Since retiring as a professional musician in 2009, progressive/art rock turned jazz drummer Bill Bruford has successfully managed to maintained a place in the public eye. Beyond his engaging, informative and successful Bill Bruford: The Autobiography
(Jawbone Press, 2009), the drummer/percussionist has more recently released a second, equally captivating book, Uncharted: Creativity and the Expert Drummer
(University of Michigan Press, 2018).
Initially stemming from the success of his autobiography but since assuming a life of its own (and no surprise, given Bruford's wit and erudite eloquence), a second career as a public speaker means that, while he may be enjoying the more relaxed pace of retirement, Bruford's name remains both visible and relevant. A third career path has been ensuring that his discography as a leader/co-leader remains available, with Bruford commencing a series of reissue box sets with 2017's six-CD/two-DVD Seems Like a Lifetime Ago
(Gonzo Multimedia), which documents his first band as a leader, simply titled: Bruford.
Following the more bite-sized, three-CD/one-DVD box set reissue of the entire recorded output from Bruford's relatively short-lived improvising duo with Dutch pianist/keyboardist Michiel Borstlap
earlier this year, Sheer Reckless Abandon
(Summerfold Records), Earthworks Complete
now comes as a far more extensive, 24-disc collection (twenty CDs/four DVDs), documenting the drummer's longest-lasting group, and his final major creative focus until the year before he retired.
First garnering attention with Yes
, recording and touring with the band from 1969's eponymous Atlantic Records debut though Close to the Edge
(Atlantic, 1972), Bruford left the group that same year and on the cusp of considerably greater commercial success to join up with Robert Fripp
in the guitarist's newly minted lineup of King Crimson
Bruford, long interested in jazz (both aesthetically and for its freedom of interpretation and both individual and collective improvisation), was looking to play in a more improv-based group. Of its many lineups over the past five decades, this particular Crimson incarnation has ultimately emerged as one of its freest and most unfettered. In addition to open-ended passages within some of its more structured songs, most live performances also included completely improvised pieces, sometimes more than one, sometimes quite lengthy, and oftentimes acting as a bridge between two songs. Remarkably, many of this lineup's improvs felt more like spontaneous compositions, with some actually leading to being repurposed into actual songs.
First appearing on the groundbreaking Larks' Tongues in Aspic
(Island, 1973), Bruford's on again/off again relationship with Fripp and subsequent Crimson lineups would last a full quarter century before the drummer left the band for good in 1997, following a brief run of four dates with ProjeKct One, one of the four improvising subsets of the Crimson Double Trio formed and intended as R&D for a future Crimson, following the release of (and two years' touring in support of) THRAK
(Virgin, 1995), and failed Double Trio rehearsals in 1997. Bruford's ProjeKct One work has recently been collected in the King Crimson mega-box, Heaven & Earth
Between these higher profile engagements, plenty of studio work (with artists including Roy Harper, David Torn
, Al Di Meola
and Kazumi Watanabe
), a brief tenure in the original lineup of progressive rock "super group" U.K. and a couple of reunions with some of his old Yes pals in the late '80s/early '90s, Bruford has also fit a number of solo projects, beginning with the more fusion-centric Bruford, into his time between other major projects. That should not, however, indicate in any way that these were side projects; beginning in 1976, Bruford was always thinking about possible solo efforts, and put plenty of time and energy into every one of them.
Work began in 1977 but came to public life in 1978 with the release of Bruford's leader debut, Feels Good to Me
(Editions EG). Touring commitments with UK (some, subsequently documented in the 2016 18-disc Globe Music box set, Ultimate Collectors' Edition
) prevented the band from touring until the following year, but Bruford ultimately lasted until the summer of 1980 when, following the band's dissolution, Bruford once again joined Fripp in a band originally named Discipline, but ultimately becoming King Crimson, for its popular '80s lineup beginning with Discipline
(Editions EG, 1981).
Revolving around an exceptionally well-composed repertoire, Bruford featured ex-Hatfield and the North
keyboardist Dave Stewart
, über-bassist Jeff Berlin
, guitarists Allan Holdsworth
(Bruford's UK colleague) and "the unknown" John Clark, and occasional singer Annette Peacock
, releasing three studio albums and one live recording during its lifespan.
Documented more extensively, with Jakko M. Jakszyk
's new stereo and surround mixes of the band's first two records (1978's Feels Good to Me
and 1979's One of a Kind
) sitting alongside remasters of its subsequent live and studio recordings (1979's The Bruford Tapes
and 1980's Gradually Going Tornado
), in addition to two CDs of previously unreleased live and demo material in the six-CD/two-DVD Seems Like a Lifetime Ago
Another project that convened only occasionally between 2002 and 2007, but with wonderful results, Bruford's duo with Dutch pianist/keyboardist Michiel Borstlap
was an even greater surprise to the drummer's fans, unexpected in its freewheeling and unfettered, almost entirely improvised approach, but playing fewer than 20 dates during its tenure. It was great news when, earlier this year, Bruford returned the duo's collected works back into the well-deserved limelight with the relatively small but substantial Sheer Reckless Abandon
There have been other solo projects, ranging from Bruford's mid-'80s duo with Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz (including, reissued by Bruford's Winterfold Records in 2004, but originally released on the Editions EG imprint, 1984's Music for Piano and Drums
and 1985's Flags
) to his short-lived collaboration with Crimson bassist Tony Levin
, guitar experimentalist David Torn and trumpeter Chris Botti
Releasing just one studio album, 1998's Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
(DGM), followed by a subsequent live recording, the two-disc B.L.U.E. Nights
(Papa Bear, 2000), Bruford Levin Upper Extremities was something of an anomaly at this point in the drummer's career. Despite improvisation remaining a significant part of its modus operandi
, it represented Bruford's final foray into electric, progressive-leaning music.
But it was Bruford's one-off collaboration with two highly regarded jazz musicians, If Summer Had Its Ghosts
(Summerfold, 1997)featuring guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner
and bassist Eddie Gomez
that was a turning point in the drummer's career, both in its all-acoustic lineup and with Bruford penning, for the first time, most of the music on his own. That album led directly to his reformation of Earthworks, with a completely revamped lineup and an approach that was, barring a bit of electric keyboard on its 1999 DGM debut, A Part, and Yet Apart
, entirely acoustic. This represented a significant departure from his earlier, more electric version of Earthworks, which ran, with an entirely different lineup, from 1987-1989, and again from 1991-1993.
Earthworks Mark II possessed an overall more muscular disposition than If Summer Had Its Ghosts
, providing at least one direct link to the similarly powerful yet, at times delicate, Earthworks Mark I. It was a connection that became clearer still when the drummer began to draw upon some of Earthworks Mark I's material, reworking it into Mark II's repertoire, and later going even further back by incorporating new arrangements of music from his first band, Bruford.
With so many of Earthworks' releases currently out of print, now seems like the perfect time for Bruford to collect and reissue them all in this lavish box set. None of the existing releases have been remastered or otherwise altered in the Earthworks Complete
box, other than removing the live tracks added (though many appear elsewhere in the box) to the 2005 Summerfold reissues of Earthworks Mark I's Editions EG releases, 1987's Earthworks
, 1989's Dig?
, 1991's All Heaven Broke Loose
and 1994's Stamping Ground Live
Still, in addition to bringing Earthworks' 20-year extant discography under one roof, Earthworks Complete
also includes a number of carrots to entice those who already own some (or all) of those original titles.
First, three two-CD sets, each containing the audio from one of the three DVDs released during/after the group's lifetimethe two Video Anthology
DVDs and 2002 DGM release, Footloose in NYC
(DGM)have been added.
Second, another DVD/CD combo, Earthworks in Santiago, Chile
, from a 2002 Mark II performance in Santiago, is being released for the first time.
Third, Heavenly Bodies
, originally a Mark I collection released in 1997 on the Venture imprint, has been expanded to a two-CD set, the second disc collecting music from Earthworks' various Mark II lineups from '97 on, along with expanded liner notes, of course, from Bruford.
Last but not least, From Conception to Birth
provides a look at how eight Bruford's demos (some for Earthworks, others originally featured in non-Earthworks projects but subsequently adopted by the band) compare to the finished recordings, along with one track, "Banyan," that never found its way onto any of the drummer's albums. Similar to the vinyl included in Foruli Limited's highly collectable, limited-run Signature and Deluxe editions
of Bruford's autobiography, these demos provide a clear window, in this case in particular, of how Bruford's ideas were often fleshed out into finished form through compositional collaborations with his band mates.
In a nutshell, Earthworks Complete
documents the single project that, with its variety of lineups and underlying concepts, has occupied more of Bruford's time as a leader than any other. Taken as a whole and experienced chronologically, the box set demonstrates Bruford's commitment to combining often-times knotty, sometimes humorous, and largely improvisation-filled compositions that also shine a powerful light on Bruford the composer/co-composer. It also spotlights how the drummer consistently raised his own game by recruiting musicians who brought as much to the table as he didand who helped Bruford to constantly evolve, just as working with Holdsworth/Clark, Berlin and Stewart, did back in the late '70s.
Bill Bruford's Earthworks was, despite a couple of breaks along the way, the longest-lasting solo project of the drummer's musical career. Despite a number of personnel changes over the years, and a fundamental shift in approach between Mark I and II, it was also his most unequivocally jazz-driven band, even if it bore little resemblance to the genre's more traditional forms.
Earthworks Mark I was a more electrified and technology driven affair, in particular through Bruford's development of "chordal drums," described by the drummer in the liner notes to his 2009 The Summerfold Collection: 1987-2008
as "a system whereby striking a drum pad triggers one ore more keyboard pitches."
This significant innovation allowed Bruford to simultaneously layer acoustic kit grooves with layered chords of varying textures, not to mention completely off-the-wall contributions, as with Digs?
's opener, "Stromboli Kicks," where the drummer describes using "a random collage of micro-percussion from an electronic kit containing 82 samples of little blocks, bells, finger cymbals, backwards sounds and more, played live, of course."
Earthworks Mark I included a number of up-and-coming players from the British jazz scene. Most still in their twenties, but already establishing their own careers, these exceptional choices continued Bruford's "endless student" philosphy of surrounding himself with bar-raising musicians from whom he could also learn, and expand his own compositional and performance acumens.
Born in 1960, keyboardist (and trumpet, tenor and Eb Peck horn player) Django Bates was something of a prodigy, garnering significant attention for his band Human Chain in the late '70s and even more in the following decade, as a member of the Loose Tubes jazz orchestra. Beyond these two important groups, Bates participated in two albums for Germany's lauded ECM Records in the mid-'80s, with the collaborative First House quartet, continuing to appear on the label occasionally, Norwegian singer Sidsel Endresen
in the '90s and, more recently, Anouar Brahem
. The Tunisian oudist's Blue Maqams
(ECM, 2017) stemmed, in fact, from Bates' having already recorded his leader debut for the label, The Study of Touch
But Bates' ECM connection represents but a small part of his overall body of work, which includes both archival issues and new music on his own Loose Marble imprint, such as Sad Afrika
(2012), one of three releases from Loose Tubes' epochal (and final) gig at London's Ronnie Scott's club, and Confirmation
, a more contemporary album with the same Belovèd Trio heard on The Study of Touch
Bates has won several awards as both performer and composer, and while the direction of Earthworks Mark I was, of course, strongly defined by Bruford, Bates' role as a composer/co-composer acted as a significant contributor to the group's overall mettle. While most of his contributions were collaborative, the band performed the occasional sole-credited composition, like Bates' quirkily jagged, metrically shifting yet somehow eminently funky "Dancing on Frith Street," which was also performed by Loose Tubes and became the title of the first Loose Marbles Ronnie Scott's gig reissue in 2010. As witty in person as he is in his music, Bates nevertheless was (and remains) capable of deeper beauty, as demonstrated on his darkly balladic, vividly lyrical "Candles Still Flicker in Romania's Dark," from Earthworks' All Heaven Broke Loose
Bates co-composed a significant percentage of Earthworks Mark I's repertoire, collaborating with saxophonist Iain Ballamy
and/or Bruford. All Heaven Broke Loose
's combination of '80s dance grooves, more oblique melodic ideations and reckless individual and collective improvisational abandon on "Splashing Out" is but one example of the keyboardist's compositional collaborations with Ballamy. By contrast, his Bruford co-composition, the Caribbean-inflected "Pigalle," is an example of how the two could seamlessly combine complex metrics with serpentine melodies.
Another prodigy and just over three years younger than Bates, saxophonist Iain Ballamy began gigging professionally at the age of 16, with his own quartet landing a gig at Ronnie Scott's at age 20, just a couple years before he joined Earthworks Mark I (concurrent, in part, with his tenure in Loose Tubes). Beyond his long-standing relationship with Bates, Ballamy has released a number of solo recordings, in addition to his 23-year (and still going) collaboration with Norwegian drummer/percussionist/electronics master Thomas Strønen
, which began life on Ballamy's own Feral Records imprint, moved to the highly regarded Norwegian label Rune Grammofon for another three releases and, since 2010, has also found a home on ECM with albums including 2013's atmospheric Mercurial Balm
While Ballamy would ultimately end up co-composing with Bates, Bruford or both throughout Earthworks Mark I, it is his own "Thud" that opens the group's 1987 debut, Bill Bruford's Earthworks
, with a combination of rhythmic drive and harmonic sophistication that set a high watermark of expectation from the very starta bar the group would meet and continue to raise throughout its lifetime. "It Needn't End in Tears," another Ballamy composition on Earthworks
made all the more elegant through the addition of voice samples from singer Barbara Gaskin (the wife of Bruford alum Dave Stewart, who was recruited by the drummer to co-produce the first Earthworks record), demonstrates the saxophonist's more tender side. Reprised on the group's 1994 live album, Stamping Ground
, it is also a perfect mood-changer following, as it does on both recordings, Bates' more propulsive but still characteristically idiosyncratic "Emotional Shirt."
Compositionally, Bruford's imprint is all over Earthworks Mark I's three studio and one live album. Of the eighteen tracks on the three studio albums that bear Bruford's imprint, however, only one is solely credited to the drummer, with three of the demos on the From Conception to Birth
CD demonstrating how his initial ideas were ultimately"syst fleshed out by the group. The overall melodic and rhythmic ideas driving Earthworks
' "Pressure," that sole solo Bruford composition, not only reflect the drummer's voice most assuredly; its more firm structural construct suggests a clear connective thread between the Bruford band and the then-nascent Earthworks Mark I.
Still, Bruford's mark is unmistakable, and as much for his compositional acumen as his mastery of both acoustic drums and, increasingly, his use of Simmons drums for all manner of sounds in addition to his "chordal drums" system. An early use of the chordal drums can be found on Earthworks
' "Up North," co-written with Bates and Ballamy. The seamless way that Bruford's chordal drums are handed over to Bates' keyboards during Ballamy's solo, allowing the drummer to focus more on a simple but compelling groove on acoustic kit, is just one example of Earthworks' remarkable sleight of hand.
Bruford and Ballamy's "Making a Song and Dance" also demonstrates Bruford"s growing ease in blending chordal drums and acoustic kit. A sudden shift, from the song's more relaxed vibe and sophisticated changes to a more powerful second section is heralded by Bruford's four-count of crashing electronics, before Hutton's visceral, glissando-driven riff leads to a solo passage for Ballamy, with elements of both previous sections ultimately returning, in combination and, as the song nears its conclusion, alone.Earthworks
' freewheeling Bruford/Ballamy/Bates closer, "Bridge of Inhibition," would become a regular set-closer for Earthworks Mark I and, at times, Mark II, its complex, knotty thematic construct acting as the rallying point between freely improvised passages featuring various members of the band.
With an intentional nod, Dig?
's opening "Stromboli Kicks" draws a connection back to Earthworks
by quoting a small phrase from "Bridge of Inhibition," creating the feeling that the album is literally picking right up from where Earthworks
left off. Also co-written by Bruford, Ballamy and Bates, it features a visceral, harmonized Eb Peck horn solo from Bates that weaves through the song's harmonically ascending groove, and that freely improvised ending where Bruford calls up those 82 different samples. Powerful, groundbreaking and absolutely captivating stuff.
And while Earthworks only did it once, the Bates/Ballamy arrangement of Tony Hatch's 1964 hit for singer Petulia Clark, "Downtown," demonstrates both the arrangers' and overall band's ability to apply their own differential singularities to such an iconic song, as it moves from a re-harmonized and rhythmically repurposed arrangement of the familiar theme to a middle section that demonstrates both booty shaking pulses and the kind of sophisticated harmonic constructs that were already Bruford, Bates and Ballamy trademarks, but which would evolve, both individually and collectively, in the ensuing years.
Earthworks Mark I featured two bassists in its six years of recording and/or touring. A few years older than Bates, Mick Hutton
was already a fixture in projects with Bates, Ballamy and/or saxophonist Julian Arguelles. The double bassist was also a charter member of First House, making him the perfect choice for Bruford by bringing some extant chemistry with Bates and Ballamy (from collective and/or different projects) into the group. Unfortunately, personal differences with Ballamy, which actually led to blows after a 1988 concert in Bergen, Norway, resulted in Hutton leaving the groupand, more tragically, a subsequent serious hand injury ultimately forced him to move from double bass to electric in future projects. The band's first hiatus, from 1989-1991, was instigated, however, by another tragedy that, nevertheless, spoke volumes about Ballamy: his girlfriend was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and so the saxophonist returned home, marrying her and staying with her until her tragic passing just a few weeks latera rare example of deep humanity.
Hutton was ultimately replaced by Tim Harries
, whose résumé is, indeed, broad, though at the time he was still emerging, with Earthworks and British folk-rockers Steeleye Span simultaneously representing his first major gigs. Also playing double bass, Harries brought fretless electric bass into to the group, firing his first salvo with the electric instrument on Dig?
's "Stromboli Kicks." Harries would divide his work between acoustic and electric basses on Dig?
, moving more decidedly towards electric on All Heaven Broke Loose
and Stamping Ground
. Harries' fretless electric work became an increasingly dominant voice in Earthworks that further electrified the band...as did All Heaven Broke Loose
co-producer David Torn, who further augmented the album and inspired its players with his use of samplers and other electronic manipulations.
Bruford, Ballamy and Harries' "Temple of the Winds," from All Heaven
, is a perfect example of Torn's contributions. More a collective improvisation than formal composition (even if it feels structured at times), Bruford recalls, in The Complete Summerfold Collection
's liners, "calling upon (producer) David Torn for some experimenting with saxophone and harmonizer." The liners continue to describe how "Bruford and Harries then 'improvised around the huge and processed sound of Iain's tenor,'" over the course of a relatively brief, five-minute track that runs the gamut from an abstract introduction that does, indeed, evoke the image of a wind-filled temple, to a sudden, momentary passage that swings fiercely before returning to its more atmospheric theme, albeit with greater propulsion from Bruford.
The highlights of Earthworks Mark I are many, and listening to Earthworks
and All Heaven Broke Loose
back to-back demonstrates just how much the band evolved over its two three-year runs, with each album possessing the clear and unique voice that defined the band while, at the same time, moving forward with every successive album. Stamping Ground
may have been the band's only live document, released a year after the group had ceased to exist and with Bruford about to rejoin King Crimson for the last time, but it captured the band at a collective height during a 1992 tour of North America that included the dates in New York and Boston that were used for the recording.
With Video Anthology Vol. 1: 2000s
's eight Earthworks Mark I tracks (now available as both video and audio-only) providing an opportunity to see the group in action (note Ballamy's huge head of red hair), in particular Bruford, whose effortless migration between electronic, chordal and acoustic drums might seem impossible to believe, were they not taking place before your very eyes. And with a set that includes tracks from all three studio albums, A Video Anthology 2: 1990s
proves the old adage of "better late than never," illustrating Bruford's ongoing evolution as drummer, composer, bandleader and overall conceptualist.
Add the three demos of Earthworks Mark I's "Bridge of Inhibition," "Pressure," "Hotel Splendour" that appear on From Conception to Birth
, and Earthworks Complete
provides a solid opportunity to get deep inside Bruford's contributions: contributions that may well come as a surprise...or do they?
With Earthworks Mark I a memory, Bruford would re-engage with King Crimson from 1994-'97. Upon leaving Crimson and recording If Summer Had Its Ghosts
, Bruford formed an all-acoustic Earthworks lineup that would go through a number of personnel changes during its eleven-year tenure beginning in 1997, but would still bear a most specific imprint. Releasing two studio albums, three live albums (one, with an expanded nonet lineup) and a concert DVD, various Earthworks Mark II lineups can also be found on Video Anthology Vol. 1: 2000s
(Summerfold, 2007), which features 14 tracks culled from various concert performances and including, in addition to musicians who appeared in its existing live and studio documents, players who were part of the band after it had largely ceased recording; and on Video Anthology Vol. 2: 1990s
(Summerfold, 2007), which features three tracks from the first Mark II lineup.
Earthworks Mark II would ultimately become, in fact, a consolidation of sorts, covering material from across Bruford's career as a bandleader. And if Earthworks Mark I was, in no small part, defined by Bruford's electronic and chordal drums, Mark II also represented evolution in Bruford, the acoustic kit player and composer.
Most conventional drum kits place the drummer in the center, with (assuming he/she's right-handed) the high hat on the far left, the snare directly in front of the drummer at a relatively lower level in front of the bass drum, with tom toms surrounding him/her, beginning relatively above the snare and going, pitch-wise, from high to low, left to right and higher to lower levels around the drummer, along with various cymbals placed, at various heights, around and above the toms.
As can be seen on Footloose in NYC
and the two Video Anthology
releases, Bruford's kit with Earthworks Mark II was configured in an entirely different fashion, more resembling a classical percussionist in a symphony orchestra. The snare drum is, again, directly in front of the drummer, but with the high hat above it and behind/slightly over the bass drum. But even more significant was how Bruford configured the toms. Rather than a single series of drums, high pitch to low and left to right around the drummer, he created a symmetrical setup where the toms went, again, high to low, but instead of left to right and at different levels, they fanned outwards from the center, high to low, on both
sides of the drummer but all at the relatively same horizontal level as the snare. This essentially symmetrical kit forced Bruford to approach playing in a completely different way, also allowing him to do things that would be impossible on a conventional one.
Bruford explains the evolution of this unconventional kit in his 2004 interview
with All About Jazz
: "'I've always been interested in drum configurations,' says Bruford, 'and ways you can set them up. Rather than bringing the traditional American style drum kit to a gig and saying, "this is what I've brought," and letting that determine the music, I try to listen to the music first and say, "you will need this and you will need that." So you hear the music in your ears first, and let the music dictate what instruments you have and how you set them up.'"
Beyond that, the first Earthworks Mark II lineup featured, once again, relatively young players, largely unknown beyond the UK. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1973, pianist Steve Hamilton was still in his mid-twenties when he was recruited by Bruford, but had already established a reputation on the American east coast when he was encouraged, by fellow Scot and slightly older saxophonist Tommy Smith
, to apply for (and win) a full scholarship at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Upon returning to the UK, Hamilton based himself in London for a few years, building a strong reputation, playing in a variety of genres, and gigging with esteemed jazzers like trumpter Freddie Hubbard
and saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis
. It was there that Bruford found Hamilton and recruited him as the first member of his new, acoustic Earthworks Mark II.
A potent post-John Coltrane
saxophonist whose resume included the British jazz/R&B group Incognito, Patrick Clahar
also garnered some attention for session work with The Who's Pete Townshend and '60s star Lulu. But it was with Earthworks where Clahar proved himself a particularly bold, muscular player still capable of deeper delicacy and elegance. Double bassist Mark Hodgson
rounded out the lineup as the least-known of the new bunch. Originally an electric bassist, he took up double bass after seeing pianist Oscar Peterson
's group with bass legend Ray Brown
. Born in Kendal, in the British South Lakeland District of Cumbria, Hodgson relocated to London in 1995 to study double and electric basses at the similarly prestigious Guildhall School of Music, and it was just a few years later, already well-formed on the acoustic instrument, that he was recruited by Bruford.
Earthworks Mark II's first lineup is the best-documented of the bunch, releasing a most powerful and singular-sounding debut, A Part, and Yet Apart
, in 1999. If there was any single distinction with this new lineup (and there were many), it was that Bruford had become, with lessons learned from the If Summer Had Its Ghosts
sessions (where he composed the lion's share of the music), a far more confident composer in his own right, with the drummer solely composing five of A Part
's nine tracks and co-writing two more with Hamilton and/or Clahar.
The game-changing album opener, Bruford and Hamilton's "No Truce With the Furies," revolves around a brawny bass riff and more change-heavy passages that create impressive opening solo opportunities and contexts for Hamilton, Clahar and, finally, over the bass ostinato, Bruford, who renders crystal clear that returning solely to an acoustic kit for the first time in nearly two decades has, in no way, stifled his creative juices. Instead, with a track that posits an even stronger jazz disposition and, yes, even some swing, Bruford makes it perfectly clear that his move towards a more unequivocal jazz complexion is as credible, as distinctively recognizable, and as eminently creative as any of his past work.
That first album is, as time has proven, one of his strongest statements ever. Beyond Bruford's strength at delivering albums with nary a weak spot, A Part, and Yet Apart
is as impressive for its astute sequencing as it is Bruford's compositional acumen. It is also a fine introduction to the entire group's ability to navigate oftentimes difficult charts with absolute aplomb, finding connective threads through the changes and improvising with relentless imagination while, at the same time, maintaining a certain adherence to melodic concerns.
The album's part ballad/part higher octane title track, with Clahar's soaring soprano saxophone a defining voice, is bolstered by Hodgson's deeply robust bass (he also takes a beautifully lyrical solo), Hamilton's empathic support and, of course, Bruford, who moves from some of his most delicate playing ever to more emphatic support and similarly telepathic responses to his band mates' contributions. The drummer's "Some Shivers, While He Cavorts" follows, a strong compositional statement covering a surprising amount of stylistic territory for such a relatively short piece (just over four minutes). A challenging chart that moves from an aggressive, modal introduction featuring a brief but powerful tenor solo, to a more complex written section with knotty and rapidly accelerating rhythmic constructs, opens up to a fiercely swinging solo section for Clahar that sets its own high bar for the saxophonist.
Bruford's "Footloose and Fancy Free" is a more groove-centric track, with a central ostinato that drives the theme, and a second riff-based construct that acts as a dynamically building solo section for Clahar (again, on tenor), before a series of rhythmic stops and starts provide a different context for Hamilton's brief but impressive feature. A reiteration of the main theme (supported by Hamilton's rare use of synth washes) opens, once again, to a more lengthy piano solo that's one of Hamilton's best on the record, and another mighty, compositionally focused, closing ostinato-driven statement by Bruford.
Another facet of Earthworks Mark II is that, despite Bruford continuing to make the song the focus (as he has largely, in fact, from the beginning of his career as a leader), he solos far more frequently than ever before. That said, there's no sense that Earthworks is "a drummer's group." Bruford's commitment to compositional forms blended with plenty of improvisation, both through solos and in the shifting interaction amongst the players, and his own emergence as the group's primary writer, never denies his band mates the egalitarian opportunity to shine... and shine they do, both individually and collectively.
The rest of the album flows with the kind of collective aesthetic that's rare, even in the jazz world. Its diversity of approach, strong melodic sensibility and consistently impressive improvisational opportunities render it one that works best when heard as a whole, with Bruford's tribute to the late saxophonist Dewey Redman
, "Dewey-Eyed, Then Dancing" a perfect album closer. Beginning with some strong tenor work from Clahar, what starts as an apparent ballad (that also includes another melody rich solo from Hodgson) builds, both harmonically and dynamically, towards a repetitive series of ascending changes that, with Clahar moving into a powerful altissimo, ends the album with a firm, confident and conclusive climax.
Bruford again dominates 2001's followup, The Sound of Surprise
, compositionally. Delivering five new tunes and the other four co-written with Hamilton, the pianist's sophisticated approach to harmony dovetails perfectly with the drummer's own sense of melody and intricate polyrhythmic constructions. Some believe that the best writing is accomplished when it feels
accessible, despite inner complexities hidden under the hood. A solid example is guitarist Pat Metheny
's work with the now-defunct Pat Metheny Group and, in particular, his compositional collaborations with the group's pianist, Lyle Mays
. Earthworks Mark II cleverly accomplishes the same thing, though there is very little to link the two group's together. That said, Earthworks' similar adherence to form, melodic tendencies and a largely lyrical approach to improvisation renders it a group that would likely appeal to Metheny Group fans.
Bruford's tendency towards shifting tempos and meters is one of Earthworks' cornerstones. As the Summerfold Collection
's liners note, "'Revel Without a Pause...'proves you can swing in 5/4, while the title track, previously available only in Japan [and included here, on Heavenly Bodies
' second CD] incorporates a Middle Eastern vibe driven by Hamilton's prepared piano...'Come to Dust' [a lengthy, abstract Bruford/Hamilton collaboration], with Hamilton's dark-hued intro and Clahar's simmering solo, explores 'the same kind of melancholy as Jackie McLean
's "Love and Hate,"' explains Bruford."
Bruford may have garnered his greatest recognition in the realm of progressive rock, but let it never be said that he was a jazz dilettante; his knowledge of its history and tradition is as broad and deep as many.
A powerful sophomore release that demonstrates the band's increasing signature and unmistakable collective engagement, The Sound of Surprise
may not be as potent a statement as A Part, and Yet Apart
, but that's only because it came second, after the Mark II debut's strong introduction of a band already fully formed and with a recognizable countenance.
A lesser-known fact is that when the band toured in 2000, it was forced to find a replacement for Clahar, who was unable to tour due to illness. That there are no recorded documents of Earthworks' tour with the late guitarist Larry Coryell
is a real shame; it would, no doubt, have been revealing to hear the group with a different front line instrument.
Two live releases from the original lineup followed in 2002: Footloose and Fancy Free
is a two-CD set culled from two nights at London's Pizza Express in June, 2001; Footloose in NYC
, a DVD similarly drawn from two nights, this time a few weeks earlier at New York City's Bottom Line. Both find this first Earthworks Mark II lineup at its most vibrant, interactive and simultaneously elegant and puissant, expounding and expanding upon all but four tracks from its two studio albums.
Most significant, perhaps, is the inclusion of Mark I's "Bridge of Inhibition" as the freewheeling, unfettered closer to both sets. A still sinewy but all-acoustic look at "Original Sin," first appearing on Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
, is also revisited, as is the group's more liberated take on If Summer Had Its Ghosts
' title track. The complexion of "If Summer Had It's Ghosts" is significantly altered from the original's blend of Ralph Towner signature 12-string guitar and piano, but also flies to far greater improvisational heights of reckless abandon. Both sets, similar but different (like the title to Bruford's "Never the Same Way Once"), demonstrate just how far this lineup had grown in its ability to seamlessly balance and blend form and freedom.
Barring the three live tracks subsequently release on A Video Anthology, Vol. 2: 1990s
and the first three tracks on A Video Anthology, Vol. 1: 2000s
, however, that was the end of the first Earthworks Mark I lineup, with Clahar being asked to leave the band in late 2001. But if anything, his replacement only made the band stronger.
As impressive as Clahar was as a saxophonist, reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalist Tim Garland
, 35 when he joined Earthworks, brought far greater improvisational expertise, cachet, compositional strength and diverse tonalities to the group. His previous experience playing with American pianist Chick Corea
and vibraphonist Joe Locke
, as well as British bassist Alec Dankworth
not to mention an already growing discography as a leader that included Enter the Fire
(Linn, 1997) and the particularly impressive Made By Walking
(Stretch, 2000)were other reasons that led to his being recruited by Bruford. Beyond his undeniable skills as a performer and composer, Bruford also hoped that, by having a bigger rising star name on the marquee, the drummer could further elevate Earthworks' profile.
From the same 2004 All About Jazz
interview: "Well, we keep going up a notch," says Bruford. "Tim's a British guy with a standing in American credentials; he comes from Chick Corea's group, Origin, so he's got a combination that I like a lot. First we speak the same language, and I don't mean that facetiously; I mean we share the same view of life. But he also has the international view down as well, he's played all the big festivals, he's seen how it was with Chick. So we're up a notch with Tim. He also brings a number of other instruments; he's a multi-instrumentalist who plays flute, bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones; he can play piano if you want him to. He brings all that, but he's in the band particularly for his compositions."
While Garland began performing live with Earthworks in 2002, the group's first album to feature the multi-instrumentalist would not come until 2004, with Random Acts of a Happiness
. A live recording that reflects Bruford's realization, as noted in the Summerfold Collection
's liners, that "[G]ood jazz is more likely to happen onstage," Random Acts of Happiness
reflects a number of changes, beyond Garland's greater dominance as a composer/co-composer, contributing, like Bruford, four of its eleven tracks but co-writing an additional two.
"The studio has, ever since this inception of Earthworks, been only the physical building in which the performance is made," recalls Bruford in the 2004 AAJ
interview, "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 Latin-informed but eminently complex "White Knuckle Wedding" a Garland/Bruford collaboration, positions Garland's flute as a new, lighter complexion for Earthworks, most significantly in his closing duet with Bruford's log drum/drums combo. Garland's use of a harmonizer renders the group, again, somewhat electric, yet still primarily acoustic. The Summerfold Collection
's liners reveal a little bit about how Bruford and Garland collaborated on the tune, the drummer enthusiastically recalling "faxing music based on a series of four related rhythms in 11/4 to Tim and getting a little symphony back the next day. Love it!!"
"Tramontana," on the other hand, is a Hamilton/Garland collaboration, again suggesting a more Latin-informed Earthworks, though still possessed of the many markers that defined the group since inception.
The writing is as strong as would be expected between Garland's established voice and Bruford's similarly confident and continually evolving compositional acumen. Still, the inclusion of material not only dating back to Earthworks Mark I but reaching even farther into the past by including rearranged music from the drummer's Bruford band began to even more firmly assert the group as a consolidator of the drummer's full career as a leader.
The album opens, in fact, with Earthworks
' buoyant "My Heart Declares a Holiday." It may be an acoustic rendition of a Bruford, Ballamy and Bates tune originally driven by the pianist's electric keyboard but, if anything, Earthworks Mark II's take is even more visceral, with Garland's robust tenor (occasionally moving effortlessly to altissimo) and Bruford's reconfigured kit adding even more oomph.
But it is the inclusion of three tracks from 1978's Feels Good to Me
and 1979's One of a Kind
that further positions Earthworks Mark II as a band capable of reinterpreting any of Bruford's past repertoire, irrespective of instrumentation and/or electric/acoustic disposition.
"Seems Like a Lifetime Ago (Part 1)," originally sung by Annette Peacock on Feels Good to Me
, becomes an elegant instrumental ballad, as Hamilton delivers the initial theme with an interpretive skill that never forgets the song's heart, rendered all the more graceful for its acousticity and Garland's soulful tenor solo, the song segueing into Garland's more propulsive "Modern Folk." The two-part title track to One of a Kind
, on the other hand, closes Random Acts of Happiness
with a feature for Garland's rich-timbered and far-reaching tenor in "Part 1," leading to "Part 2," which opens with a wonderfully abstract, rubato piano solo. The group gradually coalesces around Hamilton as the pianist steps up the pace, leading to its conclusion, with Garland soloing over its deceptive changes.
Two more years would pass before Earthworks' next album, but what an album, though it also demonstrated increasing challenges in getting the band over to the United States. Meeting Bruford after a Bruford/Borstlap gig at the 2006 Punkt Festival
in Kristiansand, Norway, Bruford opined about the challenges of scheduling his band of players who were also busy with other pursuits, and how he felt as though he was spending more time with emails and administration than actually thinking about, writing and playing music.
Even worse, with the cost of (and ease of getting) work visas into the United States now prohibitively expensive, it became impossible for Bruford to bring his entire band across the Atlantic. Instead, he chose to bring only Garland, hiring seasoned New York players to round out his band. Great players, no doubt, but lacking the intrinsic chemistry coming from gigging together the way the "real" lineup had in Europe. And that's unfortunate on more than just that front; after recording Random Acts
, Hamilton left the band, returning to Scotland where he remains a vital force on its jazz scene to this day.
Enter Gwilym Simcock
, a young, classically trained pianist who came to jazz relatively late but quickly asserted his own strength and voice, playing with Garland in the trio Acoustic Triangle, first appearing on 2003's Catalyst
(Audio-B) but remaining with the trio (along with Garland) through 2006's Resonance
(Audio-B) and beyond, achieving even greater recognition post-Earthworks, both as a leader and collaborator with, amongst others, Pat Metheny.
As Bruford recalls, with characteristic humility, in his 2004 AAJ
interview: "Gwil is definitely the hot new kid in town. His ability is really astonishing, he's one of those guys who plays much more maturely than you would expect at the age of twenty-three. I haven't gotten around to his writing yet, but he's a prodigiously gifted musician, a real pleasure to play with. We've only just started, having played five or six dates, and I've had to raise my game considerably. This is always the pleasure in running a band; there aren't too many pleasures in running a band, let me tell you, but in return for all the effort what you get is to invite guys into the band that you like and who will force you to rethink and up your game, pay attention, and get back on the case."
Sadly, however, Simcock was unable to travel to the USA for Earthworks' North American dates and next (and final) project. Based upon the idea for Garland's Dean Street Underground Orchestra, which held, for awhile, a regular gig at the Dean Street Pizza Express and expanded its members' small ensemble music into bolder big band arrangements, the concept behind Earthworks Underground Orchestra
was to revisit music from across the two Earthworks' repertoire, but were rearranged for a more horn-heavy nonet that played some European dates, with other British players augmenting the core quartet.
Despite only Bruford and Garland making it to New York City, where it was ultimately captured live at The Iridium in 2004, the selection of a number of A-list NYC players ensured that whatever it might have lacked in intrinsic chemistry it more than made up for in the amount of playing its other members had under their respective belts in various permutations and combinations, not to mention their undeniable virtuosity, open minds and ears, and irrefutable connection to the jazz tradition.
It's hard to criticize a group that includes, amongst its nine members, Dave Holland
quintet and/or Big Band's Robin Eubanks
(trombone) and Alex Sipiagin
(trumpet), along with other busy session/touring players and leaders like saxophonist/flautist Steve Wilson
, pianist Henry Hey
and bassist Mike Pope
With everything arranged by Garland, barring two tracks (Earthworks
' "Thud" and "It Needn't End in Tears," arranged by Ballamy), it is an outing that, thankfully, more than lives up to its big names and ambitious arrangements, leaving plenty of room for solos from almost everyone in the group (only trumpeter Jon Owens is left out, though it may be a matter of the songs selected for the release). Intrinsic chemistry? Perhaps not. But Earthworks Underground Orchestra
gels like a group that had been playing this music for years.
Garland's arrangements are characteristically and alternatively brash and bold, graceful and elegant. The energy from the group virtually leaps out of the speakers, with some definitive versions of extant material like Mark I's "Libreville," "Up North" and "Pigalle" joining vibrant versions of Garland's Latin-esque "Bajo del Sol," Bruford's "Footloose and Fancy Free" (with a particularly stunning solo by Eubanks) and an extended version of the drummer's "The Wooden Man Sings, and The Stone Woman Dances," which begins with a completely free (and freewheeling) intro that manages to retain its visceral energy and reckless approach to soloing, despite an undeniably complex chart.
Two tracks that were included as a bonus second disc on the album's first pressing are included on the second Heavenly Bodies
disc, as is "Blues for Little Joe," a Garland composition from the Random Acts of Happiness
sessions, appearing here for the first time.
Earthworks would continue to work through 2008, though in addition to Hamilton being replaced by Simcock, Hodgson would ultimately leave the band as well, with Laurence Cottle assuming the bass chair, though reflecting another change to the band's complexion as he focused solely on electric bass. While it is, indeed, unfortunate that little documentation exists of this final Earthworks Mark II incarnation, another previously unheard Garland composition, "Youth," features the lineup on the second Heavenly Bodies
CD. "Youth" also appears along with five other tracks, all from this lineup and including the sole Simcock contribution "Song," which conclude A Video Anthology, Vol. 1: 2000s
's addition of a previously unheard set by the Bruford/Garland/Hamilton/Hodgson lineup, Earthworks in Santiago, Chile
, captures the group a year before Random Acts
was recorded, and is the only complete live set on record from that incarnation. While he was only beginning to contribute compositionally, an earlier version of "Bajo del Sol" features another captivating, introductory a cappella
bass clarinet solo from composer Garland, while Earthworks' revised version of Feels Good to Me
's knotty opener, "Beelzebub," makes it into the setlist...and this box, the only previous recording appearing on The Complete Summerfold Collection
. Recorded in Santiago, the 72-minute set found on both DVD and CD is a chance, beyond the selected Video Anthology
tracks, to hear and see the relatively nascent Garland-infused lineup, in the context of a full set.
Finally, From Conception to Birth
provides an opportunity to hear Bruford's demos, a/b'd with a small section of the compositions as ultimately released. There are the three Earthworks Mark I tracks already mentioned ("Bridge of Inhibition," "Pressure" and "Hotel Splendour"), which also provide, in two cases, a window into how Bruford's germinal ideas, already well-formed, are fleshed out by the compositional contributions from Ballamy and Bates. But "Lingo," a groove-heavy, polyrhythmic Bruford composition that has never appeared on any Earthworks recording until now, features an associated band performance that's hard to pin down. Still, its multiple horns and keys on this finished two-and-a-half-minute version suggest it may have come from Earthworks Underground Orchestra.
While Earthworks would perform the title track to If Summer Had Its Ghosts
, it's the excerpt from the original album version that accompanies the demo. Similarly, while the dark, Miles Davis
-informed funk of "Original Sin" would become an Earthworks Mark II staple, at least while Clahar was in the band, the excerpt included for comparison comes from Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
, which is a fair enough inclusion since it sounds like Tony Levin is playing bass on the demo.
In addition to demos and finished version excerpts from Earthworks Mark II ("Footloose and Fancy Free" and "Triplicity"), the four-minute demo that closes From Conception to Birth
(the funk-driven vamp of "Banyan") was, even if ever performed live, likely never recorded for possible release. Still, with its slap bass, marimba and various keyboard colors creating the shape of the Bruford composition around his kit work, "Banyan" remains a remarkably complete-sounding demo as-is, and an unfortunate case of "what might have been."
Despite his continued growth in a largely acoustic, heavily jazz-informed group, by 2008 Bruford began to experience a surprising and unexpected crisis of confidence. It was also one of the reasons that he decided to retire at such a young age, as intimated in his autobiography. Coming more decidedly to jazz relatively late in his career meant that he was on the same playing field as drummers, younger and older, who had devoted entire lives and careers to jazz, leaving Bruford with the feeling that he would never be able to attain the same degree of feel and cred.
Add to that the challenge of recruiting and keeping a band together at a time when album sales were on the decline and touring costs ascending, made his ultimate decision more understandable but, in retrospect, a real pity. Earthworks Complete
only renders this feeling stronger still. Yes, it's true that Bruford was unable to manage the kind of loose improvisational feel of drummers like Brian Blade
, Jack DeJohnette
or Eric Harland
, but revisiting this music with the benefit of distance suggests he was far better (and closer) than it might have seemed to him at the time.
One thing for which there is no doubt: with Earthworks Complete
, Bruford has left behind a legacy for which he can (and should) be most proud. He may not have ultimately made it to where he was aiming, but the sign of a true artist is the humility to know that he/she is always
after something that may be approachable, but which can never truly be reached.
While, by this time, it's unlikely that he will ever return to performing, Earthworks Complete
renders all the clearer, certainly for his legion of fans, that his decision to pack up his sticks was an unfortunate one. Who knows where his muse might have led him, were it not for all the practical matters that made keeping a band together and touring such a tremendous challenge, and which have, if anything, only worsened in the ensuing decade.
And so, Earthworks, with its two very different editions and multiple lineups within, not only occupied the longest period of Bruford's career as a leader; it also represented his most significant growth as a composer, improviser, bandleader and overall conceptualist across the course of just over two decades.
That Bruford has now collected everything together into the Earthworks Complete
box, bringing out of print titles back into circulation, is certainly great news for fans of the drummer who missed out the first time around, and those who want to hear the new material included in the box. It's also, however, great news for jazz fans who may have missed, with the drummer's progressive rock reputation, either or both versions of the band when they were in action. Whether it's the electric Mark I or acoustic Mark II, and whether it was lineups that released albums in the day or can only be heard in posthumous releases included here, Earthworks was, most emphatically, a jazz
band that covered and broke a surprising amount of musical turf. While Bruford's Earthwork collaborators have since largely moved onto even greater recognition, for many of them, their move into the brighter spotlight began here, with Earthworks Complete
, a tremendous treasure trove of material known and previously unheard.