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Reviews in this issue:
Jack Bruce Special
- Jack Bruce - Somethin Els
- Jack Bruce - Cities Of The Heart
- Jack Bruce - Monkjack
- Jack Bruce - Silver Rails
Jack Bruce - Somethin Els
Bonus Tracks - The Wind Cries Mary (5:44), Lizard On A Hot Rock (3:02), Rope Ladder To The Moon (5:06)
Jack Bruce - Cities Of The Heart
CD 1 - Can You Follow? (1:56), Running Thro' Our Hands (4:13), Over The Cliff (3:46), Statues (7:36), First Time I Met The Blues (4:46), Smiles & Grins (9:48), Bird Alone (9:55), Neighbour, Neighbour (5:31), Born Under A Bad Sign (6:17)
CD 2 - Ships In The Night (5:20), Never Tell Your Mother She's Out Of Tune (4:18), Theme For An Imaginary Western (5:59), Golden Days (5:38), Life On Earth (5:22), NSU (6:28), Sitting On Top Of The World (6:51), Politician (5:39), Spoonful (9:13), Sunshine Of Your Love (8:07)
Jack Bruce - Monkjack
Jack Bruce - Silver Rails
Tracklist: Candlelight (4:20), Reach For The Night (6:19), Fields Of Forever (4:35), Hidden Cities (5:01), Don't Look Now (5:06), Rusty Lady (5:13), Industrial Child (3:40), Drone (4:47), Keep It Down (4:57), No Surrender (3:33)
Jack Bruce should require no introduction as he has been a near permanent fixture in the music world for over five decades starting out in such groundbreaking groups as Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, The Graham Bond Quartet/Organisation, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Manfred Mann and the short-lived Powerhouse (with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood) before going global with Cream. Post Cream he has had an enduring solo career spanning some 19 albums as well as a member of numerous collaborative groups including West, Bruce and Laing, BLT (Bruce, Lordan and Trower) and BBM (Bruce, Baker and Moore). Add to that the innumerable contributions to classic recordings he has made as a session musician, his widely respected skills and influence as both a bassist and vocalist, and the fact that he has survived copious levels of drug abuse, liver cancer and the rejection of a liver transplant only to bounce back and continue to produce quality performances and recordings with consummate professionalism requires that due respect and admiration is afforded this mainstay of British musicianship.
The first part of this review is focused on the reissue of three solo albums, two studio, one live, released between 1993 and 1995. The first of these, Somethin Els had been 6 years in the making, finally being released by the German CMP label in 1993, some ten years after his last solo release, the experimental, and disappointing, electronic keyboard album Automatic. One of the reasons for the lengthy gestation was Bruce's long battle with his addictions and the final conquering of his drug use that at the end of the 1970s had become so prolific that he had practically driven himself into bankruptcy. Featuring a cast of accomplished musicians, including a reunion with Clapton, the album is a solid, if somewhat unremarkable album. Standout tracks include two of the three with Clapton - Waiting On A Word and the lovely Ships In The Night with the outstanding Maggie Reilly on vocals. Clapton's other contribution is some meaty guitar on Willpower which is a pretty nondescript song that lacks any real structure and has some very '80s sounding keyboards. Bruce is in fine vocal form himself blending well with Reilly, who also provides backing vocals to Peaces Of The East on which all of the instruments, apart from some additional drums added by Stuart Elliot, are played by Bruce. Somewhat experimental, it is very different from the rest of the material on the album. Bruce is also an accomplished pianist and he demonstrates this to good effect on the intro and middle 'jazz club' section of Close Enough For Love, which is crying out for a re-recording or re-mixing, replacing the rather dated keyboard sounds with a more sympathetic arrangement as the vocals are particularly impressive, and the solo piano instrumental FM which closed the original album. A sprightly G.B. Dawn Blues features saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, whom Bruce first played with in the days of Blues Incorporated and the Graham Bond Organisation. Unfortunately it is a rather run-of-the-mill number but better than Criminality which is very trite and tedious. Fortunately, Childsong raises the bar with a smooth vocal, some lovely saxophone runs from David Liebman, and plenty of percussive effects by Bruce, Trilok Gurtu and Mark Nauseef. The association with Nauseff extended to Bruce contributing to The Snake Music album by Nauseef and Miroslav Tadic, from which the three bonus tracks are culled. The album, released in 1994, was voted by the music critics of LA Weekly as one of the ten best recordings of 1994, a result that gives credence to the statement that you should never trust a critic (which I am aware introduces a paradox coming as it does from this critic!). I would have thought it very difficult to unintentionally ruin as good a song as The Wind Cries Mary, but the version presented here is the most turgid and uninspired dirge I have heard in a long time. Lizard On A Hot Rock, featuring the treated trumpet sounds of Markus Stockhausen, is livelier but not much better and it is a travesty what they have done to Bruce's own Rope Ladder To The Moon. I have no idea if Bruce plays or sings on any of the other nine tracks on this album, but if they are of the same style as these three tracks then I won't be at all disappointed if I never find out.
1993 was also a time for reflection for Bruce as there was a one-off reunion with Cream for their introduction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, in November, a series of concerts were held in Cologne to celebrate the musician's 50th birthday. Assembling an impressive array of musicians the concerts were, in essence, highlights from the bassists' musical career. Fittingly, the first CD opens with Bruce alone at the piano and the excellent Can You Follow? which is followed by the somewhat similar Running Thro' Our Hands on which he is supported by keyboards played by (drummer!) Gary Husband. Both tracks emphasise Bruce's fine singing voice. Next up are two instrumental numbers, Over The Cliff and Statues from the acoustic free jazz album Things We Like recorded with John McLaughlin, Dick Heckstall-Smith, and Jon Hiseman, although on these live versions only Heckstall-Smith reprises his role, with drums being played by Ginger Baker and the trio dispensing with a guitarist completely. Personally I am not much of a fan of jazz, particularly free jazz, and these two numbers, although undoubtedly well played, leave me somewhat cold. The trio, augmented by the much under-rated Clem Clempson, take a dive into the blues with a decent but pretty standard version of Buddy Guy's First Time I Met The Blues but it is only after this that things start to get really interesting for me. Smiles & Grins, from Bruce's 1971 album Harmony Row, is a tour de force; with the composer's magnificent bass ruling the roost, the Hammond of Bernie Worrell (from Parliament/Funkadelic/P-Funk etc.) and the synth of Bruce's son Malcolm adding texture as things really gel together. Husband takes control of the drum kit and provides a more exciting series of rhythms than conjured by Baker; with all that going on, the dual saxes of Heckstall-Smith and Art Themen are somewhat less prominent in the mix. Bird Alone features just Bruce, Clempson, Worrell and Husband but the quartet really rock out, a phenomenal display of playing that would be hard to better by bands that had been playing together for years. The earliest days of Bruce's career get a look in with Neighbour, Neighbour a live staple of The Graham Bond Organisation so it is fitting that the three members of that band present at the concert (Bruce, Baker, Heckstall-Smith) should be included on this track, alongside a strengthened brass section of Themen, John Mumford (trombone) and Henry Lowther (trumpet), the mainstays of Clempson and Worrell and the excellent Simon Phillips sitting in on drums. The arrangement has a real swing to it with Clempson's solo of particular note. Indeed, the guitarist is also particularly inspiring on Born Under A Bad Sign with a different slant given to this standard by the nine-piece 'big band' arrangement, the additional member being another of Bruce's sons, Jonas, filling in on piano. Worrell and Clempson play great together, the classic Hammond and electric guitar combination never sounding finer.
Disc 2 starts by taking the tempo down a bit with the only song from the recently released Somethin Els to be represented on the album, and obviously the choice had to be Ships In The Night with Maggie Reilly present to sing her part of the duet. I actually prefer this live version - Clempson's solo probably surpasses that of Clapton's original, the Hammond (Worrell) and piano (Husband) complement each other and Phillips, sharp and accurate drumming is as incisive as ever. The importance placed on the vocal delivery by Bruce sees him just singing and handing over bass duties for the first time to Francois Garny. It is a treat to hear two songs from Bruce's first solo album, Songs For A Tailor, a favourite of mine, and who could argue with the selection of Never Tell Your Mother She's Out Of Tune complete with its bouncing horn section and the timeless Theme For An Imaginary Western. Both performances are top drawer with Clempson again shining on his solo. The last of the Clempson/Worrell/Phillips/Garny numbers - Bruce having played piano on the past three numbers - is another ballad duet, Golden Days from 1974's Out Of The Storm sung with Gary Cooper, although nice to hear again it is probably the weakest number on this disc, although the acoustic guitar solo is a delight. Bruce seems to favour trios of guitar bass and drums so it is no surprise that the majority of the rest of this CD focuses on such combinations. First is Bruce with Phillips and Gary Moore and a blistering rendition of Life on Earth from 1989's A Question of Time and from then on in it is Cream Classics all the way. For the first four - NSU, Sitting On Top Of The World, Politician and Spoonful - the line-up is the one that would release an album together the following year; Bruce, Baker and Moore. I am unaware if that album was already in the planning stage or if it was this concert that formulated the idea of the three musicians combining but whatever, they do a sterling job of resurrecting the spirit of Cream. One suspects that Clapton refused an offer to be a part of the concert as he wanted to avoid the spectre of an actual Cream reunion but this trio do a fine job, with Moore contributing more aggressive guitar lines than Clapton would have probably delivered. Of course, Baker's ego wouldn't let him take to a stage without performing a solo but thankfully he is limited to a brief stint before the start of NSU and it is good to see that Bruce's long-term lyric writing partner Pete Brown is not forgotten and brought on stage to add some vocals to Politician. The CD set is completed by a rousing finale of Sunshine Of Your Love with a total of 15 guest musicians taking to the stage (the only omissions being Maggie Reilly and Gary Moore), which is probably my favourite of the Cream renditions, in no small part due to Worrell's performance on the Hammond.
It seems that Bruce was also impressed with Worrell as following the short-lived BBM, Bruce decided that his next musical venture would be totally different, just himself on piano and vocals and Worrell on Hammond B3 organ. The resulting album, 1995's Monkjack, is totally different from anything previously released by the famous bassist. And it works remarkably well, giving a greater prominence to the voice which, despite the abuse over the years, was in remarkably fine fettle. The piano and organ are natural collaborators adding colour, preventing the album from being too stark and sparse throughout. Although, having said that, opening number The Food is Bruce alone at the piano. Confidence in the music is shown by a trio of instrumental numbers, Shouldn't We, whose simple arrangement is quite enticing, Know One Blues where the two musicians match each other perfectly and Immortal Ninth which is the weakest of the three and a rather disappointing way to end the album. The album does contain some of Jack's most distinctive songs, David's Harp and Time Repairs for instance are not by any means well known songs, but are as good, or better, than many of the more familiar songs Bruce is associated with. Laughing On Music Street too, is an ambitious and somewhat riveting listen, even if the dirge-like style is far from anything to laugh at! Also included are a couple of older songs rearranged for the duo. Both tracks, Folk Song from Harmony Row and Weird Of Hermiston from Songs For A Tailor, are classic Bruce numbers and some may think it superfluous, or even sacrilege, to undertake re-recording them. However, both are a joy, the former containing a fine vocal performance and the latter utterly transformed by the delightful lead piano and mid-song organ break. Tightrope takes a while to get going and, truth be told, the short vocal section at the beginning of the track is not all that spectacular but what follows is a cut above, one of the few times the pair move away from a more mellow and sedate vibe with more adventurous and dynamic playing. The vocal reprise that ends the song is not any better hearing it second time round! The slow blues of Willie Dixon and Eddie Boyd's Third Degree is another song with just piano and vocals and although it does show Bruce's ability on the instrument it is pretty predictable, Blues by cliché...
Jumping forward 19 years we arrive at Silver Rails, a brand new Jack Bruce album and the first in a decade. With the support of a splendid cast of musicians and a host of great guitarists including such luminaries as Phil Manzanera, Tony Rémy, Uli Jon Roth, Robin Trower and Bernie Marsden, the album shows that age is no restraint on the 71-year-old. Sure, the voice is a little more fragile but maintains the familiar warmth and is still superior to many younger a musician. There is really not a duff song amongst the 10 tracks and at least a couple that are instant classics. Falling into this latter category is the remarkable Reach For The Night, nothing really spectacular but it is an emotive smorgasbord. John Medeski shows that Bruce is still in love with the sound of the Hammond organ, the tasteful solo of which is matched by that of Derek Nash on tenor saxophone. There is even a Mellotron for the prog purists, despite the fact that the song is hardly what one would call progressive rock and, besides, the Mellotron is almost inaudible. Unsurprisingly, that song is a Bruce/Brown composition, one of seven on the album and the product of one of the most enduring writing partnerships in rock. The pair certainly have a knack of delivering as the next track, Fields Of Forever continues to demonstrate. A pretty standard song in many respects but the melody is very memorable. Hard to imagine that the one-time guitarist for German heavy rock band The Scorpions would have ever have thought he would end up playing on a Jack Bruce album, but there he is on Hidden Cities and doing a fine and restrained job on a very enjoyable track that is notable for its unique style, made all the more enticing by four female supporting vocalists. The blues based Rusty Lady is somewhat formulaic and is consequently one of the weakest songs on the album mainly because it offers nothing new over what has been done numerous time before. Robin Trower's solo is rather nice though.
In contrast, the next, and final, four tracks are definitely standout numbers. The lovely Industrial Child is mainly piano and vocal although Rémy's rather subtle acoustic guitar would definitely be missed if it was mixed out. Drone is the most adventurous tracks on the album and just so happens to be the only Bruce solo composition. Bruce generates some amazing sounds from his bass, the only instrument on the track besides drums, dive-bombing aeroplanes fly throughout the track dominated by a heavy and overloaded bass that would make Chris Squire weep. Final two numbers feature a childhood hero of mine, the fantastically versatile Bernie Marsden. I have always loved his playing and consider it a great shame that he is not more highly regarded - ah the perils of being in a pop band! His tone on Keep It Down is sublime and was such an enjoyment I actually wrote and told him! More nice Hammond playing from Medeski and overall the kind of song that really floats my boat. No surrender! is no slouch either and includes another great guitar solo from Marsden ending the album on a positive and forward thinking note.
So a rather mammoth review of four albums by a national institution. Covering a wide variety of music and styles each has its strengths and some weaknesses, particularly on the first two of this quartet. The promising thing is that Bruce is still going strong and his latest album shows no deterioration in quality and in many ways is a match for the best of his solo output.
Somethin Els: 6 out of 10
Cities Of The Heart: 7 out of 10
Monkjack: 7 out of 10
Silver Rails: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Jack Bruce CD Reviews:-
|"A very interesting and intriguing record from one of the finest rock musicians of all time."|
(Menno von Brucken Fock, 7/10)
|Out Of The Storm|
|"...this album together with Songs For A Tailor and Harmony Row form a trilogy of excellence from Jack Bruce that sounds as fresh today as it did 40 years ago."|
(Roger Trenwith, 8/10)
|I've Always Wanted To Do This|
|"What we have then, is a well played and produced album of solidly consistent songs that will be a delight for Jack Bruce fans..."|
(Mark Hughes, 6/10)