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I think it'd be a stretch to say that Jazz is one of the more mainstream genres of music these days... and if that's the case, then lets not even talk about fusion or some of the more experimental jazz varieties. That's really a shame though, because experimental jazz is where music is evolving faster than anywhere else. There are some absolutely amazing artists out there doing things that musically would have been unheard of even a few years ago, while the mainstream stagnates.
For whatever reason (sun spots? divine intervention?) I've been listening to a lot of jazz recently though. Not only have many of the artists I've checked out blown me away, but they have encouraged me to expand my knowledge of jazz a bit more, start experimenting with more progressive styles in my own music and share one of the great fusion bands of all time.
The band was called the Mahavishnu Orchestra and in the 70s they basically defined what jazz fusion was all about... a blend of hard rock and progressive jazz that not only demonstrated the incredible technical and creative prowess of each of the musicians involved, but created something melodically moving, exciting and compelling.
So we have two clips from this band today. This first one is from 1972 and exists in a few formats on YouTube, but this ones seemed to be one of the more complete and high quality versions of "Meeting of the Spirits/You Know You Know."
The second is actually from the same show I'm pretty sure and the song is "Noonward Race"
That's the legendary John Mclaughlin tearing it up with some ridiculous leads and rhythms on the double neck guitar and keyboard/synth wizard Jan Hammer creating all those crazy textures and sounds. These two are legends on their instruments and here they are playing together and jamming... awesome. Of course the drummer and bass player are no slouches either... and lets not forget about Jerry Goodman on violin... holy smokes! Talk about some insane violin playing!
In fact, although I'm a guitarists and love the playing of John Mclaughlin, the violin work is one of the things that really drew me into the Mahavishnu Orchestra when I started listening to them. Violin, especially electric violin, is one of the instruments I WISH I could play, because I like the tone and the timbre so much, and in the hands of a masterful player, can create some of the most moving and progressive melodies around... yes, violin is very cool in my book.
The other thing that really struck me about this band when first got into them is the melody. The songs are very much in the jazz tradition, but there's also a very strong sense of melody and movement throughout, especially on albums like The Inner Mounting Flame, from which the songs in these clips are from, and Birds of Fire. The songs are compelling and striking from start to finish, very emotionally charged and full of movement and energy.
If you've never heard of them before, I doubt you've ever heard anything relatively close to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but if you're listening to artists like the Mars Volta or Tortoise, you're listening to their protege, or at least bands that owe them a debt of gratitude. If you'd like to hear more from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, check out the two albums I mentioned earlier... they are their classic works and great listens.
Like I said, there's lots of lesser known bands doing some amazing progressive things with jazz and experimentation around now too if you know where to look. I mentioned the Mars Volta and Tortoise, but I've also been really intrigued by the solo work of guitarist Nels Cline recently too... all three are unique and quite different than the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but they are all tied together by similar threads.
I understand that this kind of jazz isn't for everything, but I hope that the melody and the interplay between the musicians, or at the very least the technical musicianship strikes you. Maybe if jazz fusion isn't your thing, then I at least hope you can appreciate the complexity of the music.
In all cases I hope that you'll give jazz fusion and the Mahavishnu Orchestra a chance... this is great stuff in my opinion.