Fusion and Stuff

Arranging a larger music collection can be a pretty daunting task, especially if it spans a larger number of genres and styles. Add to this the fact that you can file many CDs under different categories, that classical music adds a whole other dimension to the problems you are bound to encounter after a few years and what you get is … chaos. Mind you, not in my house, but I’ve seen collections that not only spanned I don’t know how many categories but were also placed in just about as many rooms and/or various assorted piles and heaps around that collector’s hallowed halls.

At some point, of course not literally, I took a very sharp axe to my collection and decided to drastically reduce the complexity by coming up with my very own way of arranging what I had. I have no idea how your mind works, but mine has spent so much time thinking about music, categorizing it, reading and learning about it and I (that’s me, myself and I) know where to file away CDs according to my more or less quirky way of thinking. I consciously decided not to follow any outside advice or adhere to some of the stricter filing systems other nutty collectors might have liked to see imposed on a global scale.So, and don’t laugh out loud please, I chopped my collection up into 6 sections (so far, also arranged from the left side of the storage area to the right):

  1. Pop, Rock and Blues
  2. “Fusion and Stuff”
  3. “ECM Sound”
  4. Jazz
  5. Classical
  6. Others

That’s it (and has been transferred 1:1 to the folder structure on my PC for digital files). I could go on for hours why I chose that way of storing my collection, but suffice it to say that it has helped me find what I have and has certainly helped me avoid buying CDs I already had.

What I want to talk about today is that rather weird section which goes under the obscure misnomer “Fusion and Stuff”.

There was a time in my life in which my musical interests most definitely slanted towards that what many people like to call “fusion”. After a while I started lobbing “Easy Listening” stuff in there as well and after it had become apparent that I just had too many artists that were either crossover artists or, in my humble opinion, did not (at all) fit into the category they were filed under in shops or other people’s collections, they ended up there as well. In the end, my “Fusion and Stuff” category became a sanctuary for all those artists that I did not deem worthy enough to be a member of another category.

In the beginning, my “Fusion and Stuff” category was just that, a section for what I would have considered to be fusion music.

It all started innocently enough.

[Flashback]

Sometime around the end of the 1970s, a good Spanish friend of mine managed to convince me of the fact – and I’m still indebted to him today – that there was more to music than Heavy Metal and Punk. I had known that of course, but around that time I was ignoring it all together. All my jazz and whatnot had been relegated to the dusty corners of my shelves and if it wasn’t loud, at times obnoxious and, most importantly, strictly the opposite of what many other people were listening to, it didn’t get a center spot and was left to stand and rot.

In came Enrique with a few LPs. See, Enrique and I played drums and percussion and whereas I was giving everything the 2 by 4 treatment, Enrique kept on playing these intrictate and surprising bits, with dynamics, pattern shifts, amazing bassdrum figures and lots of syncopated stuff, to boot.

At some point, to be quite honest, I started feeling like and idiot and asked him where he was getting the stuff from. Of course I knew the answer, but I wanted him to play it for me, show me and, most importantly, teach me. I had heretofore turned a deaf ear everytime he was playing what he liked and in that way, I was certainly as arrogant as can be.

The moment all of that changed I can pinpoint and still have before my inner eye, including the time of day, the weather conditions and the atmosphere. It was on an extremely warm summer day in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the basement of our house, just after lunch when most of the neighbourhood was taking a nap (= best time to practice some drums). Enrique started the session off with the Gerry Brown’s intro to “The Dancer” off Stanley Clarke’s “School Days” (1976) album. Shortly thereafter he launched into Clarke’s more intricate and extremely funky “Silly Putty” (Steve Gadd on drums) and … BOOM!

I was hooked.

And I was embarrassed that I couldn’t play any of it really well (or at all). I had to fight hard to wrap my brain around these patterns (especially because we didn’t have the rest of the band to go with it), to get the ghost notes down right, to change my sticking for the fast breaks, to … you get the picture. I felt humbled and had the eminent feeling that I sucked (which I’m sure I did).

At the time I had one of those after-school and weekend jobs at Burger King, hoping to earn enough cash to complete my small drum set with some decent Zildjan cymbals and better hardware, but for the following weeks, every single cent I earned went into the purchase of “fusion” albums. I took – literally – every cent of my hard-earned money to a long-defunct record store called “Bristol Music Center” on the world-famous walking street that cuts right through Copenhagen’s center, and I walked home with a load of albums by such luminaries as Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, George Benson, George Duke, John McLaughlin, LPs with David Sancious, anything with Steve Gadd on it, Airto Moreira, Lenny White, Billy Cobham … the list seemed endless.

Most of my friends had begun to think I was having my first midlife crisis, but as soon as they figured out that I still enjoyed the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal“, the relatively new sounds of the punk movement and bands and artists like the Police and Joe Jackson that had started rising to the top of the crop around then, and they let me have a few minutes at each meeting or party to try to convince them that my fusion stuff was “more intelligent” and whatever other moniker I could come up with.

I don’t know if any of you have ever been down that road, but it quickly spiraled out of control, reaching the height of depravity once I started buying into the entire GRP catalog (Lee Ritenour and all the other inmates). It really didn’t stop until the middle of the 1990s and …

… I started HATING the stuff.

It took me a while to get out of that permanent daze I often found myself in and to notice that everything I had loved so much had – slowly but surely – turned into a slush pile of formulaic nothing- and emptiness. Muzak. All of it.

And then I buried it all deep in the nook and crannies of my collection and ever so often I would take out a CD or two and start playing it only to turn it off immediately again. I couldn’t stand any of it anymore.

Overdose.

Completely zapped.

I literally got a queasy feeling after three notes of anything and had to leave the room or turn the stereo off. You think I’m exaggerating? Believe me, I’m not. Until today I still haven’t recovered.

A minute change is happening right now as I have almost completed ripping larger parts of my collection to digital files. I’m actually listening to those earlier Stanley Clarke CDs again, I’m enjoying George Benson’s “Weekend in LA” as much again as I did way back when, but 99% of what I have has remained untouched since the middle 90s.

Collecting dust.

I don’t know how many times I have tried to give a lot of it another spin or how often I have thought of selling all 8 to 10 meters of it, but I always begin to have a bad conscience when thoughts of parting with it all pop up. A lot of this music was a large part of my life and I somehow hope that one day I will develop a taste for it again, as much as some of the earlier (70s) fusion appeals to me again right now, but my subconscious keeps on screaming “NOT bloody likely” or “never no mo’ Ritenour”. 😉

All of this is only the first half of the story though.

As I mentioned before, I started “pushing” other artists into that category. Let’s take an example that usually stops every useful music conversation dead in its tracks. Diana Krall. I have to admit that I really liked her stuff for a while, up until and around the last two good albums “When I Look into Your Eyes” (1999) and “The Look of Love” (2001), plus, of course, the 2002 live album, “Live in Paris”. I always admired her style and the great musicians she surrounded herself with. In fact, it was Ray Brown’s and Jeff Hamilton’s endorsement of her that turned me onto her stuff.

But “Jazz”?

“Yes” (at times, in theory), but definitely a resounding “No” (in my book).

Off she went into “Fusion and Stuff”. The only thing I can defend my decision with is that I didn’t want the whole run of her output to end up between Lee Konitz and Gene Krupa. I still believe that would somehow teint my jazz category.

I think you’ll know what I mean if I publically admit that I also have Norah Jones, Dave Koz and even (one) Kenny G. CDs. Sounds arrogant, I know, but today I think that most of what I had bought obsessively throughout the late 80s and almost the entire run of the 90s is, err, not worth my time anymore. There was a time when I walked by a second hand store each and every day to work (and back) and I just snatched up all of these CDs for next to nothing. They were good to have for guests, many of them I actually liked as well for a while, but there came a moment from which onwards I simply couldn’t listen to more than 60 seconds of the stuff without getting nausea.

There are exceptions, of course, and I do still enjoy the odd “Mezzoforte” CD, an earlier Krall release, one or two Dave Gruisin recordings, etc. but by and large … “Fusion and Stuff”.

It has actually become a negative label in my house, simply because whatever ends up in there is pulled out once every decade or so.

And that’s where the crux lies.

The other day I went through it all and decided there was worthwhile stuff in there that should actually go into a new category. I have no idea what it should be called, but somewhere along the lines of “Pretty Decent Fusion and Stuff” could be a solution, weeding out the recordings that still give me the creeps today, eventually to be dumped into some sales bin somewhere.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. Captain Fingers – CTI stuff – Eric Gale!!!!!! – I have actually picked quite a number of these 2nd hand. From the mid-80s until 2006, I actually refused to re-purchase CDs of these stuff from my senior high/college days.

    I actually repurchased a brand new School Days a year ago at a bargain price of US6.00 and reallly re-lived THOSE IN YOUR FACE electric bass of Stanley

    Reply

  2. Thanks for your comments. It made me laugh a little bit because I always had the feeling that those people reading this board regularly are actually very similar.

    Captain Fingers I used to buy every release of (incl. those of the vast number of studio pros playing with Lee and the rest of the GRP crowd) until I completely overdosed.

    Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea’s “Return to Forever” plus very few others have actually managed to rekindle a tiny flame. BTW: It might not be your cup of tea as a whole, but “Silly Putty” from Clarke’s “Journey to Love” (1975) is a real smoker and is one of the best tunes he ever put out. Check it our one day (but don’t forget that, IMHO, the rest does not entirely live up to those expectations).

    So, as a departing thought, how do you keep order in your collection? Any special quirks like my way of throwing stuff into a lump category?

    Thanks for stopping by again.

    Volkher

    Reply

  3. I concentrate on my vast (and getting bigger) jazz collection these days and I file the CDs according to instruments – Trumpet, Tenor Sax, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax (that is stretching a bit as only Steve Lacy concentrate his whole career on this instrument but somehow I file John Coltrane under this catergory), Drums, Bass, Guitar, Vibraphone, Male Vocalist, Female Vocalist, Vibraphone, Group & Big Band, Miscellaneous & Compliation (jazz on steel giutar???? – I got 1) : 13 catergories

    C Ho

    Reply

  4. I’ve seen all kinds of sorting techniques, but do you file according to lead/most prominent instrument? What do you do, f. ex., with blowing sessions that feature three different instruments equally much (say, saxophone, trumpet and trombone)?

    On a completely different note: The funniest arrangement of media I ever saw was about ten years ago when I was invited to check out this one guy’s spectacularly expensive stereo setup. The system was great, but what completely threw me that he had arranged his thousands of LPs, CDs AND books according to spine color, from white to black. I have no idea how he found stuff in there (he did), but I’m sure he must have had something like a photographic memory.

    Reply

  5. You got me on these multi-leakers or dare I say co-operative dates – I usually file these under my “imaginery” leader’s catergory.

    I regularily visit a 2nd LP store each week to lisiten to analogue jazz lp (I am comletely digital)and the owner (who is now a friend) just laughed and told me that he had so many LP at his home (other than the store) that he just kept them in plastic bags sack by sack on the ground and he somehow can get right one.

    Reply

  6. “Imaginary leaders” sounds very much like what I do in my “Fusion and Stuff” category. 🙂

    This friend of yours with the LP bags reminded me of something completely different. There used to be one of Europe’s largest used books shops in Copenhagen Denmark. It occupied two old buildings on opposite sides of a main road, connected by a vast labyrinth of dusty and mouldy basement rooms beneath the main road.

    In that “shop”, the owner did not have any shelves. He just piled up the books to about the height of the tallest customer, pushed four piles together into one tall “pillar” and just pointed into the general direction when you asked, for example, for “English hardcover” books.

    The positive thing was that one could find some very rare gems in that shop (and get them cheap, because the owner had no idea what they were really worth), the problem was getting a book out from the bottom of a pile. I don’t know how many times I tested the “domino theory” in that shop by pulling out something I wanted to look at and watch about 12 two-meter tall piles tumble to the floor.

    If possible, I left quietly through the back door and didn’t return for half a year, hoping the guy also wouldn’t remember that I was the guilty party. 🙂

    Reply

  7. My CDs are filed as follows:
    1. style (traditional jazz, big-band jazz and swing, the soloists and small-band swing, modern jazz, etc.)
    2. instrument (cornet/trumpet, trombone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, etc.)
    3. year of the leader’s birth
    4. year of the leader’s death
    5. first recording date (if any) of the leader
    6. jam sessions and collections
    It took a lot of work, but it’s fun and it makes the developments in jazz “visible”.

    Reply

  8. Hans,

    that sounds like a fascinating (new) take on filing your music collection. I have approached it in a similar way, albeit only digitally. The main reason for having started transferring practically all my music to digital files (flac) was that I wanted to be able to sort the whole lot according to different “fields”. Resorting the real-life collection in the living room is certainly not an option, but if you tag your digital rips properly (and that’s both an art form and a major reason for endless debates online), there’s fascinating stuff you can do in a mere second or two. Let me give you an example.

    Foobar’s (Foobar is my player of choice) search and filer functions let you create “sub-groups” of your whiole collection in seconds. It’s not as flexible as, say, a good relational database, but if you think before you tag and do not break widely accepted standards too often, you can search for just about anything AND have Foobar create a playlist for that subset. Takes two/three clicks and the typing of a letter or two … BINGO!

    Add to that the fact that I have scanned and collected lots of information for each release and stuck it into each CD’s folder on my PC, I can – without leaving my desk – delve into session details if I want or need to.

    Once you have more than a thousand CDs tagged properly (in my case, many thousands of CDs), you begin to “play” around with your collection. Find every decent remaster of music recorded between 1952 and 1957 (and remastered between 1987 and 1991)? Maybe only those files that feature Benny Goodman? It’s possible, and it works perfectly on my system.

    Still, it took me years of ripping (in one format) and finally ripping in another (final) format, plus months of tagging work to get there. I guess what I have done is only for the freaks.

    It does have the added advantage of having my files backed up securely.

    You mentioned above that your way of filing your music was a lot of work. I know. I don’t know how many times I have arranged larger sub-collections just by recording date, only to screw it up again shortly thereafter. See, when I listen to music, I jump from A to Z and then to F, pull it all out, play a song here and compare another one there … and I don’t have the discipline to restore order again straight away. And then, when I don’t really have the time, I just stick the CDs into an empty slot because I don’t have time to sort it all out again. So, I end up with a ’68 Peterson recording sandwiched between a ’56 and a ’57 one, although another should’ve gone in there.

    I guess I have too much of a “Messie” (=music enthusiast) in me.

    😉

    Reply

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