The Tony Williams Lifetime

Turn It Over (1970)

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Fusion pioneers featuring Miles Davis alumni John McLaughlin, Larry Young and obviously Tony Williams. Jack Bruce from Cream is also on board for this album. The good songs here are some of the best of the genre. The first tracks “To Whom It May Concern — Them,” and “To Whom It May Concern — Us” are two of the heaviest, most wild fusion songs I’ve heard, very surprisingly written by the typically languid Chick Corea. “Vuelta Abajo” and “Right On” are a couple of other furious classic. Other standout tracks include the jazzier “Allah Be Praised”, and “Big Nick”, a reworked Coltrane song that I haven’t heard the original version of. The (big) problems come when Tony tries to sing, making the same mistake as he did on 1969’s Emergency!. Tracks like “This Night This Song” are dismal reminders of why this guy should stick to drumming. Not only is his voice lacking, but his lyrics are pretty poor, too. I just skip these songs. There’s also a bonus track with Jack Bruce singing, but his voice doesn’t fit as well here as it did with Cream. While their earlier album Emergency! is generally recognized as their greatest and most influential work, this one is a lot more rock and dark intensity and a lot less jazz and experimentation. It’s also a lot more fun to listen to in my opinion.

Maneige

Libre Service – Self Service (1978 )

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A later album from Maneige, one of the best-known Canadian prog bands. By this point they had almost entirely moved away from the symphonic sound of their earlier classic albums and are playing a kind of light fusion style, somewhat similar to Camel or some of the Canterbury bands. Unlike their previous work, the emphasis here is on shorter, less proggy compositions with more melody and short solos. Fortunately, as with all good fusion, it never becomes merely a showcase for how well these guys can play their instruments. There’s also some messing around with latin, reggae and funk influences that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. The album really gets going with the final four songs, which are among the best they’ve done (and are also the longest songs on this album). Lots of xylophone and flute to be found. Not necessarily as essential as their earlier albums, but a nice album anyway. One of the examples of a successful transition from prog to jazz rock.

Som Imaginário

A Matança do Porco (1973)

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Brazilian fusion with touches of prog, psyche and bossa nova. This is their third and final album, heading away from the psychedlic-driven sounds of their earlier albums and toward jazz-rock. Wagner Tiso, the keyboardist and now apparently leader of the band is very skilled at what he does (as are all the musicians here), but occasionally takes the album into softer keyboard jazz that may not sound too out of place on a Chick Corea solo album – a bit too light for me. Don’t worry though, there’s still a healthy amount of distorted and rambling guitar parts in the Os Mutantes tradition. High points are the heavy, building guitars of “Armina” and the epic symphonic prog of the 11 minute title track. A cool album that manages to successfully blend a variety of genres into something quite unique.