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Organic Hot Fusion

Norman Connors
Dance of Magic: Norman Connors brings his fusion of R&B and jazz to Club Ibex on Friday.

Norman Connors' marriage of progressive R&B and jazz appeals to brainiacs and romantics alike

By Nicky Baxter

MENTION FUSION JAZZ and what rings in many ears are the stadium-aimed Flash Gordon pyrotechnics that prevailed in the mid-1970s. But the genre can also be heard as an organic convergence of progressive R&B and jazz, possessed of a healthy sense of the past, present and future. Along with a scant few others, Norman Connors was a genuine pioneer of this type of fusion, which appealed to brainiacs and romantics alike.

A drummer by trade, Connors, a Philadelphia native, was as much a catalyst as he was a musician. Throughout the 1970s, Connors lured a veritable buzz bin of brilliant jazz and neo-jazzers to perform his highly evocative brand of post-New Black Music: ex-Trane player Pharoah Sanders, bass prodigy Stanley Clarke and a number of star-time players pitched in to help Connors shape some of the most sumptuous dreamscapes of that transitional era. Though the usually sprawling mini-big bands were responsible for a spate of top-drawer recordings, Dark of Light and Dance of Magic stand out as exceptional.

Attributable in part to Stanley Clarke's prodigious bass, Airto Moreira's percussion and some feather-light flute work, Dance of Magic sounds like a funkier version of Chick Corea's as-yet unformed Return to Forever. And the "vibe" is as luxuriant as the Brazilian rain forest before the cutters came: drums and percussion are both burning low, while plangent keyboards (Herbie Hancock) dance and shimmer. However, by substituting a phalanx of horns for guitars, Norman Connors' bands were groove-ier than Corea's.

Ironically, Connors' career really took a vertical swing with the Dee Dee Bridgewater song "You Are My Starship" in 1976. Arguably MOR, the tune was certainly less than representative of Connors' expansive oeuvre. In any event, it became the definitive--in fact, the only--hit Connors had. Betcha by golly, wow, it'll be in tonight's set list.

Norman Connors plays with Marion Meadows Aug. 16, 7:30 and 10pm, at Club Ibex, 55 S. Market St, San Jose. VIP reception at 6:30pm. After-concert party included w/second show. Tickets: $25/$20. (408/971-4239)

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From the August 15-21, 1996 issue of Metro

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