selected by Adam Holzman

1) Bitches Brew -Miles Davis
The all-time classic, the archetype.
The first and the best.
>preview "Pharoah's Dance" (real player)

The revolution was recorded: in 1969 Bitches Brew sent a shiver through a country already quaking. It was a recording whose very sound, production methods, album-cover art, and two-LP length all signaled that jazz could never be the same. Over three days anger, confusion, and exhilaration had reigned in the studio, and the sonic themes, scraps, grooves, and sheer will and emotion that resulted were percolated and edited into an astonishingly organic work. This Miles Davis wasn't merely presenting a simple hybrid like jazz-rock, but a new way of thinking about improvisation and the studio. And with this two-CD reissue (actually, this set is a reissue of the original set plus one track, perfect for the fan who's not so overwhelmed as to need the four-CD Complete Bitches Brew box), the murk of the original recording is lifted. The instruments newly defined and brightened, the dark energy of the original comes through as if it were all fresh. Joe Zawinul and Bennie Maupin's roles in the mix have been especially clarified. With a bonus track of "Feio"--a Wayne Shorter composition recorded five months later that serves both as a warm-down for Bitches Brew and a promise of Weather Report to come--this is crucial listening. --John F. Szwed


2) On The Corner -
Miles Davis
An editing and sound collage masterpiece.
20 years ahead of its time.

In 1969, the house of jazz was shaken to its foundations when Miles Davis began to dabble in elements of rock when he recorded Bitches Brew . Many of his faithful quickly fell by the wayside with what they considered this outrageous gesture. Nonetheless, a younger audience quickly arose to embrace what he was doing. But when On the Corner was issued in 1972, it seemed that everyone jumped ship: Miles's effort to bring together the latest developments in European experimental music (Stockhausen 's "Mixtur," for example) and Black American funk (Sly Stone) fell on dead ears. What's more, the art work on the cover was peculiar, there was no list of musicians, and the signature Davis trumpet sound was largely buried in the mix. Now, almost 30 years later, time has caught up to Davis, and this record seems the clear ancestor of hip-hop, trance, jungle, and other musics whose methods involve slowly revealing their meaning through repetition, small variation, and funk without cease. Though broken into tracks, it seems more like a single groove, swirling with every trend that was in the air at the time. Forget about conventional melody, harmony, and structure. Davis erased those elements along with the hierarchy that rules them. New digital remastering makes this methodology seem much clearer, and the prejudices of 30 years ago may yet fade into the distance. --John F. Szwed


3) Filles De Kilimanjaro -
Miles Davis
The sublime transitional album between the second quintet and the electric era, with some of Miles's best compositions
>preview "Frelon Brun (Brown Hornet)" (real player)

Filles De Kilimanjaro would be Miles Davis' last album with his second great quintet and pointed the way towards the jazz-fusion of his next album In A Silent Way. This album also marked the debut of bassist Dave Holland and keyboardist Chick Corea on the tracks "Frelon Brun" and "Mademoiselle Mabry." This album, along with their previous album Miles In The Sky, introduced the electric instruments and longer compositions that came to define fusion. The opening track "Frelon Brun" is the only track which resembles the hard-bop of the Miles Smiles and E.S.P. albums. Although Corea, Davis, and Wayne Shorter all have impressive solos here, it's drummer Tony Williams who truly carries the track with his extremely busy drumming. "Tout De Suite" is an excellent track which starts out very subdued. Then with Williams' drumming gaining more momentum, Davis and Shorter both lend excellent solos to the track. Miles' solos are extremely impressive throughout the album possibly due to the exciting direction his music was going in. Herbie Hancock's solo on this track is also a highlight. "Petits Machins (Little Stuff)" is more of the same although it holds none of the subtlety of "Tout De Suite." The title track is the most memorable one here and is carried by Ron Carter's inventive bass playing. This track, as well as "Mademoiselle Mabry", which hints at Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary", are the most subtle ones here concentrating more on space rather than intense soloing. This album is usually overlooked because it preceded In A Silent Way. Nevertheless, it is an outstanding album and arguably the best of Miles' second great quintet. Highly recommended. --John J. Alapick


4) Emergency -Tony Williams Lifetime
The REAL original jazz-rocker, in style and spirit. Tony was a step ahead of everybody, and louder than anything anyone had heard before! Featuring organ master Larry Young.
>preview "Emergency" (real player)

Williams's group Lifetime, which looked on paper like an organ jazz-funk trio, produced in 1969 this headlong hybrid from jazz complexity and rock immediacy. Williams, fresh from edging Davis towards his jazz-rock-soul period, concocts a driving, high-volume fusion that has more conviction and flare than anyone else's would until the advent of the great Mahavishnu Orchestra a couple of years later. That band was led by Williams's collaborator here, John McLaughlin, as blistering and savvy a guitarist as any jazz-rock saw. Larry Young's organ is a skirmishing juggernaut, clearing and blasting into space above, behind, beneath, and between the drummer's crashing, jittering rhythms. A cautionary note: To be sure, Williams's singing on Emergency! is brave, at best, but it is blessedly limited. --Peter Monaghan


5) Birds Of Fire -Mahavishnu Orchestra
Everybody talked about mixing jazz and rock, but they actually did it, on this album perhaps better than anybody.
>preview "Birds of Fire" (real player)

Thanks to yet another pristine digital remastering from the archivists at Legacy, we are drawn deeper into the creative vortex of John McLaughlin's groundbreaking fusion ensemble, captured at the peak of their powers in August 1972. By this time, Mahavishnu were headliners, and by offering greater bass extension, more air and resolution, and a clearer sense of distinction between the component parts, McLaughlin's collaborators sound clearer in their shaping of the group's overall sound. Clearly, guitarist McLaughlin was the creative lightning rod, as his chanting solo on the title tune suggests, colored as it is by the cathartic melodic fire of late Coltrane and Hendrix . Likewise, his interest in the vocalized scales and extended rhythmic cycles of Indian classical music reveals itself in the round-robin solo exchanges on showstoppers like "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" and "One Word" and in the more formal designs of "Hope" and "Resolution." But in Billy Cobham , McLaughlin had found his Elvin Jones . Cobham's ability, with bassist Rick Laird, to focus ferocious energy toward making odd meters groove, and the band's funky, backbeats swing--while playing with an enormous tonal palette and a keen sense of dynamics--balanced the formal and improvisational aspects of each arrangement. Likewise, Jerry Goodman 's soaring violin is the ideal vocal foil for an electric guitar, and the woefully underrated electric pianist and synth innovator Jan Hammer clearly helps flesh out the harmonic fabric on every arrangement, such as the funky changes of "Miles Beyond" and the classical airs of "Thousand Island Park." Ultimately, the joy of seeing Mahavishnu live was in sharing their sense of adventure and discovery, and that collective chemistry is what makes this reissue of Birds of Fire so vital. Truly, the sum was greater than the parts--too bad you can't go home again. --Chip Stern


6) Sextant -Herbie Hancock
One of Herbie's first experimental steps into electronics, now a classic.
>preview "Raindance" (real player)

Recorded with the sly, space-funky band that Herbie Hancock formed as Mwandishi (check out the two-CD Warner Bros. collection ), Sextant is one of those cornerstone jazz CDs. It ranks with the best early, electric fusion for its fuzzing of textures, always used as bedrock for killer, roomy solos. A troika of horn greats can take much of the credit for the solos: trombonist Julian Priester, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, and saxist Bennie Maupin. Each generates great, dense ideas without betraying Hancock's eerie ambience and funky vibe. Yes, this is an aggregation of many 1970s-era ideas: renewed sense of Africanisms (at least in the band's naming), intensified percussive underpinnings, and a heap of rumbly rhythms that give props to everyone in neofunk jazz from Clyde Stubblefield to Funkadelic , albeit in a slowed, methodically rhythmic vein. Hancock's keyboards make fine clouds, as well as slinking shuffles. -- Andrew Bartlett


7) Headhunters -Herbie Hancock
Probably the best consolidation of funk and jazz, and a huge hit.
>preview "Chameleon" (real player)

Keyboardist Herbie Hancock's remarkable career took a surprising turn with this funk album--one of the first jazz albums to be certified gold. Hancock's already-storied career had included an extended tenure with Miles Davis as a member of both the classic quintet of the '60s and the trumpeter's groundbreaking electric dates. As a leader, the pianist had followed a similar course, cutting both outstanding acoustic dates ( Maiden Voyage ,Empyrean Isles ) and experimental electric sessions ( Sextant ,Crossings ). Head Hunters , however, was something different: a stripped-down date featuring reedman Bennie Maupin as the only horn player, and a funk-oriented rhythm section made up of Paul Jackson, Harvey Mason, and Bill Summers. Hancock traded in his sophisticated piano performances and complex compositions for simple melodies, slow-burn funk grooves, and light electric keyboard splashes. The results, particularly on the tracks "Chameleon" and "Watermelon Man," had a profound impact on other musicians, although critics charged Hancock with playing to the galleries. But the album has stood the test of time--something neither the wealth of Hancock's imitators nor his own subsequent albums in this vein have been able to do. --Fred Goodman


8) Mysterious Traveler -Weather Report
Weather Report's first "rock" album, with some great compositions.
>preview "Nubian Sundance" (real player)

A quarter-century on, Weather Report's music has dated in a way that Miles Davis 's best fusion efforts (including last year's newly unearthed Live at the Fillmore East ) haven't. That's especially true of the albums the band made beginning with Mysterious Traveller (1974), at which point the group began looking more to technological advances to further their sound, rather drawing from than the creative brain trust of keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter . Shorter largely fades into the background here, as Zawinul tests out his battery of Arps and Moogs and Echoplex-equipped electric piano against a busy battery of percussionists. Still, there's a lot of good music on the album, which has been reissued as was--without any added material. "Blackthorn Rose" is a piano (and melodica) and soprano sax duet of lovesome beauty, while the phase-shifting "Nubian Sundance" generates excitement through its orchestrated effects, complex rhythmic scheme, and simulated crowd explosions. New to the ever-evolving Weather Report is bassist Alphonso Johnson, who lends a funkier and more musical touch than his sacked (and highly overrated) predecessor, Miroslav Vitous. --Lloyd Sachs


9) Heavy Weather -Weather Report
Their biggest hit, but also one of the all-time jazz-rock classics. With Jaco. It doesn't get much better than this.
>preview "Birdland" (real player)

Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter didn't truly fulfill Weather Report's artistic and commercial potential until they brought on-board a bassist who could function as an equal partner in the musical equation, like co-founder Miroslav Vitous, whose main shortcoming was his inability to play funk. In renegade bassist Jaco Pastorius, the band found a formidable composer and improvisor, who possessed deep roots in funk and R&B, yet was equally at home in modern jazz and Afro-Cuban settings. Not coincidentally, the presence of this innovative fretless bassist on Heavy Weather gave Weather Report the rhythmic/melodic dimension it had been missing since Vitous's departure, as evidenced by his voice-like declamations on Zawinul's ballad "A Remark You Made." On Zawinul's chart-topping, big band-styled arrangement of "Birdland," Pastorius provided the kind of big, sweeping orchestral gestures the tune required, while on the shifting canvas of Wayne Shorter's "Harlequin," the bassist's ability to articulate complex chords allowed him to function as a string section unto himself. And on his own "Havona," Pastorius not only soloed with horn-like artistry, but combined with drummer Alex Acuna and percussionist Manolo Badrena to give Weather Report its funkiest rhythm section ever. --Chip Stern


10) Light As A Feather -Chick Corea & Return to Forever
Chick's lighter side. Includes "Spain". An important prequel to the electric Return To Forever.
>preview "500 Miles High" (real player)

Featuring the same band as the first Return to Forever album--vocalist Flora Purim , saxophonist-flutist Joe Farrell , bassist Stanley Clarke , and drummer Airto -- 1973's Light As a Feather was the result of a conscious effort on Chick Corea's part to communicate with a broader audience. Although Corea's electric piano and Purim's spacey-samba vocals might sound dated, the album includes a couple of Corea's most beloved compositions, "500 Miles High" and "Spain." Subsequent Return to Forever albums turned to conceptual bombast and silly fantasies. Here, Corea strikes an appealing balance between art and accessibility. --Rick Mitchell


11) Hymn Of The 7th Galaxy -Chick Corea & Return to Forever
First and most intense album by Chick's burning edition of RTF.
>preview "Theme to the Mothership" (windows media )

An all time favorite fusion album. Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Bill Conners give us arguably the best recorded interplay of musicians in this genre. There are vastly creative and distinct jazz voiceings and chord progressions ladled over a deep funk rhythm. This mix, and the musicianship take the listener on ultra rock-funky, musically challenging excursions. This reviewer recently discovered this incarnation of RTF, was not the original. Steve Gadd, a fabulously inventive drummer, was replaced by Lenny White because Gadd chose not to tour. The entire album was re-recorded to reflect Lenny's contribution. His playing, oblique and unpredictable, for me, was defining of what "jazz-rock" [as fusion was known then] should be. For guitar devotees, Bill Conners plays fiery, coherent lead and unison lines with a tone that, to my sensibilities at least, is haunting and provocative. Taking nothing away from Al DiMeola, but this guy can play! Chick and Stanley...Chick and Stanley...! --Bill Allan


12) Wired - Jeff Beck
Inspired and exciting classic jazz-rock album coming more from the "rock" side. Maybe the best version ever of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat".
>preview "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" (real player)

Jeff Beck, drummer Narada Michael Walden, and producer George Martin here embark on a potent jazz-rock journey, making stops at the ferocious "Led Boots," the thumb-popping R&B of "Come Dancing," and the hooky "Blue Wind" (written by former Mahavishnu synth player Jan Hammer). Max Middleton's funky clavinet on "Play with Me" and his pulsing Rhodes piano work on "Sophie" add color and rhythmic urgency to Beck's searing guitar, with its unmistakable tone and vocal-like inflections. Released a year after the breakthrough Blow by Blow ,Wired generally runs a little hotter, though its low-gear moments--in particular the emotional largesse of Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"--will blow your hair back. --James Rotondi



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ADAM's FAVORITES (in no particular order)

1) Thrust - Herbie Hancock
My favorite Herbie album, similar to but more intense than "Headhunters".


2) Where Have I Known You Before -Chick Corea & Return to Forever
I used to carry this album around with me in high school.


3) One Of A Kind -Bill Bruford
Another longtime favorite, possibly Bruford's best with some classic Holdsworth.


4) Timeless -John Abercrombie
One of the most futuristic organ trio albums of all time, with Jan Hammer killing on Hammond and Moog bass, and Jack Dejohnette.


5) Live=Evil -Miles
Keith Jarrett playing Rhodes and organ, both through wah-wah pedals and big amps!


6) Live Around the World -Miles


7) Tutu -Miles
Just for fun, is it OK if I include a few CDs that I played on? ;)


8) Tale Spinnin' -Weather Report
One of my favorites, but not as well known as some of the others. Wayne's song "Lusitanos" is one of their best.


9) Spectrum -Billy Cobham
One of my all-time favorite jazz-rock albums and also one of Jan Hammer's best showcases. Check out the AMAZING synth solo on "Le Lis".


10) Believe It -Tony Williams New Lifetime
Holdsworth's first big exposure. A great band.


11) Unity -Larry Young
Amazing album by Larry Young, who many people feel is still the last chapter on the organ.


12) Procession -Weather Report
I think the freshest and most colorful album with the Victor-Omar rhythm section.