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Fusion Is Not A Four-Letter Word

We can thank Miles Davis for the F-word. No, not that word. Fusion, as in jazz fusion. Fans and detractors of fusion cite Davis as the one who led the way to a new direction in jazz in the late 1960s and early '70s. Davis' 1969 album, In a Silent Way, prominently featured electric piano, bass and guitar on long cuts that marked a radical departure from any jazz that came before it. The following year, Davis' Bitches Brew was an even more complex and daring rock-influenced musical statement.

Davis' role is even more remarkable when you consider that many of fusion's pioneers were directly involved in both of those recordings. Not only did volumes rise, but sales also shot through the roof, as many of the first wave of fusion groups moved way beyond intimate nightclubs to arenas and even larger stadiums, drawing crowds that rivaled those of many top rock acts. Despite that outpouring of popularity, many were critical of the music's tendencies toward showmanship and instrumental virtuosity, not to mention the tricky time meters and all those damn notes.

Not wanting to kick-start any long-standing feuds, here's a look at five recordings that helped define the early fusion movement.

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Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.