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Bruford Levin Upper Extremities - Bruford Levin Upper Extremities CD (album) cover


Bruford Levin Upper Extremities


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.95 | 75 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Still getting my feet wet in the Jazz and Jazz-Rock musical arena, I will often reach out for more familiar names as a way of ensuring my enjoyment of the music in question. Since I'm familiar with Tony Levin and Bill Bruford's work from elsewhere, picking up seemed like a no-brainer. I'm very happy with that choice, because this truly is a great album.

''Cerulean Sea'' Starts out with a nice ambient fade in, soon followed by harsh, chugging electric guitar. After that, Levin's signature bass style comes in, and finally some lyric-less vocals and flute effects (apparently all produced by loops and keyboards) come in to complete the atmospheric ensemble. Bill Bruford's solid, creative drumming is in full form on this track as always, and although this track is more or less a rinse and repeat of the musical build I just described, it's still really fun to listen to. And of course Bruford mixes things up with his various drum styles, so even when Levin and Torn are playing the same thing over again, Bill is helping keep the originality and excitement consistent. Over all not the greatest track, but still worth hearing. There is some creepy little moments during the last few seconds of this track as well. I'm not sure how much Jazz-Rock influence there is in here as much as it is Eclectic Prog Rock, but either way, it's good.

''Original SIn'' Is the first moment on this effort that is undeniably Jazz-influenced. Levin and Bruford provide a very groovy rhythm section while Chris Botti takes the lead role on trumpet. David Torn's guitar takes more of a backseat in this, providing an eery ambience through his otherworldy guitar effects, though he does get the opportunity to show off his chops around 1:37. He doesn't play like a typical Jazz player, here. But then again, his solo isn't all that Rock-oriented, either. Around 2:32, Botti comes back in with a beautiful lead, and all the while Bruford and Levin provide that solid backbeat. All of the players play equal roles for a little while until the four minute mark gets close. AT that point, Torn once again breaks out his stuff, and this time Botti chimes in as well, and they have a semi-duel with their instruments until the end. A few more last-minute flourishes from Botti brings this fantastic track to a close. Better than the last, undoubtedly.

''Etude Revisited''. This track is more Rock-oriented than either of the previous songs. I really like the tasteful diversity present on this record. It's probably the darkest song yet, with Torn providing single-chord strumming rhythm tracks as well as overdubbing himself with long, wailing bouts of feedback to add even more atmosphere. Botti is on top of his game as well, bringing forth some truly wild trumpet sections. Torn seen enough begins to play solid lead work over himself alongside Botti, and the pairing is dynamic as hell. Bruford is playing a consistent, stomping drive beat that rushes the song onward with plenty of angst. By the halfway point, the music has risen to place of wondrous heights, with everybody (except Levin) giving their all. It's a truly wonderful musical moment. At around 3:52 the rest of the instruments die away, making way for Torn to groove out on his own. This lasts only for a moment, however, and at 4:02, the entire band snaps back into gear again, making the power and grandeur of this music even more apparent to the listener. Like I said, I didn't think Levin was as audible or stand-out on this particular song, although it IS my favorite track on the album despite that.

''A Palace Of Pearls (On A Blade Of Grass)'' Has a very disorienting, subdued opening, with Bruford playing different odd bits of percussion, and Botti spewing out single, drawn out notes along with Levin in the background. It all gives the music a sense of foreboding and distant anxiety. Soon, Botti begins to take the reigns a bit more in the trumpet department, and his clear Jazz stylings begin to take shape once again. It's a gorgeous track, and also very sorrowful. Not much changes until a little after the three minute point, when solid, spaced-out drum beats finally start to take over. The distance between the notes becomes smaller and smaller, then again it all breaks away. Now only the initial percussion, echoing trumpet and light keyboards are present. In a very Avant-Garde musical sweep, primarily run by Bruford and his crazy playing, this track slowly winds down and comes to a stop. It's not nearly as exciting as previous songs, but it doesn't need to be. It's lovely just as it is. Besides, the next track more than makes up for this one's lack of speed.

''Fin de Siecle'' right from the start has a much clearer sense of urgency than any other track before it. Distorted guitars, incrediblu punchy bass and the chugging drums work together to create an odd-time rhythm section that doesn't relent. It's wonderfully groovy, and certainly has a more modern, Rock quality to it. Botti's trumpet is still there, but you get him in stints. He is missing for long periods of time as Levin and Torn trade off the lead instrument role. Eventually, around the 2:27 mark, things calm down and Botti gets to shine. Levin also comes in and plays the lead parts alongside the trumpet in a style that reminds me very much of Chris Squire. Some simple yet exact guitar chords sneak in from beneath the two main instruments, and then Levin takes over, causing the whole thing to reset. Once again, the brilliant rhythmic tricks comes in, but this time including a little more of Botti's trumpet, which helps the song seems more full, and the band more complete. Powerful, killer percussion plays the song out with style.

''Drumbass''. As much as I enjpy the cleverness of the wordplay, here, there is nothing much going on musically, and isn't all that fun to listen to, in my opinion. Not that it's meant to be anything more than a short interlude, I mean, it's only fifty-some odd seconds long.

''Cracking The Midnight Glass''. This song has probably the most powerful opening of all the tracks on the album. That sense of calm doesn't last long, however, and soon we are thrown into a schizophrenic rhythmic section that puts me instantly in mind of Led Zeppelin's ''Kashmir''. But this isn't that song, of course, and we eventually comes into direct contact with David Torn's wildest moment on the record yet. Pure distorted, feedback-heavy electric guitar shredding. Even when he gets more subdued in places, he is still heavily present. As far as I am concerned, this is his track. The other guys take a much lesser role the whole song long, which makes ''Cracking The Midnight Glass'' the most guitar-heavy, electric-oriented track on the record. Some folks may not like that, especially if they are expecting more Jazz than Rock from it, but I think most folks going this album will know what to expect just by looking at the musician lineup. In any case, this is a very good track, and one of my personal favorites. Just realize there is virtually no trumpet and only about 3% Jazz on this particular song, and you'll be fine.

''Torn Drumbass''. Much better than the previous interlude track. Levin takes control of things here beautifully. I actually wish it had been longer. Really great, far-east style playing. Well, at least to my ears, that's what it sounds like.

''Thick With Thin Air'' almost sounds as if were written for a film. It's very visual, with pounding, distant percussion, and not much else for the hole first half of the track. Close to two minutes in, we finally get more. An absolutely lovely clean guitar piece, eventually accompanied by building ambient keyboard layering. The song is then over before it really begins. A subdues track that felt a little incomplete to me. A shame, because I was hoping for that lovely melody to continue and build into something more.

''Cobalt Canyons'' then busts in with every musician again on top of their game, save Botti. Levin may be playing his best stuff on the record, here. Bruford and Torn are also really great at keeping things interesting. Rhythmically, this track is very speedy and complex, but melodically it is some of most funky, groovy stuff yet. I really enjoy this song, mainly because it puts me in mind of my more familiar music territory. This is very much Rock/Metal type guitar playing from Torn, and for me, it's a little piece of familiarity among the Jazzy, Fusion-tinged musical peaks. Since I come out of a Rock background, it's always fun for me to hear that stuff dropped in the middle of this type of music. By the song's end, Bruford is at his most impressive, gliding all over the kit with such ferocity and accuracy it's mind-blowing. A really good, rocking track.

''Deeper Blue'' is another straightforward (more-or-less) Jazz song in which Levin and Botti are the two main players. Levin is driving a most impressively beautiful musical vehicle white Botti rides atop it, playing his heart out on his trumpet. Soon you can also hear Bruford, paving the road for these men in his most Jazz-flavored playing yet. Sounds like soft playing with brushes and cymbal scrapes. Eventually, things get a little more varied and Bruford becomes more of a prominent piece of this musical puzzle. After than, the song dies down, returning to the same attitude and approach it started out with, and that is where it ends. Brilliant.

''Presidents Day'' is the final track, and it begins with a very Avant-Garde trumpet section, which never really stops. Torn is also playing his guitar unusually, helping to add additional frantic flourishes to the piece. Bruford also doesn't disappoint, and while Levin certainly is present, here, I still think his best moment on the album was on ''Cobalt Canyons''. Everything else he does on the album is SO subdued, I think he sometimes gets overshadowed by the bigger, more obvious playing of his peers. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, except I'm such a Levin fan, I think there could have been more of 'him' on it. I mean, a good bit of this final track is just noisegates created by Torn with Botti playing alongside them. Overall, though, the whole record is really fun to listen to, and worthy to add to any music fan's shelf. Especially if you're a Prog or Jazz-Rock fan predominantly.

Being someone who listened almost exclusively to Rock and Pop music growing up, i can tell you; Jazz and Jazz-Rock/Fusion is some of the most rewarding music I have ever had the pleasure of getting into. It may take a few attempts to find the right entry point, but once you do, you'll fall in love. I know I have. This album in particular is just the right mixture of everything, that I think newcomers to this style of music will be very happy with it, and I don't think there is any reason you shouldn't try it out. A couple of weaker tracks here and there, but on the whole a very solid, gripping release. Very highly recommended.

Happy listening.

JLocke | 4/5 |


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