Various Artists

Focus on Fusion: A New View

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There aren't many fusion compilations, and what fusion reissues there are tend to focus on the more artistically respected, serious, and experimental end of the genre. This differs from most other fusion retrospectives in its concentration upon more commercial jazz-funk from the 1970s (and, in the case of McCoy Tyner's "Love Samba," the early '80s). It's not as good as hearing a compilation that would focus on the more out-there stuff, to be honest. But one advantage of the anthology format is that it makes the style sound better, more varied, and more interesting than most single-artist releases in the style do. That's the case with this CD, which draws exclusively from the vaults of Fantasy and its affiliated Prestige, Milestone, and Pablo labels. Tyner's "Love Samba" is actually a highlight, with its classy integration of Latin rhythms and whistles with relatively straight-ahead jazz. At other points, the more turgid ingredients in the brew work against critical revisionism, with routine melodies, glossy production (heavy on the electric keyboards), fatback disco beats, and, on Bill Summers' "Brazilian Skies," saccharine wordless female vocals. A bunch of these cuts represent respected jazz or soul-jazz vets getting into the new bag, like Johnny Hammond, Rusty Bryant, and Dizzy Gillespie, and in other hands they might be considered acceptable fusion, but they don't qualify as high points of those careers. Latin and, especially, Brazilian accents are more prominent than they are in much fusion, particularly in the songs by Summers, ex-Santana member Luis Gasca, Flora Purim, Opa, and Pete and Sheila Escovedo. Overall, it's better than your average commercial radio fusion programming, true, but still not much better than your average background music. [This U.K. import is not available for sale in North America.]