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

John Kelman By

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The final six tracks come from a 2005 show in Germany, and represent the Earthworks recording debut of Gwilym Simcock and Laurence Cottle, who replace the departed Hamilton and Hodgson respectively. Simcock is a young pianist who was first heard in Acoustic Triangle, a trio formed by bassist Malcolm Creese that also features Garland and, no doubt, was the proving ground that got Bruford's attention. Classically trained, he's come relatively recently to jazz (given he's still only in his mid-twenties), but you'd never know it. Moreover he's a strong composer, contributing two of the set's six compositions.

Cottle brings electric bass back to the group, which is especially appropriate on the quartet's version of "Libreville," from Earthworks Mark I's Dig? (Summerfold, 1989). While Hodgson's resonant acoustic bass is sometimes missed on tunes from Random Acts, Cottle brings a new complexion to the group, clearly pushing it in new directions.

The audio and video quality of all three shows is fine. There's no 5.1 mix, and the recordings are all full frame (no surprise given these are television recordings). But the energy and interplay that make Earthworks an act best experienced live (which may explain, in part, why its last three CD releases have all been live recordings) is in full force here. And as the members change, one can see the group evolving and getting better all the time.

Bill Bruford's Earthworks
Video Anthology Vol. 2: 1990's
Summerfold Records BBSF 017 DVD
2007

When Earthworks Mark I first appeared in 1987, its looser improvisational approach mixed with considerable technology made perfect sense, given Bruford's early 1980s work with the technology-heavy King Crimson. But while Bruford had been working with a blended kit of acoustic and electronic drums for a few years at this point, nobody could have been prepared for his chordal drums—electronic drum pads that could be programmed with actual chords so that Bruford could lay down not just a rhythmic foundation but a harmonic one as well, seen clearly on Vol. 2's first track, the catchy "Up North."

This first version of Earthworks was another case of Bruford finding the best up-and-coming players to work with him in saxophonist Iain Ballamy and keyboardist/horn player Django Bates. Both have moved on to successful careers of their own (and Ballamy has since managed to get his hair under control), but to watch this group over the course of two performances is an eye-opener. With its reliance on Bruford's chordal drums for many of the tunes, there's no question the music was more structurally rigid than Earthworks Mark II. Still, there's plenty of room for soloing, and it's remarkable to watch Bruford effortlessly carry the groove even while serving up the chord changes.

Of course, Bruford gets plenty of time on the acoustic side of his kit, with Bates often taking over accompaniment during Ballamy's solos. The latter had become a considerably more intuitively responsive drummer by the time of Earthworks Mark II, but the culmination of that direction is in full view here.

Since Earthworks Mark II did form in the late 1990s, there's a final show on Vol. 2 that features the Clahar/Hamilton/Hodgson lineup in its early days. Perhaps the most telling difference between the two Earthworks groups is on this second DVD, where each group closes its set with the Bruford/Ballamy/Bates tune "Bridge of Inhibition." A tune with a dervish-like theme that then breaks down for individual soloing, it's an ideal touchstone to the different complexions of the two Earthworks groups, especially in exposing the effects of a more open improvisational mindset. And this tune, more than any other in the entire repertoire of both Earthworks groups, is evidence that Bruford has the capability of playing free—something that would surprise fans of his more measured, metrical playing in Yes, King Crimson, or even his 1970s Bruford group.

As with Vol. 1 the presentation is spare: one mix, full frame. But for fans who never had the opportunity to catch earlier versions of Earthworks, both DVDs are essential viewing. And with trips outside Europe increasingly prohibitive both logistically and financially, Bill Bruford's Earthworks Video Anthology Vol. 1: 2000's and Bill Bruford's Earthworks Video Anthology Vol. 2: 1990's are equally essential for North American fans who will rarely—if ever—get the chance to see the current line-up.

Video Anthology Vol. 1: 2000's

Tracks: Triplicity; Original Sin; Cloud Cuckoo Land; Revel Without a Pause; Baja del Sol; Tramontana; Beelzebub; Footloose and Fancy Free; Libreville; Highland Games; Youth; Song; White Knuckle Wedding; The Wooden Man Sings, and the Stone Woman Dances.

Personnel: Bill Bruford: drums; Patrick Clahar: saxophones (1-3); Steve Hamilton: piano (1-8); Mark Hodgson: bass (1-8); Tim Garland: saxophones, bass clarinet and flute (4-14); Gwilym Simcock: piano (9-14); Laurence Cottle: bass (9-14).

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