CMP 1995 / Esoteric 2014
No bass, no fuss: one of the maestro’s most unusual, and most beautiful, records sees ivory magic in the air.
Although Jack Bruce has always been an experimentalist – the “Things We Like” LP, recorded before and released after his official solo debut, was a nice slice of free jazz – no one expected the veteran to occasionally go on a similar limb later in his career. Yet he did, first with 1983’s "Automatic" and then with this album, also keyboard-based, if much more chamber-like, as the synthesizers give way here to piano that Jack used to play in the early ’80s when he toured with a band of high-profile friends. It was then that he unveiled the tremulous soul wail of “Tightrope” which he took to the studio and developed only when the idea of “Monkjack” came to a fruition, but if the title suggests Bruce’s return to the improvisatory form, in reality bebop is limited on it to an accompaniment to the veteran’s songs delivered in the operatic key and embellished with Hammond licks from the PARLIAMENT/FUNKADELIC member Bernie Worrell.
With no other instrument involved and the two keyboards interplay highlighted in the slow instrumental “Shouldn’t We” and the “Immortal Ninth” finale, wherein Monk’s influence is revealed in full, Jack explores new routes and old backstreets. Bruce may spread thin the transparent melody in the 8-minute meltdown of “Laughing On Music Street” but he compensates for this via ivory dynamics and finds a different, more exquisite and emotional, way to look at “Weird Of Hermiston” that he demoed for CREAM before putting out on the aforementioned debut, “Songs For A Tailor,” and at “Folk Song” from its follow-up “Harmony Row.” Yet it’s “The Boy,” a vaudeville-like ballad from the then-unreleased “Jet Set Jewel,” that steals the scene, especially when its chorus soars to the anxious bliss of organ solo.
Not that Bruce veers away too much from the genre he’s primarily known for: thus, vocal acrobatics of “The Food” are wrapped around the blues, or the music hall variety thereof, and “Know One Blues” channels Scott Joplin, while “Third Degree” sees Jack at the greasy barrelhouse, yet not before the gracious “David’s Harp” illuminates the Old Testament romanticism with anthemic, albeit light, chords. Luminescent and spiritual, “Monkjack” might stand aside of the veteran’s canon, but that makes it an admirable example of his peculiar talent.