Possibly one of the most despised and least understood genres of all time, it’s virtually the one answer you can guarantee you will not receive to the question “What kind of music do you listen to ?”. What is the answer ? Jazz fusion.
Jazz somehow went from being the music of the common man and woman to being perceived as the sole reserve for beards, berets and hipster snobs and that’s a truly despicable state of affairs. Jazz fusion was an attempt to take jazz from a rigid oligarchy to new fertile grounds, as the influx of rock and pop music in the 60’s undermined the previously solid foundations of jazz. And for me it is almost entirely the work of one man and his band. Miles Davis is the name most frequently brandished when people talk matters jazz, and one of the main reasons for that was Davis’ incredible talent for mentoring musicians and his ability to reinvent the music itself using these musicians natural abilities. These factors collided on Miles’s most notorious album “Bitches Brew”, and resulted in an album that sounds amazingly relevant today but is probably also responsible for scaring more people away from jazz and jazz-fusion than any other.
The more observant among you may have noted that this isn’t a “Bitches Brew” review but in some respects it is, because this album is so clearly influenced by it that it would be insane to ignore it. From individual playing to the overall structure of the tunes involved, it reeks of homage. Treated trumpet solos, the odd touch of electronics and spacious bass and drum lines that tie everything together with a compulsive rythmn. This album has advantages over Bitches Brew in some ways, because Bitches Brew was put together on the fly. There are many, many versions of the album because essentially it was a series of jam sessions stitched together into a cohesive whole by Teo Macero. So it is unavoidably rough and ready in some regards, but that’s where the magic lies. “Vitamin F” is a much more polished affair because they had a path to follow, and also the advantages of being able to bring many other decades of musical influences and advances to bear.
It isn’t my intention to take the focus off Fontanelle’s achievements because I really like this album, but their enthusiasms are also my enthusiasms. The other clear influences on this album are Funkadelic (just check out the intro to “Traumaturge”) and Herbie Hancock I could spend hours droning on and on about all three of them so happily, between these three guiding lights, Fontanelle have managed to make an album that sounds utterly familiar, utterly authentic and yet is deeply respectful of its lineage. It also marks an interesting new angle from Southern Lord, who most associate with sludge, doom and metal. I hope that this combination of a great label and a great band will be enough to counter the stigma of jazz and spread the jazz love (old and new) to a whole new audience.