Funny how dramatically the zeitgeist can change in a few years. Did you know that fusion was actually a serious thing, for many years? Until Wynton Marsalis hit us with his thing in the mid 80s, fusion was the only thing; jazz played with acoustic instruments and a swing beat was still around, but all the energy and money was in fusion.
Individual albums had a lot more influence. Chick Corea's Elektric Band album was the huge-deal release for musicians in 1986, with everybody envying Dave Weckl's effects rack, 8 and 10 inch mounted toms, and poofy mullet. And, hey, his playing— he was sort of a super-Steve Gadd. Hyper Gadd. Now it looks like the sort of twilight of LA as the center of the musical universe.
John Scofield's Blue Matter is technically an '86 release, but we didn't hear it until around spring of '87. It's fusion, but it's more New York. The weird out-of-time snare drum thing at 0:10 and the sixtuplets on the bass drum after 0:25 announced Dennis Chambers, and what seemed to be a whole thing in drumming.
More after the break:
This amped-up thing wore me out quickly, though. I owned the follow-up releases with Chambers, Loud Jazz and Pick Hits Live, and they were great, but I could barely listen to them. Chick/Weckl's thing flamed out for me a couple of years later with Chick's Akoustic Band album— which was like a three-course meal of candy. There is such a thing as being too amazing.
Some things that came out in '86 and '87 that made similarly big impressions, and ended up taking us away from fusion were Michael Brecker's first solo record, with Jack Dejohnette on drums. I think Dejohnette's stock was kind of low at the time— I remember Vinnie Colaiuta mentioning him in an interview as someone who was “hip in the 70s”, who Vinnie “still” thought was hip— but this record introduced him (and bassist Charlie Haden!) with authority to my generation of fusion-obsessed students.
Around that time Jack was also on Keith Jarrett's Still Live, with the “Standards” trio, as they are now known, and Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman's Song X— both huge records for me, but that took a couple of years for me to listen to. Nobody else I knew at the time owned them or was listening to them.
Wynton Marsalis's first Standard Time album (and the accompanying live album, Live At Blues Alley) was another huge deal. Jeff Watts was known before this, but he was definitely going to be the man of the late 80s after this, thanks also to his great trio recordings and tours with Branford Marsalis.
Whenever I get around to it, we'll continue this little survey, going into the 90s with people like Bill Frisell, John Zorn, Paul Motian, Joey Baron, Tim Berne, Joe Lovano, and Bill Stewart.