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Bill Bruford: No Random Act

By Published: May 4, 2004
But learning to be more relaxed with the music is something that Bruford continues to strive for. "The ambiguity of jazz is one of the great attractions, says Bruford. "I think I've always been steering towards that but am beginning to make headway only now, partly because the musicians I now play with have come so much from that world that it frees one up. In my earlier days with rock and, in particular, big rooms, you needed to speak with a real clarity; and if what you were trying to do was remotely complicated or off the wall then that had to be clearly off the wall as well or else it wouldn't translate. So I came to this with perhaps too much precision and I'm trying to loosen that now and imply things, which I think is a much better approach.

Compositions—Old and New

With Garland's compositional infusion into the band, Earthworks are delving even further into the realm of extended composition. "Yeah, that's terrific, I love that, explains Bruford. "That's partly a product of training, which is great. Learning to make eight bars go a long way; to reinvert it and play it backwards and upside down and much later halfway through and all the other things you can do to get further mileage out of your material. I always found that difficult, as an uneducated musician, but there are a number of tricks you can use. Tim is, on the whole, a better writer than I am and his tunes are lovely to play.

Another interesting direction with the new record is the reintroduction of older Bruford pieces, from Earthworks Mark I, and even as far back as from his '70s group, Bruford. "That was a request from Tim, Bruford explains. "He grew up with some of the Bruford/Holdsworth stuff and said, 'We've got to do some of that.' I said, 'Not really because the sound of it isn't going to work in this context,' but we did find two or three pieces that did sit well.

"Pat Mastelotto, from King Crimson, had a nice phrase, continues Bruford, "that musicians know where the bodies are buried. The music is so much a part of a musician that one can't look back at anything with any objectivity until at least ten years has passed. And it took an incoming Tim Garland to say, 'that lovely ballad with Annette Peacock, "Seems Like a Lifetime Ago, we could do that.' I went, 'My God , are you sure?' and he said 'Yeah, it'll sound great!' and sure enough it did. 'One of a Kind' was a bit of a reach, but we got away with it. And playing some older material is also nice for the crowd, because they are aware of my having a long career of which I am usually only doing the last ten minutes; they're grateful to hear something from a little further back.

Recording Live

Random Acts of Happiness , like the previous Footloose and Fancy Free , is a live recording, but rather than being a consolidation of existing material, this is an album of new compositions along with the new treatments of older pieces. Given that Earthworks does little to nothing in the way of editing, recording an album of new works live made perfect sense. "There's so little difference in live and studio recording these days, says Bruford. "The studio has, ever since this inception of Earthworks, been only the physical building in which the performance is made. We don't use it, in any sense, as another instrument as other musicians sometimes do. Obviously we are performance-based music; you do two or three takes and that's it, that's all. The drums are always untouched, and of course if there is a small slip or error then you can retouch it; but generally speaking what you play is what you get. So given that you're going to do that in two or three days in the studio, you might just as well add another date to the tour and record it live at the end of the tour. It also cuts costs somewhat; and anything you can do to cut costs is going to be a good thing on the whole, while maintaining the quality of course.

The new record sounds better than the last one, largely because it was recorded in what is fast becoming known as one of the best clubs for live recording in the United States, Yoshi's in Oakland, California. "Unfortunately Footloose and Fancy Free , which was OK, explains Bruford, "was recorded in a room with a very low ceiling, and it caused a bit of a problem, whereas Yoshi's is a much taller room; you get much more space in the microphones so you get a bigger sound; it's a much better sounding room overall.

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