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Bill Bruford's Earthworks: Video Anthologies Vol. 1 and Vol. 2

John Kelman By

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Since forming his two record labels—Winterfold (to deal with solo efforts released prior to 1987, when he formed the first of his more jazz-centric Earthworks groups) and Summerfold (to handle everything that's happened since that career watershed)—drummer Bill Bruford has reissued, in remastered (and, in some cases, expanded) form his entire back catalog as a leader. He's also released Rock Goes to College (Winterfold, 2006), a short but powerful DVD from a 1979 BBC broadcast (an audio version of that concert is also available). With such a flurry of activity between 2004 and 2007, what to do next?

Well, while the art-rock drummer-turned-jazzer has released a now out-of-print DVD of the first incarnation of his all-acoustic Earthworks Mark II group, Footloose in NYC (Discipline Global Mobile, 2002), commercial video documentation of his work over the past two decades has been sadly lacking, especially since the various incarnations of Bill Bruford's Earthworks have been broadcast on various European, South American and Asian television networks.

Long overdue, Video Anthology Vol. 1: 2000's and Video Anthology Vol. 2: 1990's collect six broadcasts and four different versions of Earthworks into two neat packages. With the exception of three tracks culled from <>Footloose in NYC, none of the material has been previously available on DVD, and the two discs add up to a generous three hours and twenty minutes of footage. While packaged separately, together they create a captivating history of the evolution of Earthworks from an improvising but more technology-centric group to its current, largely acoustic form.

Bill Bruford's Earthworks
Video Anthology Vol. 1: 2000's
Summerfold Records BBSF 016 DVD
2007

Volume one captures three different versions of the acoustic Earthworks that emerged, after a brief hiatus, in 1999 with A Part, and Yet Apart (Summerfold, 1999). The first three tracks feature the initial lineup of pianist Steve Hamilton, saxophonist Patrick Clahar and bassist Mark Hodgson, culled from the Footloose in NYC footage. When this group first emerged, it was a refreshingly new combination of the kind of complex writing that Bruford had been pursuing ever since his first album as a leader, Feels Good to Me (Winterfold, 1977), along with a looser improvisational approach.

Bruford's reputation, in the art rock sphere, was that of a drummer capable of creating visceral grooves under what were at times the most difficult of circumstances. His work with Yes and King Crimson defined, in many ways, how to work with complex meters and shifting bar lines without losing the physically-felt forward motion. But here, while the music is never less than challenging or deficient in polyrhythmic power, the language is more expansive, the feel more relaxed.

As good as this first incarnation of what's come to be known as Earthworks Mark II was, when the departing Patrick Clahar was replaced by Tim Garland, the group made a significant leap forward. Bruford has always surrounded himself with musicians capable of educating him as much as he teaches them, but Garland had an already established career, with a number of solo albums to his credit and a stint with legendary pianist Chick Corea's group, Origin. A distinctive and prolific writer, Garland also brought a wider array of textures playing, in addition to tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet and flute—as well as occasionally adding some subtle processing to the mix.

Garland was also the impetus behind getting Bruford to consider looking at his Earthworks Mark I and pre-Earthworks material in a new light. On this incarnation's first release, Random Acts of Happiness (Summerfold, 2004), the group reworked the up-tempo "My Heart Declares a Holiday," from Earthworks (Summerfold, 1987) and went even further back to 1970s Bruford albums Feels Good to Me and One of a Kind (Winterfold, 1979) for the balladic "Seems Like a Lifetime Ago (Part One)" and the more idiosyncratic "One of a Kind (Parts One and Two)." Saxophone and acoustic piano replaced electric guitar and an arsenal of keyboards, but the group proved that good material is, indeed, transferable to more Spartan contexts.

The five tracks from Argentina 2002 mix then-current material from Random Acts with a couple of Clahar-era Earthworks tunes, but it's the group's take on the staggering "Beelzebubm" from Feels Good to Me that's a highlight. One needn't be plugged in to be electric, and here the group is on fire. While Hamilton would soon leave the group, it was clearly not on account of his playing, which is stellar throughout. A confident accompanist and compositional- minded soloist, between himself and Garland there are plenty of sparks. Hodgson rarely solos, but he's the firm yet supple anchor that allows everyone to loosen up and take risks.

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