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Jack Bruce - Live '75 CD (album) cover

LIVE '75

Jack Bruce

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.96 | 7 ratings

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HolyMoly
Special Collaborator
Retired Admin
4 stars This fascinating 1975 concert was discovered quite by accident whilst Polydor was going through its archives preparing for reissues of Jack Bruce's solo catalog. Although the recording had its share of rough spots, it was salvageable (though there's still some noticeable distortion in the louder parts), and in 2009 was released as a two disc set. It's a testament to the kind of respect Jack Bruce had in the musical community that his "backing band" contains not one but two people who I consider superstars in their own right: Mick Taylor, former Bluesbreaker guitarist and fresh from a stint with a little band called The Rolling Stones, and Carla Bley, author and mastermind behind one of the most incredible albums I've ever heard ("Escalator Over the Hill", 1971, see my review on ProgArchives). And this respect is deserved: in addition to being arguably the primary creative force behind the frighteningly star-studded cast of Cream in the late 60s, and guesting on several prominent jazz/rock efforts by other artists (including Bley's above), he had delivered a number of solo albums that contain some of the most creative and lasting music of its era. Its lack of commercial success could only have been due to its thrillingly eclectic nature, employing the kind of stylistic combinations that would surely make a radio programmer scratch his head in confusion. Whereas Eric Clapton simplified his approach and found success, Jack Bruce went more complex and remained a cult figure.

This live album is the only full concert recording in existence of this band, and that alone makes it worthy for release; luckily, it is also a creditable, solid performance of Jack Bruce the Solo Artist circa '75, with four great-to-amazing solo albums already under his belt. This band lineup plays the material with a jazzy twist, with a much looser beat than was found on the studio albums; I admit this took some getting used to. Jack himself often sings around the melodies as opposed to simply singing them, almost scat singing at times, which I found very frustrating at first, as I dearly love the vocal melodies as originally written. But this performance clearly isn't meant to be a direct reading of the "hits", and once I realized that I was able to swing along with their freewheeling spirit.

On to the songs: "Can You Follow?" begins the show, a short, solo piano/vocal piece that also opened his "Harmony Row" album. The band then slowly revs up the multi-faceted (a word that could describe almost every song here, truth be told) jazz rocker "Morning Story". Carla Bley shines on organ here. Jack sings the lyrics in an almost haphazard order, mixing lines from one verse with lines from other verses as if he's forgotten the whole song. He did that on "Can You Follow" too. A little unnerving, but if you're not a Jack Bruce fanatic like me you probably won't even notice. Next are two tracks from his then-current album "Out of the Storm": the straightforward blues rocker "Keep it Down", one of the few songs in the set that has anything to do with the blues; and the complex "Pieces of Mind". All these songs so far suffer a little from those unexpected setbacks and tentativeness a band often encounters on stage -- taking a while for the band to get comfortable in its surroundings and really hit its stride. By this time, I was thinking this might turn out to be merely a so-so show; thankfully, the band starts to hit its stride after this rocky start.

Pianist Ronnie Leahy begins a long, beautiful solo piano improvisation, floating easily into "Tickets to Waterfalls", its playful cha-cha rhythm a natural head space for this loose combo. The band stretches the outro into a band improvisation, before Leahy and Bley finish with a variation on the opening piano figure of "Weird of Hermiston", leading neatly into that piece, which leads to further improvisation, finally ending the medley with "Post War", one of the strangest songs in Jack's repertoire, and no less strange in this band's reading. In fact, the rhythm section seems to find a unique groove in this song's psychotic ska (apologies to Jack for this heavy-handed description) approach. The first CD ends with a surprise -- a cover of jazz/fusion legend Tony Williams' "Spirit" - and ironically enough, this sole "jazz" piece rocks twice as hard as anything else in the show! The whole band really seems to kick into a new gear here.

Disc Two begins with the jazzy ballad "One", and it's nice to hear Jack stick closer to the vocal melody a bit more than he'd done so far. The band, still sounding confident, play loosely but assuredly. Things start to rock again with "You Burned the Tables on Me", one of Jack's louder, more aggressive solo numbers, but with rolling, funky rhythms rather than stomping rock rhythms. The band makes the most of its "rolling" nature, and stretches the instrumental parts out for several minutes apiece. I chuckled a bit when I realized that some of these bits reminded me of listening to moe. (an eclectic "jam band" that started in the 90s). The set climaxes with the greatly elongated "Smiles and Grins", as complex and strange a song as Jack has ever written. As this epic piece (elongated to 23 minutes here) unfolds, I realized the band had finally arrived at that coveted space in a live performance when the music seems to play itself. After the bridge, Bruce goes into a quiet but intricate bass solo that held me transfixed for several minutes. Instinctually, the band slowly comes back to join him - first Bley (on Mellotron! did I mention she plays a lot of Mellotron on this? It's great!), then the rest of the band as it fires up the song's 7/8 groove and kicks back into the song. For the song's extended coda, Mick Taylor, who had been mostly quiet for the entire show so far, finally spreads his wings and plays a beautiful, delicate guitar solo that was totally worth the wait. The song comes to a gentle rest at the end, and several reverent seconds pass before the crowd applauds appreciatively, and the band leaves the stage.

As an encore, the band plays the crowd pleaser "Sunshine of Your Love", easily the most famous song Bruce ever had a hand in. The band has fun with it, sticking mostly to the script but adding their own flavor here and there. In the instrumental outro, Bley comes in out of nowhere with the most comical synthesizer solo since "Lucky Man", and it kicks butt as you might imagine.

If you love Jack Bruce's solo material from the late 60s and early 70s, there's no reason why you shouldn't grab this. It's an imperfect document, but of a very special moment in time, a moment you won't hear elsewhere. For more casual fans of this kind of thing, tread carefully - it's not the All-Star-Blow-Session you might expect, it's a mostly laid back, loose and mildly jammy (vocally and insturmentally) set of readings of extremely eclectic jazzy pop songs.

HolyMoly | 4/5 |

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