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Bill Bruford: Earthly Endeavors, Heavenly Pursuits

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: Earthworks has always functioned as a quartet, although you did invite guitarist Larry Coryell to join the band for some memorable concerts in the summer of 2000. Was that collaboration merely a bit of fun, or were you toying with the idea of adding new voices to the band?

BB: Larry was invited to join the band as a little extra glamour/attraction for a European summer tour. He practiced hard for a very idiosyncratic set of music that is not at all guitar-orientated, which was just as well. Our tenor-player at the time, Patrick Clahar, got sick, and Larry was suddenly holding down the main chair. He did great—but I wasn't thinking of the permanent incorporation of guitar.

AAJ: In Django Bates, Steve Hamilton, and now Gwilym Simcock, you've worked with some outstanding pianists over the years, not forgetting your collaborations with Patrick Moraz and, more recently, Michiel Borstlap. What do you look for in a pianist?

BB: Well, the same thing that I think you look for in any musician—flexibility, constant invention, great sense of humor, punctuality, reliability, and all round genius—in no particular order! If he can write, great, we'll play his stuff too. I love to play with the sound of a grand—one of the few instruments that can out-do a drummer in terms of power, strength, and delicacy. I've been doing a fair bit with my Dutch partner Michiel, and my next Summerfold CD will be of fresh material with him.

AAJ: Do you have a release date for that?

BB: Late this year [2007] or early next.

AAJ: One of three previously unreleased songs on the DVDs, "Youth, reminds me that you have always put a lot of faith in young musicians in Earthworks; has this been a deliberate choice on your part?

BB: Yes, I believe so. Younger men tend not to have yet started their own recording career, the demands of which would probably conflict with the Earthworks schedule. They also tend to be willing, punctual, open-minded, and affordable—four essential attributes. The exchange generally works well—they get the benefit of the high-profile international platform that I can provide, and I get the benefit of all that enthusiasm and red-blooded vigor. All groups work on a balance of needs between the individuals—get that right, and you'll get a good and happy group.



Anyone over the age of forty is probably still struggling to some extent with the old "is it jazz, or is it rock? quandary, whereas the younger people tend to have absorbed both, and gone beyond that old chestnut. Those are the people I need in Earthworks.

AAJ: After ten years, the electric bass returns in the hands of Laurence Cottle. What prompted this change in the instrumentation of the band?

BB: Excess baggage charges. It may come as a surprise to you that what the creative musician can and cannot afford to do in the commercial world is mostly circumscribed by logistics and costs. A society gets the music it pays for! I love upright bass and I used to love my electronic kit, but when both appeared too often in little pieces on the baggage claim, something had to give. More seriously, Laurie is a killer player, and if he plays electric, that's fine with me.

AAJ: Earthworks has always been a collective in the sense that songwriting is shared; this must be the ideal situation in a real band, no?

BB: I'm not a sufficiently confident writer to want to dominate proceedings entirely. I suppose the last CD I wrote the bulk of the material for was The Sound of Surprise (Summerfold, 2001) in 2001—incidentally one of my favorite Earthworks records. Eventually, the admin load and the typing became too much, so the "new guys, Garland and Simcock, are in the band not only because they play beautifully, but they provide excellent material. Generally, I think it's much better when the writing is shared.

AAJ: At a concert in Thailand in 2006 you said that you enjoy playing on a ballad more than taking a drum solo. You write a mean ballad yourself, (I'm thinking of "Seems like a Lifetime Ago" ). Which balladeers have inspired you over the years?

BB: Wow, were you there? I'm not sure it's a case of specific composition—although Jackie McLean's "Love and Hate" was a template for my "Come to Dust"—more in the enjoyment of getting the execution right. Letting notes hang, having time to give notes their full value. Little gestures take on a big meaning in ballads. And there is equally a sense of danger for the soloist, little errors are also magnified. Live, you can hear the room go quiet as the focus of musician and listener adjusts to the new delicacy.

AAJ: You drummed on, what for me is one of the most beautiful ballads ever written, "Hallucinating Light" by Roy Harper. What are your memories of the H.Q. (Science Fiction, 1975) recording sessions? How do you rate Harper as a songwriter?

BB: I think Roy is a little slice of magic. A British institution. That was recorded back in my "studio musician" days in the 1970s. Personally I prefer "When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease," but that's a particularly English thing, a sense heightened by the presence of the Grimesthorpe Colliery Brass Band. That, of course, connects you directly to Earthworks track one on Volume 2 of the new DVDs, and our only "hit —"Up North," which also alludes to the northern brass bands of England.

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