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Bruford’s Earthworks, featuring Tim Garland - Random Acts Of Happiness
Review No: 279
Bill Bruford: Drums Assorted
Tim Garland: Tenor and Soprano saxophones, flute, bass clarinet
Steve Hamilton: Piano
Mark Hodgson: Bass
Bill Bruford’s Earthworks are presently celebrating their twentieth anniversary, and if their last album is anything to go on, long may they continue.
Earthworks (Edition Two) were originally formed after Bill Bruford’s two year collaboration with Patrick Moraz (who first rose to fame as replacement for Keith Emerson in a band called ‘Refugee’ after ‘Nice’ broke up) and an aborted attempt to get that old cart horse of a band ‘Yes’ back on the road, which was not one of Bill Bruford’s better moves.
Earthworks (Edition One) 1986, was a hugely successful jazz orientated band with Bill Bruford experimenting using electronic drums to supplement the jazz sound. Four highly original and musically exciting albums were released featuring various musicians including multi-instrumentalist Django Bates and saxophonist Iain Bellamy.
Then once again the call went out for Bill Bruford to re-join his old cohort Robert Fripp in ‘King Crimson’ in King Crimson’s double trio which lasted for three years from 1994 -1997, sharing drum responsibilities with Pat Mastelotto. A highly successful touring unit that released several live CD’s and a cracking live DVD called ‘Eyes Wide Open’, not actually released until 2003.
You have to remember at this stage of his career Bill Bruford had been playing drums professionally for thirty years. He had already built up the reputation as the drummer’s drummer, and it was often said that at any concert that Bill Bruford was playing in, the first five rows were taken up by drummers trying to work out his technique.
Bill Bruford’s jazz style had always been evident as his childhood heroes were such drummers as Art Blakey. In 1969 Buddy Rich watched the young Bill Bruford through his entire set from the side of the stage, and afterwards, walking off, simply said, “He is a great drummer ... good hands”. From Buddy Rich the ultimate compliment. He had also been a founder member of ‘Yes’, ‘UK’ with John Wetton, Allan Holdsworth, and Eddie Jobson, been a member of ‘King Crimson’ three times, The Bruford / Moraz Band, ‘Bruford’, ‘The Roy Harper Band’, and been a member of ‘Genesis’ at the height of their success, as well as countless solo albums, collaborations, and session work. So his credentials were not exactly in question.
But then it was back to Earthworks (Edition Two).
My Heart Declares
The second edition went back to basics, revisiting the broadly acoustic sax-piano-bass-drums line up. The first stable line up included Patrick Clahar, the fast rising tenorist best known for his work with ‘Incognito’; Mark Hodgson on bass, and Steve Hamilton on piano. Although the line-up of Bill Bruford’s Earthworks was relatively stable in jazz terms, inevitably in jazz quartets people move on, and others move in. For the recording of this album the excellent Tim Garland, who made his name with Chick Corea, had replaced Patrick Clahar. More recently Steve Hamilton has been replaced on the ivories by Gwilym Simcock, who last year won the prestigious BBC radio’s rising young musician of the year award. This year Laurence Cottie took over the bass position in the quartet.
‘Random Acts of Happiness’, released in 2004, is a wonderful live album, although you do not notice this until the audience burst into applause at the end of the first song ‘My Heart Declares A Holiday’, a number that allows all the musicians to stretch out musically preparing themselves for what is to come.
This album is also the first recording to show off the talents of Tim Garland within the band, and the results are astonishing, quite simply a joy to the ear. Do not let the jazz tag put you off either if you are a newcomer to this form of music and think it is only listened to by men with pipes, scarves, beards, and deer stalker hats. Jazz / Fusion would be a good category to put this under as this reviewer has no idea what that exactly means! If it means music played with a basis of jazz and then taken out of it’s box and allowed to enjoy itself then this is what we have.
Describing the music is not easy: joyous at times, imaginative, thoughtful, intense, and certainly unpredictable, but certainly never boring. Tim Garland seems to have taken over the lion’s share of the new compositions, and his penchant for not curtailing a song too quickly works well here.
‘White Knuckle Wedding’ with it’s long and winding melody also features Tim Garland on flute, which adds another string to the Earthworks bow. (Great title for a song by the way.) While Earthworks is still essentially an acoustic jazz quartet, they do not let themselves be shackled to this format. Tim Garland still dabbles with electronics using a pitch-shifter to add an oriental flavour to the end of ‘White Knuckle Wedding’ (just had to say that title one more time). He also does the same thing with his saxophone on ‘Speaking With Wooden Tongues’.
‘Tarmontana’ and ‘Bajo Del Sol’ with their Latin-leanings demonstrate some of the influence that Chick Corea had on Tim Garland whilst he was with the great man. Throughout the recording Bill Bruford lives up to his reputation, if not surpassing it. In the hands of Bill Bruford, all the songs become more than the whole. Bruford’s mathematical precision on the tighter pieces like ‘Modern Folk’ compare favourably with the loose feel he is able to impart to his approach to songs like ‘Bajo Del Sol’, shows an artist who, while already at the top of his particular tree continues to look for new inspiration and further develop his sound and approach.
Whilst some of the songs are brand new the band is not afraid to look back at work from previous line ups of Bill Bruford’s earlier bands, and re-invent songs like ‘Seems Like A Lifetime Ago (part one)’ and ‘One Of A Kind (parts one and two)’, which come from Bill Bruford’s early Seventies work and bring a fair helping of progressive rock to the proceedings, whilst proving the old saying: a good tune is always a good tune. Songs that seemed unimaginable twenty years ago without Allan Holdsworth’s guitar woven into them seem quite exhilarating in their new home.
So now it is Thailand’s turn to be Brufordized (sic)/ Bill Bruford’s Earthworks will be playing the Hua Hin Jazz Festival on Friday June 2nd. Then on Saturday 3rd June they will playin Pattaya at Silverland Vineyards, run by music enthusiast Dennis Dila who manages Silverlake Vineyards. Also present will be one of the directors of the promotion company, Mark Bolam of ‘Enlightened Planet’, who will be only to delighted to answer any questions you have over upcoming events at Silverlake Vineyards. Gates open at 5 p.m. and there will be plenty of food (both Thai and international) and drink stalls available, so you can sit back and watch the sunset over the vineyards before settling down in the natural amphitheatre to watch four of the world’s top musicians go about their job. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks hitting the stage about 7.30 p.m.