Quarto Valley 2023
Members, family and friends unplug to pay homage to the trio whose shadows run from themselves.
Over nigh on six decades a lot has been said about this highly influential ensemble’s great stature as the first genuine supergroup, about their astonishing musicianship, and about their improvisational genius, yet somehow the joint talents of Messrs. Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton as composers got left outside of the spotlight. That’s why CREAM are often wrongly perceived – an opinion based primarily on their concert performances – as a blues band rather than a progressive rock collective they actually were, although what other artists most frequently pluck from the power trio’s repertoire is their non-America-sourced originals. That’s also why it takes an acoustic reading of the classic material to highlight the familiar pieces’ inner wonders – and that’s why it takes a few insiders and fellow travelers to facilitate such an approach.
Once provided the opportunity to steer the project alongside producer Rob Cass – one behind Bruce’s farewell offering, "Silver Rails" – the British combo’s principal lyricist Pete Brown brought onboard Ginger and Malcolm, son of Jack, but not Eric; still, the resulting album features a stellar cast of players more than capable of doing their gems justice. In a tragic turn of events, Baker, Brown, Bernie Marsden – who’s present on a dozen numbers here – and Mo Foster didn’t live to see the issue of this tremendous platter. Tremendous in terms of both delivery and choice of cuts which has not been limited to the obvious, even if “Sunshine Of Your Love” and “White Room” are not omitted. The former is voiced by Joe Bonamassa and rendered magical by Malcolm’s piano enhancing the groove that Ginger’s drums and Neil Murray‘s bass lay, with the same line-up driving the remarkably short “Crossroads” too. The latter is roared quite histrionically, just like “Politician” further on, by Peter and elevated by Bruce Sr.’s erstwhile accompanist Clem Clempson, with the same duo bringing into the set the only out-of-canon song, the dramatically widescreen “Theme For An Imaginary Western” where the same string quartet shine.
The chamber angle cannot be ignored, given Jack was an academically trained cellist, and the transcendentally gloomy “We’re Going Wrong” finds his scion’s vocals drenched in symphonic atmosphere with elegant abandon – as opposed to joie de vivre Deborah Bonham’s pipes derive from “I Feel Free” and “Badge” or boogie vigor charging “Take It Back” thanks to Malcolm’s barrelhouse ivories and Maggie Bell’s infectiously sung stanzas. However, if “Born Under A Bad Sign” demonstrates Paul Rodgers’ effortlessness in handling this standard – coloring afresh the perennial he already recorded twice, on “Muddy Water Blues” and "The Royal Sessions" – “Spoonful” sees the harp-whipping Bobby Rush distill the wailing standard to its windy essentials before sharing the space on and swapping verses of “Sitting On Top Of The World” with Maggie. And if the tight surfaces of “Deserted Cities Of The Heart” and “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” – which Pee Wee Ellis and Henry Lowther’s brass add mariachi touches to – show fantasies shaped by, respectively, Bonamassa and Nathan James, whose intoxicating tones fill “Sweet Wine” with bubbles, the celebratory effervescence will perfectly fit the tribute album’s cause.
A work of love, “Heavenly Cream” is simply stunning.