Venture 1997 / Summerfold & Winterfold 2019
The beat master’s well-grounded, but often celestial, oeuvre gets an anthology treatment to tease the unitiated.
Despite his soild prog credentials, Bill Bruford has never been a rock drummer per se, and that’s what made the British artist’s recordings with YES and KING CRIMSON so special, his jazz perspective enriching artsy leanings of the legendary trend-setters yet, once out of U.K., the veteran proved to be an institution unto himself. BRUFORD in the late ’70s and EARTHWORKS in the next two decades outlined a new standard for elegiac unpredictability and turned into a breeding ground for such significant talents as, respectively, Jeff Berlin and Django Bates, the latter collective’s adventurousness lasting longer and appearing more palatable to public taste – at least in the aural image projected by this anthology.
The reissue of “Heavenly Bodies” expands on its original, single-disc release by taking the ensemble’s timeline to the limit, to include numbers from the group’s every album but, above all, highlights the creative consistency of BB’s band. Though it may seem that in many a line-up Bruford’s beats take a backseat to soloing instrument, it’s in fact Bill who painstakingly maps out every move on offer for others to follow, as they do on “Making A Song And Dance” where the rhythm will switch gears in the middle without escaping the piece’s pensive mindset, or the live delivery of playful “Pigalle” where tom-toms call accordion-esque keyboards for a graceful, Gallic-bound stroll, while numbers such as “My Heart Declares A Holiday” are purely groove-driven, melodic overlay only stressing their percussive detail.
If the pop-tinged Latino jive of “Stromboli Kicks” introduces the combo’s tight-but-loose interplay and sees Iain Ballamy’s saxes spray electric palette with excitement, “Up North” offers a cautious crawl alongside shoulders that Bates’ horns polished to absolute brilliance, so the reeds feel untterly liberated, and Tim Harries’ bass has a field day on “Nerve” – another concert cut, a funky stumble from relaxing to racing: the quartet’s entire dynamic range. Still, whereas the on-stage “Libreville” is lbrisk, “It Needn’t End In Tears” is full of translucent regret, yet “Thud” – a track given a frantic but comfortable pace which is possessed with blistering trumpet – and “Dancing On Frith Street” arrive firmly rooted in trad jazz, as are the gusts of “No Truce With The Furies” from the collection’s acoustically-biased second disc.
Despite its title, the orchestral salvo of “Bridge Of Inhibition” and ripples behind the almost unplugged “The Sound Of Surprise” give way to a wild, Balkan-styled frivolity, but Steve Hamilton’s classical piano passages pour elegance into “Dewey-Eyed, Then Dancing” that Patrick Clahar’s brass infused with moderate melancholy – as opposed to the breezy, if not frown-free, “White Knuckle Wedding” which flaunts a flute in its epic context. On the other end of emotional spectrum, “Youth” is fittingly effusive, Laurence Cottle’s four strings stealing the scene with a gripping topline and Bruford flying all over his battery, yet then there’s “Revel Without A Pause” whose pun would panoramically span across bossa nova landscape to progressively increase its delicacy thanks, among other things, to Bill leaving his Simmons kit for traditional set of skins and cymbals.
EARTHWORKS was the project to which BB dedicated most of his years, a hugely underrated band from which he progressed to retirement. Now it’s time to reassess it and admire anew.