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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Spirit Jack Bruce

Thinking Outside The Box

Spirit: Live At The BBC 1971 – 1978

Jack Bruce


Though forever preserved in amber as one third of Cream, Jack Bruce broke free of the confines of blues rock via a series of ambitious solo albums. From the brash something-to-prove eclecticism of 1969’s Songs For A Tailor, the dream-like vistas of 1971’s Harmony Row, through to the thrumming fusion of How’s Tricks in 1977, the extent to which Bruce pushed against type-casting is chronicled over these three action-packed CDs.

With the possible exception of guitarist John McLaughlin, it’s difficult to think of another UK musician emerging out of the blues boom of the 1960s so fully conversant with prog-tinged songs, free-form jazz and fusion-based rock - just some of the ground covered here.

There’s a ragged brilliance to much of the first disc showcasing the quartet he took out on the road in 1971 to support the just-released Harmony Row. That album’s crystalline beauty was roughed-up a bit to favour the punchy dynamics desired in a live setting. Nevertheless, the effect is both exotic and powerful even if Bruce sometimes struggles to nail the intricacies of Pete Brown’s wordplay.

In 1975 Bruce was on the Old Grey Whistle Test with the previous year’s Out Of The Storm and back for the In Concert strand of 1977. Both sets (albeit with different line-ups) show that although they remain basically a rock outfit the jazzy undertow of the playing is always present and occasionally given full reign in the Return To Forever style work-out of Tony Willliams’ composition, “Spirit”.

Jazz is the most definitely the name of the game on two sessions with John Surman and Jon Hiseman. Amounting to a tumultuous 40 minutes the largely improvised tracks are scattered across all three discs, so although it's terrific stuff their impact is somewhat dissipated.

This minor quibble aside, Spirit is an excellent example of how Bruce was never content to merely play to the crowd but rather challenged them to keep up with his restless musicality.


djaitch said...

There are a splendid number of Jack Bruce albums appearing on the marketplace at the moment. I'm currently hooked listening to the relaxed blues rock of Seven Moons, with Jack playing once more with Robin Trower and Gary Husband. This album is less about the pyrotechnics of old, much more about subletly - with the cliche "growing graceful with age" spinning to mind.

This month's Jazzwise magazine fulsome praise of the latest offering from the German HR-Blue Band, playing original rearrangements of the music of Jack Bruce (and indeed Jack providing the vocals), has put the album on my shopping list. Of course HR-Big Band's previous album was a tribute to the music of McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra.

One question of the album you reviewed Sid: does it include the BBC Radio 1 In Concert recording of Jack Bruce with Hiseman and Graham Bond amongst others - the Windsong Records version I have, sound very badly over-recorded -especially with Bruce's bass seemingly cranked to 11? And surely that must have been one of the last recordings made by Bond?

And an opening question: did the supergroup: McLaughlin, Bruce, Cobham and Sancious ever record together. I saw them at the Rainbow in London about 1979 (or 78??)and was knocked out. Seeing McLaughlin playing a couple of guitar solos on Cream tunes was an experience I won't forget. However, the Melody Maker review a week later was memorable for relegating the performance to the dustbin, along presumably with the dinosaur rock bands - and I do remember the Stranglers were advertised to appear the following night at the Rainbow. A few bootlegs circulate of this group but nothing with audio quality.

djaitch said...

PS Coincentally the same Tom Lehrer CD is out and being played.........

Sid Smith said...

Hi there Dick,
yes it does include the windsong alhtough it sounds a tad cleaned up by comparison to the original: mind you that doesn't negate the cranked-up bass of which you speak.

Didn't see the Sancious/Cobham line-up you mention but I've not heard anything by them so can't comment.
Listening to the later period in this box set (circa 1977, Bruce can be heard as the last gasp of the progressive era, defiantly swimming against the prevailing tide of punk and the general reaction against technique which the MM review possibly exemplifies.
Listening to Tom Lehrer is always good, although that picture is old and out of date - I need to change it when I get the time

djaitch said...

Since enjoying this correspondence (and apologies for the typos), I've discovered there is a 1981 live recording available of the remnants of the supergroup mentioned, with Clem Clemson (has he just announced his retirement???) taking over from McLaughlin on guitar. And also worth tracking down, is the 1981 Montreux Jazz Festival recording (but is it legit?) of Cobham, Bruce, Sancious but this time with Allan Holdsworth taking the guitar and Didier Lockwood on electric violin.

Finally, may I mention the wonderful job the talented Mr Gary Husband does on drums on Bruce/Trower's Seven Moon recording - I notice on one USA website the album is list under the trio's names, IMHO the synergy between the three player justifies this.

Thomas said...

This is SO GOOD!


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