Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Bruce (1943 - 2014)

When I woke up this morning, I never dreamed I'd be writing the above words today. I just heard that Jack Bruce, one of my favorite musicians, has passed away.  I discovered him through the band Cream in 1970,  about the time I really discovered rock music in general.  I loved his playing and singing on all the Cream albums but then I bought his first solo LP, Songs For A Tailor, and that became my entry point to an entire new world of British jazz-rock through investigating the musicians who backed him there, like Jon Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith of Colosseum and Chris Spedding of Nucleus.

With his lyricist partner, poet Pete Brown, Bruce wrote a number of excellent songs over the years.  The best known, of course, were the Cream hits, "White Room" and "Sunshine Of Your Love" but others like "Rope Ladder To The Moon" and "Theme For An Imaginary Western" have been kept alive by various other musicians.  What I loved most about Bruce is that he was always willing to experiment. He would turn up in all sorts of situations,  usually with musicians who were as eager to explode boundaries as he was.  He was one of the lead vocalists on Carla Bley's epic concept album, Escalator Over The Hill, participated in many of the jazz-Latin-rock-funk stews cooked up by composer Kip Hanrahan, played with Frank Zappa in that brief period when FZ was making Top 10 records, and was one of the members of the pioneering jazz-rock band, The Tony Williams Lifetime.  His own records could explore blues, big band jazz and fusion or just be an excellent collection of rock songs. For all his experiments though, every few years he seemed to go back to the exhilarating format of a guitar, bass and drums trio jamming out alongside guitarists like Leslie West, Vernon Reid, Gary Moore and Robin Trower, which seemed to inevitably lead to getting back together with his Cream mates, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, to play reunion concerts in 2005. Just last year he was joining heavy hitters like Reid, John Medeski and Cindy Blackman-Santana in a Lifetime tribute band, Spectrum Road.

Bruce had an expressive voice that could croon romantically or bark with fury. His music was deep, fiery and magical.  I started looking around for clips of him to post and I was very surprised to see how many different contexts and bands he appeared in.  Then again, I shouldn't have been surprised at all. I apologize in advance for the quality of some of these clips, but a few are so rare I had to include them, no matter what.

First, "There's A Forest" from 1980. Jack's band is Clem Clempson on guitar, David L. Sancious on keyboards and Billy Cobham on drums.

This is Jack with one of Kip Hanrahan's overstuffed, rhythm-heavy ensembles live in 1985 at Washington, DC's 930 club.  I know this show well because, believe it or not, I was there. The other musicians include Andy Gonzalez on acoustic bass, Milton Cardona on percussion, Arto Lindsay and Steve Swallow on guitar and John Stubbefield on tenor sax. This video is in two parts.

Here's Jack on piano doing "Theme From An Imaginary Western".

And for something completely different, this is Jack singing the dark music of trumpeter-composer Michael Mantler, specifically a setting of the Edward Gorey story, "The Hapless Child":

At the 930 concert mentioned above, the band encored with a certain song Jack played many times back in his Cream days. In fact he probably played it thousands of times in his career with almost every group he played with.  Here it is in its most familiar form, performed by Bruce, Clapton and Baker at the 2005 Cream reunion concerts:

Jack Bruce, R.I.P.

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