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


Bruford Levin Upper Extremities


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.71 | 36 ratings

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4 stars One of the more nagging worries among fans of KING CRIMSON is whether or not the band could (or should) continue without the guiding influence of its loyal but reluctant lead guitarist, Robert Fripp. Unthinkable, you say? Maybe, but not if you subscribe to the typically Frippian assertion that Crimson is more a guiding aesthetic principle than a group of particular musicians. In which case the unthinkable has perhaps already happened.

A likely heir to the throne of the Crimson King was the BRUFORD LEVIN UPPER EXTREMITIES quartet, an unofficial fractal (or was it a fraKctal?) of the double trio KC line-up, led by the ace rhythm team of drummer Bill Bruford and bassist Tony Levin, the backbone of more than one classic King Crimson incarnation. In its all-too brief life span the splinter group released only one studio album, followed by this essential two-CD live set of eclectic post-modern instrumental music, combining the power of rock and the freedom of jazz with the boundless creative spirit of four world-class musicians unwilling to play by the rules.

Joining the rhythm buddies were guitarist David Torn and trumpeter Chris Botti: a formidable combination of mismatched but complementary talents. Torn was the musical wild card of the group, worlds away from the more structured mayhem of Fripp at full steam, with a guitar technique described by Levin in the enclosed road diaries as sounding not unlike "seagulls on acid". And throwing a trumpet into the mix was like adding extra icing to an already rich cake recipe. The lean, clean lines of Chris Botti's horn keep the music firmly grounded when it threatens to fly too far into uncharted territory, and also give the band its cool jazz flavor (but in the more non-traditional electric jazz mode of later Miles Davis).

Altogether they offered a welcome, more organic contrast to the uncompromising juggernaut Fripp and company were then developing (see "The ConstruKction of Light"). Keep in mind that King Crimson itself was a much jazzier outfit when it first attracted Bill Bruford's attention, back in 1972.although that warmer side of their collective psyche didn't last very long, did it? And Levin will happily play just about anything that strikes his fancy (and just about everything does).

I can't compare these concert versions to their studio alter egos, but musicians of this caliber are typically at their best in a live setting, taking bigger risks than in the safer environment of a recording studio. At any rate the range and variety of moods here makes it sound like a compilation of a half dozen different groups. You only have to sample the first few tracks of Disc One to hear the rarified strata these guys were operating in.

The show opens with the dense, formless improvisation of "Piercing Glances", using Levin's brooding e-bowed bass to dramatically set up the nervous funk-finger rhythms of "Etude Revisited", a musical rush of pure adrenalin. Next are two compositions authored by Bruford, beginning with "A Palace of Pearls": a slow, almost ambient piece gradually building layers of tension over Bruford's tuned percussion, until the entire band reaches an ecstatic, simultaneous climax. The more playful "Original Sin" (later re-arranged by the drummer for his acoustic jazz quartet: see EARTHWORKS, "Footloose and Fancy Free") has Botti's muted Miles Davis trumpet trading space with Torn's wild echo-chamber wah-wah guitar effects.

Little of which prepares the listener for the electro-shock psycho-drama soundtrack of the oddly titled "Dentures of the Gods", or the absolutely gorgeous late-night vibe of "Deeper Blue", easily the coolest cut on either CD, driven by Botti's romantic horn work and a slow, sensuous bass pattern by Levin. Which in turn leads into "Cobalt Canyons", a full-throttle rocker with a curious Middle- Eastern introduction courtesy of David Torn, actually a vocal sample of a Moslem call to prayer strummed (who knows how) directly into the pickups of his guitar.

And that's just the first CD. Expect more of the same (only totally different) on Disc Two, including an 11-minute encore introduced by an erudite Bruford as "seven minutes of some of the most abstruse music you're ever likely to hear", and titled "3 Minutes of Pure Entertainment".plus an intergalactic techno remix by Torn (working under the pseudonym Splatter Cell) of the melancholy "Deeper Blue", here aptly re-named "Outer Blue".

It's too bad other commitments kept the band from becoming anything more than a strictly provisional enterprise, but the best musicians are always the busiest, aren't they? BLUE may have been a mere flash in the pan, but they burned incandescent for a while, and it's reassuring to know there's someone waiting to take the crown should the Crimson King ever abdicate his throne.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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