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Bill Bruford / Tim Garland: Earthworks Underground Orchestra

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Bill Bruford forged his reputation as a relentless pioneer striving to advance the art of percussion. Using odd times and improvisation in rock or exploring with electronic drums, he sought to challenge both his self-expression and the drummer's role. Since 1986, his primary outlet as a composer and bandleader has been Earthworks. What began as an electro-acoustic quartet has become strictly acoustic, bringing him back to his early love: jazz.

To celebrate this twenty-year anniversary, Bruford and his latest saxophone foil, Tim Garland, put together a nine-piece outfit with top American musicians for a five-night run at Iridium. These shows featured new arrangements of tunes spanning the Earthworks catalog, eight of which were culled for this album.

The number of musicians and their unfamiliarity with the music make the arrangements vital—and Garland makes fine use of the aural palette. "Libreville receives a refreshing update, with a buoyant rhythm lifting the horns through the boisterous head, sparking a trilling flute solo. Bruford's chattering slit drum provides contrasting timbre to the brass, playing the titular role on "Speaking in Wooden Tongues. At times, though, the charts are traditional, almost cliché, as on the ending of "Up North and segments of "Footloose and Fancy Free, handcuffing the spontaneity.

The intro to "The Wooden Man Sings and the Stone Woman Dances has the band playing freely, setting up one of Bruford's strongest compositions. The layered horns swirl in call and response with the infectious melodic line, while the rhythm section counters with a strong, danceable beat— the classic Bruford ploy of presenting the complex against the simple for musical tension.

Though this music may not be unprecedented, the ensemble executes the charts with precision and palpable enthusiasm. Bruford remains one of the most consistently engaging and inspired drummers around, and his continual evolution is admirable.

Visit Bill Bruford on the web.

Track Listing: Libreville; Up North; Pigalle; Speaking in Wooden Tongues; Footloose and Fancy Free; Bajo del Sol; It Needn't End in Tears; The Wooden Man Sings, and the Stone Woman Dances.

Personnel: Bill Bruford: drums, percussion; Tim Garland: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, bass clarinet; Jon Owens: trumpet, Alex "Sasha" Sipiagin: trumpet; Rock Ciccarone: trombone (1-3,6-8); Robin Eubanks: trombone (4, 5); Chris Karlic: baritone saxophone, flute; Steve Wilson: alto and soprano saxophones, flute; Henry Hey: piano; Mike Pope: electric and acoustic bass.

Title: Earthworks Underground Orchestra | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Summerfold Records

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