With the plethora of box sets being issued these days with new masters and, perhaps even more importantly, new mixes of classic recordings, it was inevitable that the small but significant discography of drummer Bill Bruford's first steps into a solo career with his band Bruford should finally get the deluxe treatment. Seems Like a Lifetime Ago 1977-1980
not only covers the three studio and one live recording that this at-the-time completely unexpected and utterly distinctive surprise of a group released between 1978 and 1980, but adds some revealing and previously entirely unreleased music (two CDs worth) to a six- CD/two-DVD-V box set. In addition to a reproduction concert poster, two black and white photo band prints and a signed/numbered certificate of authentication for a set strictly limited to 2,000 copies worldwide, there's a 12"x12" 16-page, full-color booklet that, alongside a complete tour date listing and additional poster, publicity and live shot reproductions, also includes a characteristically extensive, detailed and informative piece penned by well-known scribe Sid Smith.
Bruford, the group, in its relatively short existence, retained a consistent core trio largely responsible for its effortless blend of progressive rock tendencies and jazz inspirations thatlike the Canterbury scene from which its keyboardist, Dave Stewart
, emergedsomehow managed to make serious music without the gravitas and, despite its profound complexities, possessed a certain self- effacing quality and, quite magically, memorable melodies...even when they were many, many bars long and filled with complicated metric shifts.
While ultimately achieving greater fame with his '80s-onward "pop music for adults" duo with wife/singer Barbara Gaskin, Stewart remainsif for nothing more than his work with Egg
, Hatfield and the North
, National Health
and Bruford from the late '60s through 1980, one of progressive music's most influential and sophisticated composers, performers...and, in more recent times, orchestrators. Jeff Berlin
first emerging on the American jazz scene with artists including Gil Evans
, Esther Phillips
and Don Pullen
achieved far greater international presence with Bruford's group. Possessed of staggering technical acumen on electric bass, Berlin became a vital presence of his own with a drummer who had, by this time, become a well-established, major name in progressive rock; and, despite the emergence of punk rock having some (but not nearly as much as some ascribe) impact at the time, progressive-leaning music could still sell a significant number of albums...and easily fill venues ranging from sizable clubs and concert halls to larger-scale arenas.
The fourth charter member of Bruford, the recently deceased, outrageously talented Allan Holdsworth
, emerged in the early-to-mid-'70s with artists ranging from Soft Machine
to Tony Williams
and Jean-Luc Ponty
. Seeming to grow in massive leaps and bounds from project to project and album to album, the guitarist was already well on his way to greater recognition for his appearance on trumpeter Ian Carr
(Vertigo, 1972). Over the course of his career, Holdsworth truly defined a new language, for his instrument specifically and music in generalas, indeed, can easily be argued about everyone
in Bruford, albeit to varying degrees of popular acclaim. But, alas, following Bruford's first two studio albums1978's Feels Good to Me
and 1979's One of a Kind
and a couple of months touring with the band in May and June 1979, the overly self-critical Holdsworth left to pursue a solo career, largely documented on the Man Who Changed Guitar Forever!
(Manifesto, 2016) box set, replaced (at the guitarist's recommendation) by a protégé dryly dubbed by Bruford as the 'Unknown' John Clark.
Despite clearly coming from a similar stylistic space as Holdsworth on 1979's live The Bruford Tapes
and 1980 studio swan song, Gradually Going Tornado
, both albums clearly assert Clark's own approach and personality. He never achieved anywhere near the kind of legendary status as his predecessor, but Clark would continue working, after Bruford dissolved in 1980, with his first major employer, Cliff Richard, heard as recently as 2004 on the British pop star's The World Tour
The final member of the group was even more short-lived; returning the favor for Bruford's appearance on her acclaimed, truly jazz and rock fused X-Dreams
(Aura, 1978), singer Annette Peacock
appeared on three of Feels Good to Me
's ten tracks, including the Bruford-penned "Back to the Beginning" and "Seems Like a Lifetime AgoPart One," with the singer also contributing her own lyrics to the closing "Adios a la Pasada (Goodbye to the Past)." Peacock made, however, just two BBC Television appearances with the group: The Old Grey Whistle Test
(with Neal Murray substituting for the unavailable Berlin) in February, 1978; and, in March, 1979, Rock Goes to College
, a lengthier performance that the drummer ultimately released, through his Winterfold imprint, on DVD
in 2006 and CD
, the following year.
The first incarnation of Bruford was, in retrospect, a total dream team: Bruford, in addition to various sundry percussion instruments and his ever-recognizable sound and precision approach to drum kit, brought tuned percussion, including vibraphone and marimba, to Feels Good to Me
, along with a surprisingly mature compositional approach that, aided and abetted by Stewart, made it far more than "just" a drummer's record; certainly it was exceptionally light on drums solos. Rather, with Feels Good to Me
and, in fact, every subsequent album released under his name over the next three decades until his retirement in 2009Bruford proved himself a truly compleat musician; one who, like the best athletes, relentlessly upped his game by surrounding himself with musicians (often with greater skill in one or more areas) who helped the drummer evolve as a player, a composer and an improviser, irrespective of context.
Listening to Feels Good to Me
40 years later, it was clearly a remarkable and completely unexpected first shot across the bow from a drummer who had, indeed, contributed compositionally to both Crimson and Yes but who, barring the 35-second "Five per cent for nothing," which appeared on Yes' breakthrough album Fragile
(Atlantic, 1971), had never brought a single complete composition of his own to either band. While Stewart would regularly play the drummer's significant compositional other across the lifespan of Bruford, the band, it still largely reflected the drummer's interests at the time, which blended jazz and progressive rock in a completely new and still, decades later, fresh fashion. That said, with a group possessed of such strong musical personalities, it was impossible for Bruford not to become a whole truly greater than the sum of its exceptional parts.
After that first albumwith the drummer's full name on the Marqueethe group he assembled became, indeed, Bruford and, while still led by the drummer, became a band in more than name alone, with additional compositional input from Stewart, Berlin and, with One of a Kind
's episodic "The Abington Chasp," a lone credit for Holdsworth. The group's first official album as Bruford also saw the drummer largely put his vibraphone and marimba awaythough, despite being uncredited, they're clearly there to be heard on tracks like "One of a KindPart One" and "The Sahara of SnowPart One." Instead, the general approach favored music that a band that could more easily take on the road. Feels Good to Me
's instantly captivating and bar-setting opener, the short but idiosyncratic and detailed "Beelzebub," continued to be a part of later set lists along with "Sample and Hold" and "The Sahara of SnowPart One," but with Bruford solely on kit and Stewart and/or Holdsworth or Clark assuming his tuned percussion parts as required.
Considered, by many, to be this group's finest, One of a Kind
was released in June 1979, a month after the group began hitting the road for the first time. With the subsequent, often unfairly overlooked Gradually Going Tornado
released in February 1980, Bruford's live sets would be largely dominated by music from these two recordings.
On Seems Like a Lifetime Ago 1977-1980
, current King Crimson
guitarist/vocalist Jakko M. Jakszyk
handles the remix duties5.1 surround and stereofor Feels Good to Me
and One of a Kind
. As he has done in the pastand in contrast to fellow legacy progressive music remixer Steven Wilson
Jakszyk may respect the core components of these albums, but he also takes some additional liberties, altering positioning and/or introducing elements either previously less audible or, even more, never before heard.
They run from fairly significant to relatively minor...but always meaningful. Less radically in the front of the mix, Peacock's doubled voice on Bruford's "Back to the Beginning," from Feels Good to Me
, is brought closer to the center rather than being panned (and staggered, ever so slightly) more widely to the left and right. Another example is, in the lead-in to his extraordinary solo on the Bruford/Stewart collaboration "One of a KindPart Two," how Holdsworth's equally inimitable chordal work is brought more vividly to the fore. Elsewhere, after the climatically building solo section on "Sample and Hold," someone can be heard, in the weeds, yelling "Yeah!" It's a small thing, perhaps; but it adds just that extra bit of energyand a reflection of the kind of excitement felt in the studio as the group was workingto an already plenty powerful piece.
A/B'ing the original mixes with Jakszyk's new ones, one after the other, can be a little disconcerting; the originals were always very bright but a little on the thin side and bass-light,; hearing Jakszyk's approach, which is a great deal warmer, richer and more bass-balanced, might initially feel a touch muddy in direct comparison. But, it only takes a minute or so for the ears to acclimatize and realize, for example, that Bruford's kit and, in particular, his cymbals, have lost none of their crispness...his snare, none of its snap. And with Berlin now more appropriately balanced in the mix, the bassist's stunning work on these two albums, in particular, can now be heard in ways previously not possible. In a recent Facebook post, Berlin wrote, perhaps referring to Milos Forman's 1984 film Amadeus
, "the bassist plays too many notes." But to these ears, while his playing does, indeed, reflect the exuberance and plenty-to-prove extremes of youth, in the context of this music, the number of notes he plays seem, well, just right.
Jakszyk's surround mixesdown-channeled to stereo in order to make a better apples-to-apples comparison with the original stereo mixes in the same resolution (the surround and original mixes are on DVD-V, while Jakszyk's new stereo mixes are only available on CD)reveal that he's not trying to faithfully recreate the original mixes with greater delineation between the layers (though he does accomplished that as well). Instead, they are presented as alternatives to the original mixes. And while it's true that the original mixes feel a little warmer, with Berlin's bass a tad more forward, they still remain on the thin side. Steven Wilson's mixes are often, for many, replacements that render the original mixes obsolete (though his remix projects almost always include the original mixes as well); instead, Jakszyk's alternate perspectives, rather than replacing the originals, are ones that will be chosen over them (or not), depending upon mood. In other words, both are relevant, both have value: dovetails, rather than replacements. The Bruford Tapes
and Gradually Going Tornado
are given a remastering upgrade over the similarly thin-ish 2005 reissues that were, like their Feels Good to Me
and One of a Kind
counterparts, previously reviewed at All About Jazz
. The assumption here is that their original multi-track tapes, required for a remix, could not be located. Still, looking at the sound files from these new remasters and considering their overall sound, it's clear that their dynamics have been broadened; the overall sound is also warmer and fulleras well as punchier and crisper, especially with The Bruford Tapes
. Thanks to Ben Darlow's fine mastering work, Berlin's bass work has been brought forward enough to, at least in part, compensate for their lesser place in the original masters/mixes. Now better-balanced alongside the rest of his band mates, these represent serious improvements over the 2005 remasters.
Again, no doubt, due to the original multi-track tapes being unavailable, only the original mix of One of a Kind
features a previously unreleased out-take of One of a Kind
's bass workout "Five G," co-written by Bruford, Stewart and the much-featured Berlin. This time, without Holdsworth's involvement, Stewart's electric piano is more prominently spotlit, along with his Prophet V orchestrations. Elsewhere, the Stewart/Bruford-penned "Manacles"originally included as a very low-fi bonus live track on the 2005 remaster of One of a Kind
is moved, more appropriately, to the end of The Bruford Tapes
, again as a bonus track, as it features the same lineup.
Taken together, Seems Like a Lifetime Ago 1977-1980
's two DVD-Vs and four CDswith Jakszyk's new stereo mixes of Feels Good to Me
and One of a Kind
placed alongside their original mixes, in addition to the Bruford Tapes
and Gradually Going Tornado
remastersmight have been enough to justify the box set treatment for a group that emerged so remarkably well-formed and conceptually mature from the get-go. But the two additional discs, despite coming from less-than-ideal sound sources, render Seems Like a Lifetime Ago 1970- 1980
as both the definitive and
final word on this short-lived but still, four decades later, relevant group of virtuosic and relentlessly inventive musicians. Live at The Venue
recorded during one of the group's April and May, 1980 performances at the London, U.K. venue and likely sourced from an audience recording that's been cleaned up as best as possible (meaning: perfectly listenable, with most elements easily discernible)dovetails beautifully with the admittedly better FM recording of The Bruford Tapes
, recorded almost a year prior at Roslyn, New York's My Father's Place on July 12, 1979.
With its heavier emphasis on material from Gradually Going Tornado
five of Live at The Venue
's eight tracks, including three of that album's four vocal tracks, sung by Berlinit means that, combined with The Bruford Tapes
and Rock Goes to College
(the latter, unfortunately, not included in the box), it's possible to hear a full 17 of the 28 studio tracks recorded by Bruford's first band under his own leadership in a live context...in some cases more than once and, in an even smaller subset, with considerably altered and/or expanded arrangements. Together in this box, the thirteen tracks spanning The Bruford Tapes
and Live at The Venue
(with only two appearing in both sets) provide a more complete picture of what ultimately became Bruford's touring lineup from July, 1979 through its final dates twelve months later.
But Live at The Venue
offers far more than just additional tracks. One of a Kind
's more-often-than-not set-opener, the Stewart/Alan Gowen composition "Hell's Bells," gets a serious arrangement rework. The Bruford keyboardist's entirely new (and slightly longer) middle section replaces the original version's chord progression from Gowenanother National Health alum also known for his work in Gilgamesh
, alongside his collaborations with National Health guitarist Phil Miller
and Soft Machine
bassist Hugh Hopper
, before tragically passing away of leukemia in 1981 at the age of 33.
"Sample and Hold" is expanded almost by halfand not just because of Bruford's opening drum solo (which is a bit longer as well). Once again there's a new middle section that features a focused Stewart solo on his Yamaha CP70 (somewhat portable) electric grand piano before he ratchets the energy up with an even more exhilarating organ solo. And just when it appears the song is back on track with the studio version, another section provides a chance for some thrilling group interplay and a brief synth solo, before Clark gets a very brief feature and the piece finally returns its familiar, knotty theme and conclusion. The closing "Five G"this time complete rather than The Bruford Tapes
's frustrating fade-outalso comes with an altered arrangement from the earlier live version...and not just in its new intro, but in its restructuring throughout the piece. Live at The Venue
also demonstrates just how much this group had evolved, loosened up and, at the same time, come together as a live juggernaut since The Bruford Tapes
' recording roughly ten months earlier. Clark's emergence as a player no longer emulating Holdsworth, with more of a personal sound and style, is particularly notable. His ensemble work is more vividly attuned to his band mates, while his solosa good example being his whammy bar-heavy solo in the middle of Stewart's epic "Land's End"suggests that he may not have possessed the kind of rarely-in-a-lifetime-occurring genius that was (and would continue to be) Holdsworth; but as a member of Bruford, he would gradually become an indispensably important band member.
The album also provides an opportunity to reevaluate Berlin's skill as a singer. While there was absolutely nothing wrong with his vocals on Gradually Going Tornado
, they've often been unfairly maligned. Part of the problem was likely Bruford's decision to include four vocal tracks amongst its eight new compositions, something that the record label, no doubt, appreciated as a move towards making the band more radio-friendly. Feels Good to Me
also had three vocal tracks, true: but both their contexts and Annette Peacock's delivery made them somehow more avant-leaning. The vocal pieces composed by Bruford for Gradually Going Tornado
in some cases with Stewart and, in one case, Berlin, but with the drummer always contributing the lyricsseemed, at the time, to be more intentionally aimed at radio play.
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, however, those four songs may have leaned more decidedly to conventional "verse/chorus" structures but, at the same time, they still fit conceptually, musically and sonically within the Bruford oeuvre's sophisticated compositions, filled with metric twists and turns, unconventional themes, dense orchestrations and space for the band to stretch. If Berlin's singing on Gradually Going Tornado
was, if any criticism could be levied, a little stiff, by the time of Live at The Venue
he'd clearly relaxed and was taking more vocal liberties along with his ever- present bass extrapolations. And, again, as performing pieces, the group altered the arrangements, avoiding the studio version fadeouts by, in one case, segueing "Plans for J.D.," via an ostinato-driven, sonic free-for-all that then modulates downward into a powerful take of "Age of Information" which, with its lengthy instrumental outro, extends the song by almost three minutes.
And so, while it my not come from the most ideal sound source, Live at The Venue
is a particularly important addition to Seems Like a Lifetime Ago 1970-1980
; a document of just how much Bruford, the group, had evolved.
A sixth CD, 4th Album Rehearsal Sessions
, is culled from 1980 cassette recordings made from the floor of Bruford's practice space, as three-quarters of the band (Berlin only appears on one track) can be heard on this series of eighteen miniatures. None of them are fully-formed compositions, and there is one instance where the trio of Bruford, Stewart and Clark explore past material with an eye to further expansion: "Marrowbones and Cleavers" takes the core theme from Feels Good to Me
's deftly knotty "If You Can't Stand the Heat..." and places it in a more propulsive, harmonically shifting context...even if only lasting for just over 90 seconds.
Suggesting growth that clearly leverages past successes but also point towards a more '80s context, 4th Album Rehearsal Sessions
documents ideas that might have either been expanded or combined, had the group continued rather than dissolving, following the revelation thatdespite selling out shows across the US, U.K. and France to significant critical acclaimthe group was run ning at a loss as Bruford, with a sizable debt to repay, decided to move on with a new King Crimson lineup (initially called Discipline) the same year. Like recent "cutting room floor" discs included in King Crimson's Larks' Tongues in Aspic
(Panegyric, 2012) and THRAK
(Panegyric, 2015) box sets, 4th Album Rehearsal Sessions
provides an important and hitherto unseen window into the creative process that goes behind the finished music to which few people are typically privy.
There is considerable history that lies behind the emergence of Bruford, the band, and Smith's liners are about as complete a document of that history as one could hope for. They're also nicely delineated so that, in addition to the 12"x12" book where they are printed, relevant chapters are also included in the booklets included with each of the four two-disc gatefolds that contain: the Feels Good to Me
and One of a Kind
CDs and DVD-Vs (with the Feels Good to Me
set also including a reprint of Richard Williams' original liner notes); the remastered Bruford Tapes
and Gradually Going Tornado
; and the previously unreleased Live at The Venue
and 4th Album Rehearsal Sessions
Together, Seems Like a Lifetime Ago 1977-1980
is the box for which many Bruford fans have been waiting. Between original mixes, newly remixed versions in stereo and surround, quality remasters and two discs of revealing material, the only misstep is that its strictly limited run of 2,000 copies quickly sold out prior to release, rendering it already unavailable to those who didn't get in on the pre-orders. Here's hoping that, in order to still maintain the box set's exclusivity, the good folks at Gonzo Multimedia will consider releasing the four individual two-disc sets as separate entities at some later date. Music this good needs
to be heard by more than just 2,000 fans.
[Update: Due to exceedingly high demand for the boxwhich was already sold out at the time of this article's submissionthe label and online vendors are now accepting a new round of pre-orders, since the initial run became available on November 3, 2017. The new pre-order period lasts until November 30, after which no further orders will be accepted. Shipment of this second round is planned for January, 2018.