True Modern Jazz - through and through
L.A. Scene | Indian Trail, NC USA | 12/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you are a mainstream music fan, chances are you haven't heard of the name Bill Bruford. However, if you have followed Progressive Rock - Drummer Bill Bruford is one of the legendary names of the Progressive Rock movement. Bruford was associated with three of the greatest bands in Progressive Rock History: Yes (two tours of duty: 1968-1972 and 1991) , King Crimson (three tours of duty: 1972-1974, 1980-1984, and 1994-1997), and Genesis (provided drums when Phil Collins took over vocals 1976-1977). If you are a fan of Modern Jazz, chances are you have heard of Bill Bruford as well. It was in 1987 when Bill Bruford's Jazz Project "Earthworks" got off the ground. The debut album by Earthworks entitled "Bill Bruford's Earthworks" might seem like Bruford took a quantum leap from Progressive Rock to Modern Jazz, but when you closely examine things you discover this really isn't such a big jump. In a lot of ways, Progressive Rock is the true "Alternative Rock". Progressive Rock started when Rock artists wanted to move beyond the parameters of standard Rock and Roll. Progressive Rock artists also add a high level of sophistication to their music. Jazz, being a very sophisticated form a music is therefore not a quantum leap for the Progressive Rock artists. On "Bill Bruford's Earthworks", not only does Bruford make the leap from Progressive Rock to Jazz, but he makes a mark of epic proportions. I don't think it's unfair to say that this is one of the great Modern Jazz albums of all time.
It's worth noting that there are actually two incarnations of Bill Bruford's Earthworks. This collection represents the debut work of the first incarnation. The first incarnation consistsed of Bruford on Drums and Percussion, Iain Bellamy on Sax, Django Bates on Keyboard and Bass, and Mick Hutton on Acoustic Bass. This first incarnation would be together from 1986 through 1993. After that, Bruford went back for a tour of duty with King Crimson. Following that tour of duty, Bruford would form a new lineup for Earthworks.
I don't think Modern Jazz should be confused with Smooth Jazz. "Bill Bruford's Earthworks" was released in 1987 which many consider the time where the Smooth Jazz movement began to get off the ground. However,I don't think it's Smooth Jazz. Many may argue whether Smooth Jazz is really Jazz or not. Whether you believe the term "Jazz" belongs in Smooth Jazz or not, I do believe this genre has established itself on the music scene. I look at Smooth Jazz as primarily an instrumental music style that is an incorporation and fusion of several instrumental styles. Some of the fusion may be classic Jazz brass sounds, but others may be modern music styles of electric guitar or synthesizers. Because of the wide range that this genre can encompass, I feel many artists fall into this category. Although some simularities to Smooth Jazz, I don't feel that "Bill Bruford's Earthworks" falls into this category.
As you listen to "Earthworks", the core of the music you will hear is Jazz - complete with polyrhythms and all. Yes, there is some fusion of other elements - after all, Bruford does come from a Rock background. However, unlike the latter Smooth Jazz artists that would follow, this work still remains true to Jazz. Good examples of this are found in the third and fourth tracks. The third track "Up North" has a progressive rock feel in many parts of the song. The horn work even reminds me of some of the horn work found in Phil Collins' solo work. At the same time, "Up North" does have a solid Jazz feel to it. The fourth track "Pressure" also has a progressive rock feel - particularly in the opening. But the Sax work shows that the Jazz factor is alive and well.
The first two tracks of the collection show how Bruford and Earthworks remind me that it is Jazz I am listening to. The first track, "Thud" is probably the most catchy track of the collection. This was an Iain Bellamy penned tune - and it has a very lively Jazz feel to it. This isn't going to be a 1940s Jazz tune - it is a very modern sounding tune. However, there isn't a point when I felt that this wasn't Jazz. The second track "Making a Song and Dance" isn't quite as catchy - this is going to be one of those tracks that grow on you. The first 2 1/2+ minutes of the song start out with a soft intro with almost a light African sounding percussion to it. It then goes into a more uptempo bridge that sounds a lot like John Tesh's work. That bridge will be followed with some nice horn work that once again makes me realize that it's Jazz I'm listening to. The fifth track, "My Heart Declares a Holiday" also has some great horn work (as well as percussion) that also spell out Jazz.
Finally, the 8th and 9th tracks are worth mentioning. These are terrific tracks. The 8th track "The Shepherd is Eternal" is a short two minute number that is a very soft track. It is probably the least Jazz sounding track on the album, but it is a perfect segue into the 9th track "Bridge of Inhibition". "Bridge of Inhibition" starts as a very bold track. It makes some use of electronic keyboards, but then it mellows down- and much like the story above, you will hear Jazz sounding horn and percussion in it.
One thing to note is that the co-producer of is Dave Stewart (Bruford himself is the other co-producer). This is not to be confused with the Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. The liner notes of this collection have a very nice writeup by Simon Puxley who discusses how Bruford and Earthworks launch into the world of Jazz. Overall, this is a great collection of modern Jazz music. I highly recommend it."
Mixing and Matching Styles
Scott McFarland | Manassas, VA United States | 02/28/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"These guys were very committed to ambitiously mixing and matching musical styles into a unique stew, in a good-humored way. They also used unusual instrumentation - Bruford playing chordal backing on his electronic drums at times, and Django Bates moving from keyboards to harmonizing on his "peck horn" when appropriate.The album is slightly tentative as compared to what this band became in concert. And it uses overdubs and processed sound more than later efforts - which undercuts the band's whole raison d'ete I think. They're at their best when they play live music on the spot. It's a good if not great listen but I prefer their subsequent albums which are a bit more idiosynchratic. The only track here that sounds as if it were recorded for maximum artistic effect is "Bridge of Inhibition"."