Posts Tagged ‘Miles Davis’

“East-West” by the Butterfield Blues Band (1966)

David Crosby’s ramblings between songs during the Byrds’ set at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, 1967, have become the stuff of legend.

As bandmates Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke listened very bemusedly, Crosby talked into the microphone at length about such topics as sanctioned drug use and the John F. Kennedy assassination. Probably not coincidentally, Crosby was an ex-Byrd a couple of months later.

One of his statements, though, resonated with many of those in attendance at the festival:

Man, if you didn’t hear Mike Bloomfield’s group, man, you are out of it, so far out of it.

The group in question, the Electric Flag, had performed earlier in the day, making its live debut, in fact. And much of the attention at Monterey was focused on Bloomfield, whose instrumental prowess had won him acclaim as perhaps the most highly regarded guitarist in rock music at the time.

Perhaps the performances of the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend (and to some degree, Jerry Garcia) the following night opened some eyes to the next wave of guitar stars. But as of Crosby’s proclamation, Michael Bloomfield was at the top of the pyramid.

He continues to be widely respected decades after his death on Feb. 15, 1981. Rolling Stone has ranked him as high as No. 22 on its periodic, and extremely fluid, lists of all-time greatest guitarists.

But his impact in the pre-Hendrix days seems to be little remembered.

As a teenager, Bloomfield already showed enough talent – and balls! – to walk onstage and play with many of Chicago’s top blues acts. After recording some sessions for Columbia Records in 1964, he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which was among the first American groups to combine the blues with the harder edge of rock. Butterfield and company, including second guitarist Elvin Bishop, quickly became a top national draw with its exhilarating live performances, and the band’s first album, “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” released in 1965, is considered a cornerstone of blues-rock.

Bloomfield, who’d grown up as a blues player, meanwhile was exploring other influences, including jazz and especially Eastern modal music. The latter – along with a dose of LSD, according to music critic and author Dave Marsh – inspired Bloomfield to compose what became the title track of the Butterfield Blues Band’s second album.

“East-West” is one of two instrumentals that take up roughly half the album’s playing time and went a long way toward establishing Butterfield and company as pioneers in exploring the possibilities of rock music. The rhythm section of bass player Jerome Arnold and Billy Davenport, the supporting instrumentation of keyboard player Mark Naftalin and guitarist Elvin Bishop, and Butterfield’s powerful, foghorn-like harmonica all build a solid foundation for extensive jamming. Then there’s Bloomfield’s guitar, which really carries the proceedings into previously uncharted territory.

The band’s cover of cornetist Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” which wraps up Side One of the LP, represents an early foray into jazz-rock, for the most part following the standard hard-bop version until Bloomfield begins his solo, building the intensity as he shows off his fluid playing, transforming the easy-paced tune into a virtuoso guitar showcase.

Prior to the release of “East-West” in August 1966, few rock songs had ventured past the four-minute mark by anyone who was not Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa or the Rolling Stones. And none of their material sounded anything like “East-West,” the composition: 13 minutes of mind-melting intensity, courtesy of Mr. Bloomfield’s guitar. He set the stage for extended rock instrumentals, but few, if any, ever matched what he and the Butterfield band put on record.

“East-West” is built on a modal format, eschewing chord changes to give the soloists a platform for jamming, as grandly exhibited with Miles Davis’ landmark “Kind of Blue” and subsequent work by Davis’ tenor sax player at the time, John Coltrane. The theme is introduced by the band, with Bishop contributing a spirited guitar line to start proceedings, demonstrating him to be quite a capable instrumentalist, even as a bandmate of Bloomfield.

After about a minute and a half, Butterfield joins in on harmonica, doing a creditable job with his lung power of making his instrument the aural equivalent of an amplified electric guitar. The band chugs along behind him, bringing proceedings to a an early climax shortly before the 3-minute mark.

Then it’s Bloomfield’s turn. The title of “East-West” comes from his combining musical styles from different sides of the globe, and his “East” portion features a minor-scale counterpoint to the modal D, with Bishop eventually joining him as Butterfield and Naftalin help create a wall of sound leading up to an abrupt change in the action.

Nearing 7 minutes into the song, Bloomfield breaks into the melodic, relatively easygoing “West” section, switching to a more-recognizable major scale for his solo. Then, as David Dann writes in his essay “Beyond the Blues: A Critical Look at ‘East-West'”:

At 08:32 Bloomfield introduces the now-familiar Motive A, a four-note scaler run consisting of D-E-F-F#, and creates from it a marvelous compound phrase that twists and turns for a full 60 seconds, only resolving back to D some 40 bars later at 09:38. It’s no overstatement to assert that the coherence, clarity and Bach-like motion of this passage, “the 40-bar phrase,” establish Michael Bloomfield as one of rock’s greatest soloists. Certainly no one else before him had exhibited such musical virtuosity.

Bishop again helps provide a stunning dual-guitar attack as the song reaches its conclusion, the band breaking into a punctuated, bluesy rhythm that wraps up with an extended final note, with a quick Butterfield harp flourish serving as the final note.

Unfortunately, that also served as Bloomfield’s finale with Butterfield as far as studio recordings. He left the band the following spring to embark on the Electric Flag project, and later he worked on the well-regarded “Super Session” album.

After a so-so venture as one of Columbia Records’ featured solo artist and a brief Electric Flag reunion, Bloomfield released a number of uneven albums, the last being “Crusin’ For A Brusin’,” which came out on John Fahey’s Takoma label shortly before Bloomfield was found dead in his car in San Francisco.

Photographer-filmmaker Deborah Chesher recently compiled her work of deceased musicians into a fascinating volume called “Everybody I Shot Is Dead.” The first chapter is on Michael Bloomfield, whose death probably touched her the most among the dozens of subjects in the book. She wraps up the chapter with:

If you’ve never heard him play, find his CDs and listen. Michael Bloomfield was an exceptional musician. He was also intelligent, mischievous, curious, crazy and a whole lot of sweetness. I was lucky to know him.

The other half of the “East-West” album contains more stellar examples of the Butterfield band’s groundbreaking forays into blues-rock, including a definitive reading of Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” and a cover of Michael Nesmith’s “Mary Mary,” before he did his own version with the Monkees. Also featured is Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman,” which the band had issued as its debut single the previous year.

The songs with vocals make for good listening, certainly. But if you enjoy rock instrumentals, “East-West” is a must.

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“A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane (1965)

Jazz fans will be familiar with the work of Rudy Van Gelder of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., who has been a recording engineer for nearly 70 years. He’s responsible for capturing some of the genre’s most enduring performances for posterity, with many top artists – the ornery Charles Mingus was a notable exception – choosing to use his talents.

Van Gelder had worked with saxophonist John Coltrane on many occasions, dating back to his legendary stint with the Miles Davis Quintet, before Coltrane entered his studio on Dec. 9, 1964.

“He had been in other studios, so he must have felt that I could help him be heard the way he wanted to be heard,” Van Gelder told author Ashley Kahn in 2001. “The fact that he was here said it all.”

With Coltrane were the other members of his quartet, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. As Tyner recalled:

John said very little about what he wanted. If he had certain specifics that he wanted to add to the music or how he wanted it played, he would say it. I think this is so important, because it was an on-the-spot improvisation, honestly approached music, with no pretentions about it at all.

The band had played sections of the four-part suite that became “A Love Supreme” during live gigs, but the studio date marked the first time the musicians would attempt to bring Coltrane’s vision together as a coherent piece.

Van Gelder discussed with Kahn his role in capturing the proceedings:

All of them were two-track recordings, which eliminated an possibility of mixing later. The advantages of doing one or two tunes at a time in a direct-to-two-track mode allowed me to concentrate more on the balance, mix and overall sound. Yes, we could edit the takes, but we couldn’t change the balance.

So, in what truly was a live performance, the quartet launched into one of jazz’s most celebrated recordings.

Jones opens by striking a Chinese gong, the only time Coltrane used that particular instrument, according to Ravi, his son. Coltrane then enters on tenor sax with a tuneful E-major flurry before Garrison starts to play the four-note sequence for which the album is best known.

“Acknowledgement,” as the first section is titled, builds on the basic 4/4 rhythm as Coltrane solos, starting quietly and building with intensity. Jones adds his usual fluidity to complement the saxophonist before the entire band focuses on the thematic four notes.

The Coltrane takes an interesting turn, playing the pattern three dozen times in various keys, in some ways foreshadowing the New Thing atonality that he’d explore at length the following year. As Dave Liebman, who played saxophone in Davis’ and Jones’ bands during the 1970s, noted about Coltrane’s unusual foray:

It’s really towards what he’s about to go into, which is very, very free and non-key-centered improvisation. The way he takes that “a love supreme” motif, and transposes it through all the keys over the ostinato pattern that Jimmy is playing, is a real study. And McCoy is sort of in between, chasing Coltrane, and staying on the same key.

Eventually, Coltane starts reciting the key phrase, with Van Gelder adjusting the microphone after it failed to pick up the initial “a love.” He repeats the chant, augmented by overdubs recorded the next evening, until his voice and the other instruments, except for Garrison’s bass, drop out. Garrison plays a short solo segueing into the next part of the suite.

“Resolution” had been tested live, as evidenced by a recording made at a small Philadelphia club nearly three months before the Van Gelder session. In the studio, the band did seven takes, with the final try being the one that made it to the LP; an outtake is featured on the boxed set “Classic Quartet: The Complete Impulse! Recordings.”

Coltrane enters with a flourish to state the section’s theme, one of Coltrane’s more enduring melodies. Compared with what preceded it, “Resolution” hearkens back to the saxophonist’s hard-bop work of the ’50s, focusing on chord changes rather than the modal structure he increasingly came to favor.

The final two sections of “A Love Supreme,” titled “Pursuance” and “Psalm,” were recorded together as a single take and appear as a single track on some reissues of the CD. The extended piece starts with a Jones solo, as he provides a demonstration of “the master percussionist’s polyrhythmic approach,” Kahn wrote.

Jones was already known for a ‘busy’ style before any cross-cultural sounds exerted their influence, and his distinctive translation of African and Caribbean polyrhythms onto the traditional jazz trap kit involved a democratic use of all its elements.

“Pursuance” proceeds in a relatively straightforward manner, with Tyner providing a freewheeling touch by flailing away on a series of inventive piano clusters. Coltrane adds a majestic solo drawing on his “sheets of sound” use of harmonics before returning to the section’s main theme.

Again, a Garrison bass solo provides a transition between sections, leading up to a Jones roll on the tympani for the suite’s dramatic conclusion.

“Psalm” is a stark mood piece built on rubato, a disregard for strict tempo. The backing musicians provide a loose foundation over which Coltrane basically recites a poem through his saxophone. As Kahn wrote:

Like a libretto, the words to “Psalm” (eventually titled “A Love Supreme” and printed on the inside of the album cover) define the lyrical flow of the music; one can follow syllable by syllable. Each line crests and resolves, implying punctuation.

And so the John Coltrane Quartet emerged from that Wednesday night session with a full album’s worth of music, although some extra musicians, bassist Art Davis and saxophonist Archie Shepp, joined in for a second session the following night. None of those recordings appeared on the finish product.

“A Love Supreme” was released in February 1965 to critical acclaim and commercial viability: It sold some half a million copies in the next five years, Coltrane’s best effort in that regard by a wide margin.

The quartet played the entire suite in concert just once, a July 26, 1965, performance at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, France, that was professionally recorded and is available as part of Impulse!’s “deluxe edition” CD. The live version is more dissonant than the studio effort, as Coltrane’s music had veered considerably in that direction during the seven-month interim.

As a matter of fact, Coltrane had booked a June session at Van Gelder’s studio to record “Ascension,” a 40-minute composition featuring numerous guest musicians improvising in turn. And for the last two years of his life – he died July 17, 1967 – Coltrane explored increasingly unconventional realms; check out his four-CD “Live in Japan” set (consisting of just six songs!) for a representative sampling of what he was delivering.

In that context, “A Love Supreme” serves as the bridge between Coltrane’s relatively subdued and wildly experimental periods. And as such, it has turned out to be his most enduring contribution to the world of music.

That goes for Rudy Van Gelder, too.

“In a Silent Way” by Miles Davis (1969)

The Miles Quintet of the mid-1960s ranks among jazz’s most heralded aggregations, along with John Coltrane’s Impulse!-era quartet, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Davis’ own five-piece from a decade before.

Miles, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and the late Tony Williams jelled together playing primarily standards and hard bop, as captured on the quintet’s Plugged Nickel recordings from late 1965. But in a manner similar to other musicians of the period, Davis began to shift the emphasis toward harder-edged arrangements, integrating elements that shared structure with rock music.

The release of “Filles de Kilimanjaro” in 1968 showed Davis leaning squarely in that direction, with the compositions “Frelon Brun” and “Mademoiselle Mabry” among the early example of what later would be coined jazz-rock fusion.

As the sessions for “Filles de Kilimanjaro” gave way to those for a follow-up album, Davis began playing with some of jazz’s top names, who would go on to become fusion legends: guitarist John McLaughlin, bassist Dave Holland and keyboard players Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul. McLaughlin had moved from his native England to play in Williams’ group, Lifetime, and Miles was so impressed on hearing the guitarist that he immediately invited him to record.

The results hardly pleased jazz purists, who probably had hoped Davis would stick with bop instead of progressing toward other musical forms, like Coltrane and others had done with “New Thing” free jazz. Miles’ music certainly wasn’t as atonal as the New Thing, but it hardly sounded like what he had done in the ’50s.

The “In a Silent Way” LP features one two-part composition on each side, “Shhh/Peaceful” and “In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time,” with Zawinul sharing songwriting credits with Davis on the latter. Going into the finished product was a great deal of editing by producer Teo Macero, as By Paul Tingen wrote in “The Making of In A Silent Way & Bitches Brew”:

“His influence in Miles’s music can be likened to that of George Martin with The Beatles. Macero was the one who tied the many disparate musical segments together, and edited them into a new whole, in some cases virtually recomposing the music. In A Silent Way, for instance, contained less than 27 minutes of musical material in its pre-edited form, and was cleverly looped by Macero to extend the music to 38 minutes.”

The result is a steadily paced, fascinating flow of music, opening with Zawinul’s electric piano, Corea’s organ and McLaughlin’s guitar setting an easy tone. After a few minutes, Davis plays the main theme of “Shhh,” carefully phrasing the melody on his trumpet as the other musicians continuing in a modal style, with no chord changes.

McLaughlin takes a relatively low-key solo, compared with much of his later work, starting at about the six-minute mark. As Zawinul noted in Tingen’s article: “He (Davis) told John McLaughlin to play as if he didn’t know how to play the guitar. As a result John’s playing was among the best of his career.”

Shorter then takes his turn, overlaying a continuous descending piano pattern, as Williams and Holland maintain the rhythm in an earnest but relaxed manner. McLaughlin returns for some more tasteful guitar before the main theme comes back into play.

The second composition begins with McLaughlin playing an ethereal theme backed by a sprinkling of keyboards and Holland’s droning bass. Davis joins in, playing the same somber style, until the 4:11 mark, when the full band backs a relatively fluid trumpet solo.

The dual composition, and perhaps the entire album, coalesce around 12 minutes in, when Miles blows freely over full-volume accompaniment, demonstration the vast potential for fusion. The piece ends with a reprise of the dulcet tones of the opening, with Davis fully setting the tone with his empathetic work on the horn.

“In a Silent Way” lays the groundwork for a series of Miles Davis recordings that push the envelope, eventually transcending jazz, rock, funk or whatever label you might want to place on his music. By the time he “retired” in 1975, Miles and his band were playing fully improvised shows at blaring volume, with the band leader turning his back on the audience to concentrate on creating new revelations with each performance.

Jazz, in its basic form, is supposed to be all about capturing the moment. And Miles Davis certainly answered the bell in that regard.

“The Inner Mounting Flame” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra (1971)

For a guitarist who primarily did session work in his native England during the mid-‘0s, John McLaughlin’s reputation preceded him.

On March 25, 1969, he sat in with Jimi Hendrix for a jam session at the Record Plant in New York City. An album from the resulting tapes was set to be released in the ’70s but was shelved, one of the few Hendrix recordings that seems to have escaped such a fate!

McLaughlin, meanwhile, had come to America to join Miles Davis drummer Tony Williams in his trio called Lifetime, which also featured keyboard player Larry Young. From there, it was an easy step into session and live work for Davis, who was in the formative stages of his seminal work in jazz-rock fusion.

By 1971, McLaughlin was fronting his own band, which he called the Mahavishnu Orchestra with encouragement from his guru, Sri Chimnoy. Joining him were virtuoso musicians Billy Cobham on drums, Jan Hammer on keyboards, Jerry Goodman on violin and Rick Laird on drums.
The new band followed the general concept developed by Williams’ group, of jazz motifs played at dizzying volumes.

The Orchestra’s debut, “The Inner Mounting Flame,” captured the interest of the listening public, rising to No. 89 on the Billboard 200. McLaughlin was heralded as a new guitar hero, even as he pushed age 30. And Hammer started on a path that would take him to superstardom via “Miami Vice.”

“The Inner Mounting Flame” opens with a prime example of what to expect from the band’s sonic capabilities. “Meeting of the Spirits” features the musicians playing at full tilt, with McLaughlin’s guitar leads surging through a quirky rhythmic structure that puts the power of Cobham’s drumming on full display.

“Dawn,” as the title suggests, calms the proceedings down a bit, with Hammer’s electric piano setting an easy, upbeat pace. Following a Goodman-dominated establishment of the melody, McLaughlin steps up for a guitar solo at approximately the 1:20 mark. The results are astounding, as his fingers glide over the strings of his Gibson at lightning speed, the mastery of which must be heard to be believed.

The metallic overtones return with “The Noonward Race,” as McLaughlin again dominates proceedings with his breakneck runs. Rumor has Laird and Goodman getting into a fistfight during the recording of the piece, as the other members played louder to drown out the sounds of the altercation.

Cobham and Laird take a break for “A Lotus On the Irish Stream,” which features McLaughlin, Hammer and Goodman unplugged. McLaughlin shows his prowess on the acoustic guitar, an instrument he later played exclusively with his late-’70s band Shakti.

“Vital Transformation” picks up the dynamics significantly with Cobham contributing heavy percussion to start the tune, a technique he’d use effectively two years later on his stellar solo debut, “Spectrum.” A long middle stretch has McLaughlin and Goodman playing an adrenaline-fueled lead duet.

“The Dance of the Maya” opens in an unconventional time signature before breaking into a decidedly bluesy motif featuring Goodman’s violin. The song returns to its jazz inflections, with McLaughlin dazzling once more, before returning to the original rhythm.

Perhaps the most interest track on the album, and certainly the most influential, is “You Know You Know.” McLaughlin opens with a moody guitar theme, which eventually is joined by the other musicians and repeated over the course of five minutes, with everyone contributing his own inflections, before Cobham closes with a frenetic percussive run. The theme has been sampled by numerous contemporary artists, including Mos Def, Massive Attack, David Sylvian and Blahzay Blahzay.

Closing “The Inner Mounting Flame” is the relatively brief, full-volume “Awakening,” which also provides a showcase for Cobham’s drumming.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra did even better with its follow-up album, “Birds of Fire,” which peaked at No. 15 in 1972. But that was the group’s swan song, as inner tensions pulled it apart by 1973.

McLaughlin later recorded under the Mahavishnu Orchestra name, and while the results are interesting, they fall short of what the original lineup had to offer.

Of interest: Rick Laird retired from the music business in the early ’80s to concentrate on photography. In 2009, he found numerous photos he’d taken of jazz musicians that never had been seen. His work is featured on jazz.com.

“Blue Train” by John Coltrane (1957)

In the pantheon of jazz, John Coltrane generally is recognized as the Last Giant; in fact, that’s the title of a somewhat unrepresentative anthology of his work. Among jazz aficionados, Coltrane’s death in 1967 at age 40 left a void that has yet to be filled. And probably never will.

Coltrane was about a week short of his 30th birthday when he entered Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Hackensack, N.J., to record a one-off album for Blue Note Records. At the time, Coltrane was hardly a “giant.” His best-known work was as tenor sax player in Miles Davis’ band, but he lost that gig because of drug problems just as Miles hit the big time by signing with Columbia Records.

Subsequently, Coltrane found himself recording with a variety of artists for Prestige Records, the results of which since have been encapsulated in a 16-CD set. Yes, I did spend a couple of hundred bucks for it …

In the meantime, Blue Note founder Alfred Lion signed Coltrane for a one-record deal, and he recorded it on Sept. 15, 1957, with a lineup drawn partially from Davis’ band: Paul “Mr. PC” Chambers on bass and the inimitable “Philly” Jo Jones on drums. Rounding out the lineup were Kenny Drew on piano, Lee Morgan on trumpet and Curtis Fuller on trombone, an instrumental rarely employed in Coltrane recordings.

The day’s work yielded a record that established Coltrane at once as a major songwriting talent and a practically unbelievable wielder of the tenor saxophone. Each of the album’s five songs serves as a showcase for his playing within the friendly confines of eminently listenable tunes.

The title track is the most well-known on the album, and perhaps within Coltrane’s immense catalog. The beginning call and response sets the tone for a pice that, throughout its 10 minutes, treats the listener to constant inventiveness among the musicians.

“Moment’s Notice” serves as a showcase for each band member showing off his chops, with Drew contributing a particularly melodic piano run before the whole ensemble reprises the upbeat melody.

“Locomotion” is the fastest-paced song on the album, which the instrumentalists playing to a theme that might emulate a train ride. “I’m Old Fashioned,” the standard written by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer, slows down the pace considerably, allowing Coltrane to demonstrate he could do more than play lightning-fast runs on his horn.

The proceedings wrap up with “Lazy Bird,” which despite the title picks the pace right back up. Morgan takes the first solo, and it’s a memorable one, showing the speed and complexity that a brass player can conjure. Fuller’s spot is a bit disappointing by contrast, especially when Coltrane follows with his pristine chops.

According to Michael Cuscuna’s liner notes in the 1996 CD reissue of “Blue Train,” Coltrane called it his favorite album of his own work. It certainly put him on the map as far as the jazz world was concerned, and it remains probably the most listenable of the many recordings he produced during his relatively short career.

“Spectrum” by Billy Cobham (1973)

The first major jazz artist to incorporate rock elements into jazz playing was Miles Davis, whose “Filles de Kilimanjaro” in 1968 hinted at what would become one of his greatest achievements, the following year’s “In a Silent Way.”

Davis’ floating cast of musicians served as the proving ground for what would become the Who’s Who of jazz-rock fusion, including Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira and British guitarist John McLaughlin.

Columbia Records, Davis’ label, was quick to sign the band McLaughlin founded in 1971, the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The quintet he formed – with Jan Hammer on keyboards, Jerry Goodman on violin, Rick Laird on bass and Billy Cobham on drums – played astonishingly intricate instrumentals at a volume associated more closely with Blue Cheer or Black Sabbath than anything having to do with jazz.

The original Mahavishnu Orchestra, unfortunately, lasted only a couple of years, and toward the end of that run, the percussionist recorded his first solo album.

“Spectrum” is one of the crowning achievements in fusion, with Cobham choosing wisely for his fellow musicians: Hammer, Lee Sklar on bass and the late Joe Farrell on woodwinds.

On guitar was a kid who’d started in the rock ‘n’ roll milieu, the late Tommy Bolin. The Sioux City, Iowa, native had played in a Colorado band called Zephyr before forming his own fusion group, Energy. He later replaced Domenic Troiano (who’d replaced Joe Walsh) in the James Gang.

Bolin met Cobham through former Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. And the guitarist, just 22 at the time, met the expectations Billy had come to expect by working with McLaughlin.

Chris Jisi and Mark Bosch wrote about the resulting collaboration in a 1988 article for Guitar World magazine:

“‘Spectrum’ was, according to Hammer, an almost completely spontaneous jam. For Bolin, it turned out to be much more than that: It earned him long-desired recognition and is probably his most widely known recorded work. An integral stepping stone in intertwining the rock and jazz idioms, ‘Spectrum’ struts with smoky jazz/rock/funk grooves, setting the pace for Bolin’s white-hot guitar excursions. Although Cobham handed out charts, Bolin did not read music. Instead, he was told chord changes and fed melodies off of which he and Hammer played. As a result, his raw energy blends effectively with the technical parts played by the other musicians.”

OK, that’s the guitarist’s standpoint. The project belonged to the percussionist, though, and he responded with a songwriting and instrumental effort that solidified his reputation as fusion’s pre-eminent drummer.

The six tracks on “Spectrum,” three of which open with fluid percussion solos, are uniformly listenable, unlike some of the more esoteric elements of jazz-rock at the time. For example, the opener, “Quadrant 4,” remains one of the best-known exercises in fusion, with Bolin’s scorching guitar duetting with Cobham’s high-energy drumming to lead into a memorably stuttering melody augmented by Hammer’s keyboards.

The album reaches its summit, as does possibly fusion in general, with “Stratus,” the most nearly perfect marriage of jazz and rock. The song became a staple in Bolin’s repertoire for the three years he had remaining after the release of “Spectrum.”

Unfortunately for its fans, “Spectrum” turned out to be purely a one-off collaboration. Cobham later joined forces with keyboard player George Duke, fresh from his stint with Frank Zappa’s band, for some enjoyable mid-’70s recordings. Hammer teamed up with Jeff Beck for the height of the legendary guitarist’s fusion period, and in the ’80s, the Czech keyboardist became a full-fledged star with his theme song for the hit TV series “Miami Vice.” (For the record, I have yet to see an episode.)

Bolin eventually replaced Richie Blackmore in Deep Purple, then OD’d in Miami after opening for Beck.

The fusion of jazz and rock peaked shortly after the release of “Spectrum.” The genre still has many adherents to this day, but they’re going to have to search long and hard to find something as listenable and enjoyable as Billy Cobham’s debut.