Thinking Outside The Box
Spirit: Live At The BBC 1971 – 1978
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
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.