical in a cinematic sense. When you expect brooding horn swells, you’re never far from swinging brass bombast, and vice versa. If this is music for children, it’s for a darker kind of children’s story. The musical accompaniment to Mingus’s spoken-word story on The Chill of Death isn’t unlike an alternative film score for The Wizard of Oz, all dramatic flourishes and atmosphere in abundance, with moments of black humour throughout.

This is not a Mingus album for the jazz or Mingus neophyte, nor is it necessarily one for anyone who enjoyed Ah Um and Pithecanthropus and is looking for their next port of call. It isn’t typical of the works for which Mingus is most remembered. It is worth noting, however, that this is the album that Mingus himself was most happy with. If you trust the man’s judgement, you might find this being one of your favourites too. —Jaime

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’77 “Primal Roots” (1972)

As the title suggests, this isn’t another excursion into Brazilian pop. Here, there’s no pandering to Tropicália, disco or whatever was en vogue in 1972 -yes despite being played by the Brasil ’77, the album was actually recorded in 1972 under the alternate title “Raízes.” This is an album of traditional Brazilian music. The compositions feature traditional percussion instruments such as the gogó, cuica, pandeiro and atabaques. Much of the compositions emphasize the African origins of Brazilian music. While “Primal Roots” doesn’t sell out to commercial pressures, it is far from a field recording of traditional music. While some songs feature minimalist chanting and drumming, others feature those silky smooth female vocalists, flutes and some psychedelic keyboard work. Sergio Mendes may never be remembered in the same light as Astrud Gilberto, Airto Moreira and Gilberto Gil but “Primal Roots” will always be remembered as his ‘important album.’ —The Delite Rancher

Arthur Blythe “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” (1978)

Not just a great jazz album, but a great album, period. First of all, there’s the fact that this little masterpiece slipped out in the period in which Branford Marsalis seems to think that “jazz just kind of died” which is a nice little thing in itself. But as a record, there’s not just great tunes and great playing here, though they’re there in spades, but the way it’s constructed from the uplift of the leading cut “Down San Diego Way” down to the darker, troubling “Odessa” is a thing of note as well. Rare are the jazz guys who work hard at constructing an album as a total listening experience, so it always pleases me when it’s done well. But to go back to the beginning, and what makes this good jazz in the first place, is the playing and the tunes. Blythe has never sounded better on any record of his that I’ve heard – or anyone else’s record either. The brilliant and underrated James Newton is given loads of fine moments here, while James ‘Blood’ Ulmer is unusually restrained, playing mostly backgrounds and fills, soloing only on the closing track. Bob Stewart’s tuba gives a unique character to the ensemble, and his couple of solos are also fine. Rhythm is taken care of by the amazing Jack DeJohnette, who’s all over his kit, Guillermo Franco’s percussion complements Jack’s wild rhythms, and the amazing Cecil McBee’s bass provides the solid grounding that the whole group needs to make it fly. Simply a great album however you slice it. —Patrick

Brand X “Moroccan Roll” (1977)

Any band or artist that was blessed with Phil Collins presence on the drums in the 70’s would instantly improve their sound. Brand X, of course, was no exception. In fact, If I had to choose one band to prove the greatness of Phil Collins behind the drum kit, it would be Brand X. As much as I love Genesis, it’s here that he seems most confident to create whatever he feels like and to develop a style with no restrictions. In Genesis he was brilliant on the drums, but he was always conscious of the boundaries imposed by Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks compositions. In Brand X he sounds like there’s nothing he can’t do. The other guys are brilliant as well, but it’s Phil Collins that makes them sound so tight.

The music is unmistakingly late 70’s funk-prog-fusion with a jazzy flavor. This is fusion that never becomes tiring and self-absorbed. It’s music for people who love to get lost in a sound filled with intricate patterns and cool atmospheres created by musicians in perfect control of their own vision and who know how to explore new boundaries without losing their sense of fun on the way! —Som

Eberhard Weber “The Colours of Chloë” (1974)

In the documentary Jazz by Ken Burns, Wynton Marsalis says that Jazz Fusion was a dead end, so Burns, ever a dupe of authority, leaves most of the great work of the 1970’s out of the documentary as if it never existed.

He and Ken Burns ought to have listened to this great album, a work of subtly, grace, and ethereal moods, using not just jazz instruments, but a complete range of orchestral colors. A masterpiece of style, and a template for the ECM sound as well, a place where jazz’s best attributes, technique, melodic playing, experimental strides, and lack of cliche, moved Jazz in a truly new direction. —Mark

Where’s That Confounded Bridge?
A Rock Listener’s Guide to Exploring Jazz

Growing up with rock, I heard some of my favorite bands incorporate jazz into their sound. From The Stones’ heavy use of brass in the mid-seventies to the The Dead’s free-form improvisations and the jazz-infused rock of Zappa and Traffic, the influence of jazz was all around me. Meanwhile a bridge from the rock section to jazz remained elusive. I owned the prerequisite recordings: Miles’s Kind of Blue and Brubeck’s Take Five, along with a handfull of jazz-funk classics like Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. While these records served as a decent introduction, the real appeal of jazz still mystified me and free jazz made me cringe in terror. Ornette Coleman would have quickly send me running back to the sanctuary of my Kinks records.

I decided to make an effort to broaden my knowledge and appreciation for jazz. I temporarily set aside my cherished rock records, emptied my iPod of all that I knew and loved, and I proceeded to feed myself a steady diet of things jazz: from big band and bop, to free-jazz and fusion. I knew that I’d walk away from the experiment with some new insight and possibly even rekindle my romance with rock & roll after our trial separation. My real hope was that I might unlock some of the mysteries of jazz and discover some new favorite artists and albums and I did! My feelings towards jazz slowly changed from curiosity to an insatiable appetite for all forms of the genre. I quickly learned that jazz, like rock, is a broad term with many definitions. Several of the artists (Ornette Coleman included) that initially caused me to scramble for my mute button have since become favorites. As this new language became more familiar I began to hear beauty where once I had heard noise.

For the purpose of this guide, I’ll concentrate on some of my very early favorites: All of these suggestions are experimental while remaining accessible. All of them are heavily influenced by other genres including Rock, World Music and R&B, making them early examples of fusion before that term came to mean its own genre. Collectively these records created a bridge to a world that I’m still exploring today and all of them reserve a special place in my increasingly eclectic music collection:

1. Yusef Lateef The Blue Yusef Lateef (1969). If there was ever an album to sum up the true meaning of the term “fusion”, it would have to be this one. Multi-reedman/instrumentalist Yusef Lateef blended together this collage of world music, R&B, jazz, rock, gospel, and of course the blues and came up with this astounding piece of work. With the strange instrumentation alongside some great sidemen, this album continues to evolve. From the opening track, “Juba Juba” – ghostly female vocal chants in the background of a pounding drumbeat and crying harmonica that beckons the blues in its purest, to the crazy vocal scatting and frantic flute fluctuations of “Moon Cup”. Another bonus is guitarist Kenny Burrell, who shows up with some gritty and swinging licks throughout. There’s something for everyone on this exceedingly overlooked and esoteric record.

2. Rahsaan Roland Kirk Inflated Tear (1967). The blind, multi-reedman (sometimes playing several horns at once!) covers a broad spectrum of styles on this record and is considered by many to be his masterpiece. Set aside any preconceptions you have about jazz and strap yourself in. This record is a wild ride!  Inflated Tear incorporates New Orleans roots, swing and bebop, call and response blues and gospel, double sax playing, and strange whistle noises, and the abstraction of the 1960s and 1970s avant-garde.

3. Les McCann Layers (1973). This is one of McCann’s more experimental records offering a smooth funkiness (Lets Play) juxtaposed alongside some eccentric tone poems performed on the moog synthesizer (Interlude) creating a soulful, psychedelic mood. All of the elements on this album still sound fresh while expertly blurring the lines between jazz, rock, and soul. Equally impressive is that McCann plays nearly every instrument due to his new found passion, the Arp 2600 Synthesizer.

4. Gabor Szabo Dreams (1969) Hungarian guitarist, Gabor Szabo, reaches a creative high on Dreams, a psychedelic-tinged, jazz-rock hybrid that will definitely please the rock listeners reading this guide. The record features a combination of rock covers and jazz originals along with the interesting flourishes of Hungarian and Indian melodies that would resurface throughout his career. This is a beautiful, haunting record and the Aubrey Beardsley-inspired artwork on its cover suits the mysterious music inside perfectly.

5. Miles Davis Jack Johnson (1971). This is a given for any rock-based jazz recommendation. Davis’ soundtrack for the movie/documentary about the boxer Jack Johnson feels like you took a right hook to the chin as soon as the needle hits the wax. This record is Miles’ hardest rocking and biting of all of his electric work, thanks to John McLaughlin’s barking guitar riffs and drummer Billy Cobham’s changing tempos and R&B grooves. Herbie Hancock provides atmospheric organ textures that make it spacey and slightly psychedelic. This is a lot more stripped down than his earlier (and later) electric work and manages to swing with rocking vigor. This is a great rock record that fits in the jazz bins.

6. Herbie Mann Stone Flute (1970). This long-time Jive Time favorite is a departure for the famous, furry flautist. Known mostly for his accessible, light instrumental R&B and pop covers, Mann comes out with this trippy record; Mellow, with a dark, placid theme, this album drones and simmers with a cast of veterans. Guitarist Sonny Sharrock plays dissonant minor chords while Ron Carter aimlessly plucks and bows searching bass lines. Roy Ayers’ vibes provide a breezy element bringing irony to the melancholic feel.  It’s all held together with a small string section in the background that always seems to show up at the wrong time- in the right way. If you have to own one Mann record, this is the one.  A somber, twisted interpretation of The Beatles’ “Flying” is an interesting highlight.

7. Duke Ellington Far East Suite (1966). As the title suggests, the exotic melodies on this record will make one rethink their preconceptions of Duke Ellington and big band jazz. The King continued to explore and stay relevant into the sixties recording with exploring luminaries such as Coltrane and Mingus. As an already established jazz legend, Far East Suite is an example of how Ellington was not only a master composer and interpreter but was fearless and exploratory.  The music on Far East Suite is at the same time accessible yet sinister and noir-esque. It was also years ahead of its time rhythmically — you can almost hear hip-hop beats on “Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues).”

For further listening: More than any other artist, Miles Davis, helped bridge the gap between rock and jazz and his entire discography is worthy of exploration. Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew get the lion’s share of the press but I prefer the spacious A Silent Way, the funky Miles in the Sky, and the dark jazz-funk-rock hybrid On The Corner (which still manages to sound unlike anything else I’ve heard before or since), along with Jack Johnson listed above. We could dedicate an entire guide to John Coltrane but his seldom mentioned Atlantic recording Olé is a Jive Time favorite and it fits neatly in this list with it’s haunting, eighteen minute title track featuring Coltrane and Eric Dolphy shaping some amazing tones around the drone and pulse of two basses. Larry Young is best known for this hard-bop recordings for Blue Note but I suggest tracking down the obscure The Lawrence of Newark on Perception, one of the finest examples of jazz-rock fusion I’ve found. Another route would be to explore ECM Records’ catalog. ECM sometimes gets a bad rap for straying into New Age territory , but for those interested in early examples of fusion this German label offers some of the very finest examples. (Read our guide to ECM jazz, Quiet Chaos.)

I may never have the same visceral response to jazz the way I do sentimental favorites Back in BlackExile on Main St or Village Green, but I enjoy jazz in a much different way. Jazz relies less on immediate accessibility, it challenges the listener, leaving it open to the individual’s own interpretation. Best of all, my exploration of this vast genre has recaptured some of the excitement that I experienced when I first discovered rock and punk as a teenager. —David