A Complete Career Collection” – London Jazz News
Bill Bruford– Make a Song and Dance: A Complete Collection of Careers
(BMG 5053875290. 6 CD set. Album review by John Bungey)
“Listening back to old efforts is a bit like looking back through faded photo albums; you’re mostly embarrassed not just by the awful jeans you were wearing, but by the fact that you didn’t know they were awful. Come on Bill, you’re supposed to flog some records here. Bruford’s musings – to be found on his website – hardly seem designed to persuade the curious to part with their £60 for this six-CD set.
So let’s take a look at these “terrible jeans” – is there flair among the flares (sorry) or a load of old flannel? In fact, in the great drummer-songwriter’s beautiful biography, he reveals real pride in at least some of his pioneering work with King Crimson and his own band. Earthworksfor a long time one of Britain’s most successful jazz exports.
For his accountant, Bruford’s career must seem to have been lived in reverse. The drummer starts with Yes, who quickly become titans of progressive rock that fill stadiums and generate money. He switches to the more risky and less bankable King Crimson. Then the lure of jazz and improvised music with their niche audiences and modest revenue becomes irresistible.
Bruford brought odd meters and offbeat grooves played with a confident, fast attack to the new world of progressive rock. Fifty years later, his is still the standard to emulate in this field. Listen to his explosive playing on “Heart of the Sunrise”, one of Yes’ three tracks here. In fact, the percussive fireworks are the best feature of the 11-minute opus, as it assembles one of those lightly laborious fast-slow-fast, cut-and-paste epics, served up to a breathless audience at the early 1970s.
Determined not to spend the rest of his years covering Yes’ greatest hits, however, Bruford jumped ship (and indeed, in a parallel world, he could play drums for a Yes whiskey as they return to play “Close to the Edge” at the Albert Hall this June). In the first of several risky career moves, he signed for Robert Fripp’s free-thinking and chronically unstable King Crimson. The band have worked hard to expand the vocabulary of rock music and on tracks such as “Fracture” they craft extraordinary heavy metal chamber music. Starless, also here, is their most comprehensive piece, a wistful, dramatic, and ultimately thunderous 12-minute epic. Wisely Bruford omits all gratuitous improvisations from these line-ups – some of which now have a whiff of “dreadful jeans”.
Bruford’s favorite Crimson era was the 1980s when, on three albums, the quartet experimented with polyrhythms and complex meters with remarkable skill. The indiscipline is a percussive tour de force but elsewhere the way the vocal lines seem to have been draped over instrumental passages late in the composition process – Waiting Man, Three of a Perfect Pair – doesn’t always convince.
By this time, jazz had called Bruford home – there was a more expansive form where players knew their sixteenth notes and didn’t need a giant stack of Marshalls to make a point. Jazz players had a common vocabulary that allowed them to create new music quickly and efficiently. His group simply called Bruford showcases the flying-fingered fusion talents of Allan Holdsworth on guitar and Jeff Berlin on bass. Athletic workouts with weather accents mix with surprisingly tender moments thanks to Annette Peacockor the singing bass of Berlin.
Earthworks Mark I features original, inspired writing from Django Bates (“Candles Still Flicker in Romania’s Dark”) as Bruford recruits young jazzmen unaware of Yes or prog. The sound is more family-friendly and there are touching tunes here, even if the electronic textures, including Bruford’s state-of-the-art digital drums, date the sound. It’s no surprise that later Earthworks went acoustic – and moved closer to traditional jazz. The sound is more organic and Delight without pause jumps out of the speakers but there isn’t quite the distinctive personality of that first line-up with Bates and the saxophonist Iain Ballamy.
The all-acoustic second edition made an album titled A separate part – reflecting the band’s uncertain standing with the UK jazz community. It now seems remarkable that the old Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, usually encyclopedic, does not mention Earthworks in the two editions I have. The shadow of near the edge weighs heavy for jazz purists.
The box set also includes some of Bruford’s guest slots, ranging from the motley diversity of folk Roy Harper to Buddy Rich Big Band (what, none of that flying teapot tour with Gong here?). A promising meeting with Ralph Viller and Eddie Gomez is represented by Bruford’s composition thistle. Too bad he hasn’t evolved further. The Bruford-Tony Levin the group presents marvelous explosions of bursts of Chris Botti before the American focused on Sony’s “sexiest jazz trumpeter“.
The latest CD highlights Bruford the improviser, and is my favorite – adventures with Piano Circus, David Torn and Crimson helpfully handpicked. The drummer bid farewell to the stage in partnership with the Dutch pianist Michel Borstlap. Bruford always said he would call it a day at 60. The four pieces of Bruford-Borstlap are melodic and accessible but have a free and all-purpose opening that the two players exploit with joy. Such on-the-fly invention was never going to fill a stadium, but for Bruford, the jazz ‘tourist’ turned native, it’s a fine finale to Bruford’s spectacle.
LINK: Bill Bruford Full Career Collection at Presto Music