Here are two unique yet conceptually similar albums by Greater Bay Area musicians, both of which prove there's still plenty of vitality remaining in the much-maligned (and not without reason) genre of fusion -- which, once upon a time, was distrusted and despised by jazzheads nearly as much as punk rock was by late-'70s mainstream America.
Mushroom is less a band than a collective -- a fluid, primarily instrumental ensemble with drummer Pat Thomas, guitarist Erik Pearson, and keyboardist Matt Cunitz at its core, with a diverse cross-section of Bay Area talent to realize their lysergic visions. Glazed Popems is Mushroom's own Zen Arcade: a sprawling, two-CD set that covers a great deal of stylistic ground yet retains a focus of sorts. Disc one is subtitled "London," a nod to '60s British variants of folk- and jazz-tinged psychedelia, the pinnacle being "(Hats Off to) Bert Jansch," an entrancing tribute to the influential Pentangle guitarist, featuring Ralph Carney's gutsy, bittersweet flute and sinuous Turkish clarinet gliding over a buzzing modal melody and cyclic, quasi-Indian beats. It's virtually a dream collaboration between the Incredible String Band and Traffic at their respective primes. The "Oakland" disc, meanwhile, finds Mushroom managing a funkadelicatessen, where soloing and textures alternately prickly and deliciously mellow are served between slices of languid yet funky East Bay groove, with the dreamlike voice of Alison Faith Levy as garnish.
The résumé of San Jose-based jazz trumpeter Eddie Gale includes playing on classic albums by Cecil Taylor (Unit Structures), Larry Young (Of Peace and Love), and his own Eddie Gale's Ghetto Music and Black Rhythm Happening, the latter two heady soundclashes of free jazz, gospel, and Afro-Latin and funk rhythms, where black consciousness and the Age of Aquarius embraced and confronted each other. Afro-Fire, Gale's first album in twelve years, finds him embracing electronica, sampling, and breakbeat science, leaving most other such jazz/electro hybrids in the dust. His muted trumpet carries echoes of mid-'60s Miles Davis, its pointed acoustic poignancy a stark, invigorating contrast to the churning, electric, jungle-y settings that range from the sensuous, moody "New York After Hours" to the soul-jazz-from-Saturn "Tribal Future." (Gale also played with Sun Ra.) He endows a quality to his fusion lacking in much electronica: heart. Dive in.
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