You’re going to need time, lots of it too, to get maximum enjoyment from this pretty exhaustive and, at times challenging, box set of 6 CDs. If you do then you can evaluate the career of Sevenoaks born drum maestro William (Bill) Bruford. The box set covers the 40 odd years of his often-erratic career choices and defining drum work.
Bill was an original member of Yes, leaving them shortly after the success of the ‘Close To The Edge’ album for what could be considered more challenging music as offered by King Crimson, with whom he made several seminal albums like ‘Lark’s Tongues in Aspic’, ‘Starless and Bible Black’ and ‘Red’, before Crimson fractured and took a hiatus for several years. This was considered an odd move by many, but Bruford wanted to challenge himself, rather than playing the same music ad-nauseum. He was also a part of the original U.K. project with John Wetton and Alan Holdsworth but, again, left after their debut album and tour to concentrate on forming his own band, Bruford, who made three excellent albums and played some fine live shows.
Bruford joined a reformed Crimson for their popular 1980’s reinvention, Adrian Belew and Tony Levin appearing alongside Bill and Robert Fripp for the albums ‘Discipline’, ‘Three Of A Perfect Pair’ and ‘Beat’, that tell the story of that era. When Crimson took an extended break, Bill started his own jazz project, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, which was significantly different to all that he had done before. Much of this can be explored on the other four discs within this set along with his involvement as a supporting musician to the likes of Roy Harper, Chris Squire, Al Di Meola, Steve Howe and David Torn. There are also a slew of collaborations with Patrick Moraz and Michael Borstlap, in their piano and percussion ensembles.
Bear in mind that a lot of this was improvisation at its rawest, so this is not always easy to listen to, yet there is much of worth and value to these discs. It’s not all about the big groups, much of Bill’s joy has been found in the less high profile works. This set is challenging and you can hear how Bill uses space in his music to fine effect and how he has a ‘less is more approach’ to making music. He is a skilled musician and he prefers to underplay as opposed to overplaying, subtlety being the key here, which is why he is so highly regarded by his fellow musicians and his contemporaries. Neal Peart of Rush says that the advancements that Bill made in the realm of electronics were a benefit to everyone.
The Bruford tracks are really fabulous music with a strong bass presence from Jeff Berlin and urgent sympathetic drumming from Bill. Tracks like Joe Frazier from ‘Gradually Going Tornado’ really show Bill’s skill as a band leader. In contrast, the Earthworks tracks are far mellower in the main but still with enough going on to make them of interest and investigation. The band’s revision of Downtown, as made famous by Petula Clark, is exceptionally inventive as they play around with a well-known piece to make it something rather different and exciting.
I really liked the spontaneous elements in the Bruford-Moraz tracks with just piano and drums playing together. The sound is full ,even though there are only two people playing and both Bruford and Moraz use the space in the music to create something pretty remarkable really. As are the tracks with Michael Borstlap which also fuse Bill’s drumming with piano in free form jazz tracks that again use the space to improvise across. This is especially the case on The 16 kingdoms of the Five Barbarians, with it’s thunderous drums and tense piano fills and flourishes, this track really makes an impression as does the highly rhythmic interplay on display on the Stand on Zanzibar, which features a graceful piano melody line and delicate yet informed drumming from Bill.
Equally fascinating are the trio of tracks from David Torn on which Bill appears as part of the rhythm section. Some of this jazz is pretty brutal and harsh, such is the way with the unconventional Torn, but it makes for interesting listening once you get used to it.
The set is split into three sets, discs 1 & 2 represent The Collaborator, discs 3 & 4 are The Composing Leader, disc 5 is The Special Guest and disc 6 Is The Improviser. Much of the first two discs will be familiar, as this encompasses his time with Yes and King Crimson whilst discs 3 and 4 cover the Bruford and Earthworks era, with everything else on discs 5 & 6. Either way this set is simply fascinating and one that will appeal to the more broad-minded prog fan as its grooves contain much very fine music indeed. The included book and poster are decent too and give a good overview from Bill himself, who was fully 100% involved in this project.
Released 29th April, 2022.
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