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Jazz in 1968: Pre-Fusion Funk, Rock & Boogaloo

by Jason Gubbels

Jazz in 1968: Pre-Fusion Funk, Rock & Boogaloo

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Although it wasn't the only story being told, jazz in the 1970s is mostly remembered for fusion, in which rock instrumentation and funk rhythms largely supplanted acoustic swing. And since 1969 was when Miles Davis recorded both his electro-acoustic sonata In a Silent Way and the furious rock/funk propulsion of Bitches Brew, the year has become enshrined in the minds of jazz fans as the birth of fusion.

But fusion had been coalescing for years in everything but name, as this playlist highlighting 1968's proto-fusion performances suggests. Sure, the most prophetic track comes courtesy of Miles Davis himself, the 17-minute electric bass/Fender Rhodes shuffle "Stuff." But there are also tracks from soul-jazz and organ funk artists who'd been turning in increasingly funky jams all decade (Jimmy Smith and George Benson), Latin boogaloo cuts from the height of the Spanish Harlem/South Bronx-based Nuyorican scene (Ray Barretto and Joe Bataan), and jazz/rock experimentation courtesy of U.K. outfit Soft Machine and guitarist Larry Coryell.

There's also time-capsule stuff like Horace Silver's "Psychedelic Sally," Ramsey Lewis' cover version of "Back in the USSR," and Oliver Nelson backed by TV host Steve Allen's electric harpsichord. Plus, in-concert groove from James Brown, jazz-inflected rock from Traffic and folk jazz from Van Morrison -- all non-jazz performers who nonetheless offered clear signs of where jazz would be heading in the following decade.

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