Prog

BILL BRUFORD’S EARTHWORKS

Dig? SUMMERFOLD

- NH

Former Crimson and Yes drummer’s late 80s jazz odyssey revisited.

Bill Bruford retired from drumming in 2009, but in his long and varied career he was a restless soul, always challengin­g himself to find new ways of working, not just in prog with Yes and King Crimson, but in jazz, which proved to be one of his greatest passions.

Bruford firmly establishe­d his jazz credential­s in 1986 by inviting young British musicians to form Earthworks: keyboard and tenor horn player Django Bates, and saxophonis­t Iain Ballamy, both from the anarchic big band Loose Tubes. Bassist Mick Hutton was the fourth member, but by the time this second album was released, he had been replaced by Tim Harries.

Bruford personally curates the reissue of the Earthworks albums on his Summerfold label, here adding two live bonus tracks, Emotional Shirt and Pigalle. On several songs he experiment­ed with ‘chordal drums’, creating harmonies by using drum pads to trigger keyboard patches via Simmons SDX electronic drums. The technology was advanced for the time, but sometimes it failed, including during a gig at Madison Square Garden. Today, it can be difficult to tell whether keyboard parts are provided by Django Bates or Bruford himself, and occasional­ly it sounds slightly clattery and too busy.

But there’s still a great deal to enjoy here. The ‘mutant’ cover of Tony Hatch’s Downtown (made famous by Petula Clark), occasional­ly bursts into life with the song’s theme, in upbeat and then a humorously mordant version, with a superb fretless bassline. The melodic, melancholy ballads, Gentle Persuasion and Pilgrim’s Way, feature some lovely saxophone playing. And the fiercely joyful offbeat groove of Libreville, with deliciousl­y scurrying keyboards, will keep any prog fan happy. World music colours, often electronic, are added on several tracks, including the didgeridoo on Corrobee, “a festive gathering of aboriginal elders”. And the live tracks, sounding more organic than the studio recordings, are breathtaki­ngly edgy and joyfully virtuosic as the band takes flight.

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