Although jazz has left behind its America-centricity and become a more international language, a mysterious chasm still exists between the American and UK jazz scenes. For every artist like Kenny Wheeler who has achieved American recognition, a dozen others have not. But with Earthworks Underground Orchestra, drummer Bill Bruford and woodwind multi-instrumentalist Tim Garland narrow the gap, proving that swing is more than a defined rhythmit's a feel, with an expanding definition.
Bruford's 1980s electro-acoustic Earthworks quartet began a gradual move away from his art rock background with King Crimson and Yes; the late-1990s acoustic Earthworks signaled a more concerted drive towards a purer jazz aesthetic. The truth, however, is more complicated, since music really develops along a continuum. While Earthworks' recent Random Acts of Happiness (Summerfold, 2004) was informed by an undeniably cosmopolitan jazziness, its detailed compositional constructs, complex polyrhythms and irregular meters revealed Bruford's progressive roots, despite a looser and more intuitively responsive playing style.
Culled from a stint at New York's Iridium jazz club, Earthworks Underground Orchestra began as a marriage of Garland's London-based nine-piece Dean Street Underground Orchestra and the Earthworks repertoire after Garland joined the group in 2003. For the December, 2004 Iridium date, Bruford and Garland recruited New York players like saxophonist Steve Wilson, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and pianist Henry Hey. With Garland's not insignificant skills as an arranger, the materiala cross-section of Earthworks material old and newis infused with new life and greater depth.
Garland's sleight of hand makes the orchestra feel even larger than it is. "Libreville," from 1980s Earthworks, is reinvented as a kind of odd-metered calypso, with flutes, muted trumpets and trombone morphing the original melody into rich counterpoint. Another 1980s tune, "Up North," deconstructs the simple I-IV-V theme, Garland passing it around from horn to horn. Rather than reproducing the strong backbeat of the original recording's solo section, Bruford plays it lighter and introduces an Afro-Cuban vibe, with Wilson and trombonist Rock Ciccarone delivering the kind of strong solos that define the entire set, leading into a kind of structured free-for-all at the song's end.
Garland's more complex and stylistically varied writing will be no surprise to those familiar with If the Sea Replied (Sirocco, 2005). Despite the episodic nature of "Speaking in Wooden Tongues," it never lacks focus; Bruford's open-minded interplay is a highlight during Wilson's modal solo. Bruford's evolution as a writer is also clear. Garland's tour-de-force arrangement of Bruford's "The Wooden Man Sings, and the Stone Woman Dances" hints at greater freedom, deeper harmonic understanding, and Bruford at his most swinging.
Bruford continues to reinforce a clear line from art rocker to authentic jazzer. But his recent work, specifically his collaborations with Garland, demonstrates an accelerated development. Complex yet accessible scores, broad textures, and unassailable grooves make Earthworks Underground Orchestra an album that deserves to gain Bruford and Garland a firmer foothold with North American jazz audiences.
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Personnel: Bill Bruford: drums, percussion; Tim Garland: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, bass
clarinet; Jon Owens: trumpet, Alex "Sasha" Sipiagin: trumpet; Rock Ciccarone: trombone
(1-3,6-8); Robin Eubanks: trombone (4, 5); Chris Karlic: baritone saxophone, flute; Steve
Wilson: alto and soprano saxophones, flute; Henry Hey: piano; Mike Pope: electric and