It is no exaggeration to state that Jack Bruce
was probably the most inventive bassist of the twentieth century. He straddled the worlds of jazz, blues and rock seamlessly, and his bass guitar playing was unprecedented in its sheer imaginative breadth and power. Crucially, he was also a vocalist of incredible range and dynamism. His contribution to Cream
surely needs no elaboration. As a rock star he was a veritable human dynamo, but as a jazz musician he was extraordinary too. He played a pivotal role on Carla Bley
's seminal work Escalator Over The Hill
(JCOA, 1971), where he also played bass guitar alongside his old friend John McLaughlin
who had previously appeared on Bruce's pukka jazz album, Things We Like
(Polydor, 1970; Atco, 1971). Bruce died, at the age of 71, on 25 October 2014, yet his memory and music are still very much alive, as this magnificent box set demonstrates.
Following the CD and DVD package Rockpalast: The 50th Birthday Concerts
(MIG, 2014) and the earlier DVD set Jack Bruce At Rockpalast
(Studio Hamburg Fernseh Allianz, 2005) this is the first CD release of these earlier German concerts, but they're also accompanied by the DVD discs.
As CD1 opens to the familiar strains of "White Room," what immediately hits the listener is the thumping resonance of Bruce's long scale bass guitar which showed no signs of diminishing since his departure from Cream over a decade before. Punctuating the more rock-based numbers such as "Hit And Run" there are the subtle gems which demonstrated Bruce's unique and exceptional talent not just as a musician but as a composer. "Theme For An Imaginary Western" from Songs For A Tailor
(Polydor, 1969) is one such example as is "Post War" from Harmony Row
(Polydor, 1971). Then, fairly obviously, is the quintessential rock anthem for the ages, "Sunshine Of Your Love." The first two CDs capture Bruce's 1980 concert with the same line-up that appeared on I've Always Wanted to Do This
(Epic, 1980). The set is populated by seven of the numbers from that album, including "Hit And Run" and "Facelift 318," but undoubtedly the most impressive number, as found on CD2, is an extended version of the electrifying "Bird Alone" (dedicated to Charlie Parker) which runs to twice the length of the original. Here, Bruce introduced more of his trademark twists and turns which so infused his earliest, and arguably, most memorable albums. But in addition to those tracks and five Cream numbers, there's also Billy Cobham
's high-voltage instrumental "X Marks The Spot."
CD3 follows, but not in chronological order, since it's a 1990 solo set featuring Bruce predominantly playing piano and singing. Nevertheless it's something of an ear-opener. The short instrumental "Outsiders" is followed by the plaintive "Can You Follow?" from Harmony Row
, segueing into the bluesy "Third Degree." It is also fascinating to hear songs like "Doing That Scrapyard Thing" from Cream's farewell Goodbye
album (Polydor, 1969) which Bruce successfully manages to perform live despite the original version being a complex multi-tracked number. The lyrical pathos of "Weird Of Hermiston" is actually enhanced by Bruce's singing, accompanied only by piano, and the magic remains on "Ticket To Waterfalls." There's a brief diversion from piano with Bruce, accompanied by an encouraging, handclapping audience, gamely rendering "Traintime" on harmonica and vocals, sometimes almost simultaneously.
CDs 4 & 5 capture the 1983 concert, opening with half a dozen numbers from Bruce's solo album Automatic
released in January of that year, on the Intercord label. These include upbeat numbers such as "E Boogie," "Up Town Breakdown" and "Green And Blue." On that album, Bruce played all the instruments, including synthesizer drum programming, but here there's plenty more room for him to stretch out given the comparative luxury of a live trio configuration. His choice of musicians is fortuitous given the phenomenal versatility of David Sancious. But there are, again, more Cream numbers too, such as "Spoonful," "N.S.U.," "Rollin' And Tumblin'" and the inevitable crowd pleaser "Sunshine Of Your Love." On "I'm So Glad," the prodigiously talented Sancious makes a more than respectable stab at filling Eric Clapton
's shoes with a coruscating guitar solo.
The DVDs are an essential complement to the CDs and bring the whole box set into sharp relief. DVD1 includes the 1980 concert and Bruce's solo show. The end of the 1980 performance contains backstage footage of the band grabbing well-deserved drinks before returning to give an encore of "N.S.U." and "Spoonful" to an audience screaming "We want Jack." In between the two sets there is a priceless ten-minute interview with all four members of the band, the bilingual interviewer sporadically breaking off to translate the band members' responses into German. DVD1 also includes the 1990 Bruce solo concert which concludes with an encore of "The Best Is Yet To Come." On DVD2, the three-piece Jack Bruce Band is featured, and the highlight is most certainly a tour de force
spectacular seventeen-minute version of "Bird Alone." The five CDs exactly mirror the contents of the two DVDs but, as these were previously unavailable, that makes this box set invaluable to any JB fan. In any case, fourteen years on from their first release, the DVDs have now become something of a rarity, so it is great to have them available again, the whole package being a timely reminder of the genius that was Jack Bruce
CD1: Jack Bruce & Friends - Grugahalle Essen, Germany - October 19th 1980. White Room; Post
War; Hit And Run; Running Back; Facelift 318; Theme For An Imaginary Western; X Marks The Spot;
Dancing On Air.
CD2: Jack Bruce & Friends - Grugahalle Essen, Germany - October 19th 1980. Out To Lunch; Livin’
Without Ja; Politician; Bird Alone; Sunshine Of Your Love; N.S.U.; Spoonful.
CD3: Jack Bruce (solo) - Live Musik Hall, Cologne, Germany - October 16th 1990. Outsiders; Can
You Follow; Third Degree; Flying; Doing That Scrapyard Thing; Theme For An Imaginary Western;
Weird Of Hermiston; Tickets To Waterfalls; Golden Days; One; Travelling Child; Pieces Of Mind;
Traintime; The Best Is Still To Come.
CD4: Jack Bruce Band - Zeche, Bochum, Germany – November 1st 1983. E Boogie; Up Town
Breakdown; Travelling Child; Make Love (Pt.II); Green And Blue; The Swarm; The Best Is Still To
Come; Rollin’ And Tumblin’.
CD5: Jack Bruce Band - Zeche, Bochum, Germany - November 1st 1983. Keep It Down; First Time
I Met The Blues; Bird Alone; I’m So Glad; Spoonful; N.S.U.
DVD1: Grugahalle Essen, Germany - October 19th 1980. White Room; Post War; Hit And Run;
Running Back; Facelift 318; Theme For An Imaginary Western; X Marks The Spot; Dancing On Air;
Out To Lunch; Living Without Ja; Politician; Bird Alone; Sunshine Of Your Love; N.S.U.; Spoonful.
Live Music Hall, Cologne, Germany - October 16th 1990. Outsiders; Can You Follow; Third Degree;
Flying; Doing That Scrapyard Thing; Theme For An Imaginary Western; Weird Of Hermiston; Tickets
To Waterfalls; Golden Days; One; Travelling Child; Pieces Of Mind; Traintime; The Best Is Still To
DVD2: Zeche, Bochum,Germany - November 1st 1983. E Boogie; Up Town Breakdown; Travelling
Child; Make Love (Pt.II); Green And Blue; The Swarm; The Best Is Still To Come; Rollin’ And
Tumblin’; Keep It Down; First Time I Met The Blues; Bird Alone; I’m So Glad; Spoonful; N.S.U.
CD1, CD2, DVD1: Jack Bruce: bass, piano, harmonica, vocals; David “Clem” Clempson: guitar, bass;
David Sancious: keyboards, synthesizer, guitars; bass; Billy Cobham: drums, vocals. Plus uncredited
CD4, CD5, DVD2: Jack Bruce: bass, piano, harmonica, vocals; David Sancious: keyboards, guitars;
Bruce Gary: drums.
CD3, DVD1: Jack Bruce: piano, harmonica, vocals.