Jazz Rock Fusion and the Rise of Progressive Rock

Tuesday, April 27: 5:39 p.m.
Posted by Jason Hanley

This past week, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) offered its 31st annual Jazz Fest in the city of Cleveland with events that ranged from community programs to all-star jazz performances.  This year the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum partnered with the Jazz Fest to offer two evening programs that explored the connections between jazz and rock.

On Monday April 19th the Rock Hall screened the film Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue directed by acclaimed filmmaker and friend of the Museum, Murray Lerner.  The film looks back to the period of musical transition from Miles Davis’ freebop quintet to what later became known as electric Miles, culminating with uncut footage of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee’s legendary performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.  It wasn’t rock and roll, although Bitches Brew (1969) came close, but Davis’ style wasn’t far removed from the acid rock and funk that was filling the airwaves in the late 1960s.  For some extra fun check out the records his wife Betty Davis made starting in 1973 – awesome!  Davis’ band at the Isle of Wight consisted of powerhouse jazz players including Gary Bartz (saxophone), Chick Corea (keyboards), Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums), Airto Moreira (percussion), and Keith Jarret (piano).  At moments they are all freeform and fury and at others they groove into solid funk jams and the 600,000 fans are with them the whole time.

On Wednesday, April 21st Rock and Roll Night School further explored the jazz rock fusion during the late 1960s by spotlighting the rise of progressive rock in a program titled, “From Soft Machine to Genesis: The Birth of British Progressive Rock.”  The evening began with a look at the Canterbury music scene and the psychedelic rock sounds of the band Wilde Flowers, whose members would go on to form both Caravan and Soft Machine.  Between 1968 and 1970 Soft Machine transitioned from psychedelic rock to jazz based jams.  Their landmark third album, Third (1970), features the core of Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge and Robert Wyatt joined by a number of other musicians to create a form of rock modal jazz that with its circular musical structures would sit nicely next to a copy of John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things album (1961).  From there the evening went to King Crimson’s first album In the Court of the Crimson King (1969).  King Crimson’s sound was also greatly influenced by jazz but its driving hard edged rhythms and disjointed melodies made them more akin to the sounds of Charles Mingus’ “Moanin’” (1960).  The final part of the trip into the sounds of progressive rock traced new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Genesis through their first four albums.  On these records we hear the band develop jazz techniques such as interlocking musical figures along with the use of extended harmonies and shifting time signatures, but they quickly move away from world of jazz and into the creation of what we now call progressive rock.

A partial Rock and Roll Night School playlist:
·    The Wilde Flowers, “Never Leave Me”
·    The Soft Machine, “Love Makes Sweet Music”
·    The Soft Machine, “Hope for Happiness”
·    The Soft Machine, “Slightly All the Time”
·    King Crimson, “21st Century Schizoid Man”
·    Genesis, “White Mountain”
·    Genesis, “The Musical Box”
·    Genesis, “Watcher of the Skies”



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