CD Review – Bill Bruford – Making A Song and Dance: A Complete-Career Collection Boxset

If ever you were lucky enough to see Bill Bruford live you will no doubt have struggled to tell others just how brilliant it was. His performances could be, and usually were, mesmerising. No matter the size of the venue, from the aircraft-hanger sized arenas to the most intimate of student unions, jazz clubs or arts centres, he was always an incredibly fascinating watch and listen. Much has been written about him over the years – that he was the musician who played jazz in rock bands whilst maintaining the approach of a classical percussionist. He was the man who quit Yes just as they were about to hit the big time. For many, that decision is still perhaps the most famous thing about him. He didn’t seek fame, although that often came with the territory. He was much more concerned with making an artistic mark, creating something that others did not or could not. A few musicians of his generation set about creating a distinctive voice of their own. Steve Howe didn’t sound like Jimmy Page, Martin Barre, Dave Gilmour, Robert Fripp or Ritchie Blackmore. Nor they the others. “There was a big premium put on the notion of difference,” Bill explains. “I wanted to sound different to contemporaries like Carl Palmer (ELP), Brian ‘Blinky’ Davison (Nice) or John Bonham (Led Zeppelin). I figured if I hadn’t heard it before, the other guys in the band probably hadn’t either. Thinking up interesting things to do on a drum kit was my reason to exist. I also thought that was what they were paying me to do. I didn’t care much what the critic, commentator or musicologist thought, and that was to remain my lodestone, my modus operandi for many years.”

This magnificent boxset has been collated by Bill himself and is career spanning. Rather than choosing perhaps the obvious presentation, that he refers to as “industry categories”, the progressive rock, the jazz, the fusion, or the “other”, he has presented the tracks according to his participation in their creation. He therefore splits the selections into his time as The Collaborator (member of the band), The Composing Leader (his own band, doing whatever it took), and The Special Guest (a hired hand, brought in for kudos and/or particular skills). Oddly enough, this roughly follows Bill’s musical time-line. He started in bands (notably Yes, King Crimson, UK) then proceeded to having his own band (Bruford, various incarnations of Earthworks), then moving into guesting with other artists, although there were points when he was still running Earthworks around the time of returning to Yes or King Crimson. But the selections largely eschew these historical niceties.

Across these six discs Bill shares the limelight with an array of fantastic musicians, from progressive rock legends to incomparable jazzers. As Bill has very rarely soloed in his career, on most of these tracks he might be considered the featured player or as playing an arranged part as a member of an ensemble. Even then, he seems to be pushing himself to do something that he hasn’t before. He had a distinctive sound – the pinging snare drum, the dexterous intriguing patterns on the upper kit, and crisp cymbal work, often combined in complex time signatures. He had a flair for improvisation, and his colour-palette was broadened for a while by the technological development of electronic drums until they proved to be too unreliable. This collection is comprised of seventy high quality tracks from across Bill’s forty-year career, with twenty-one different artists and bands. Some of the inclusions seem almost inevitable (Heart Of The Sunrise, Starless, Indiscipline), some much less so (King Crimson’s Big Funk). It includes tracks from Yes, King Crimson, UK, Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe, Bruford, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, along with his work with notable world-renowned guitarists Al Di Meola, Steve Howe and Kazumi Watanabe and collaborations with keyboardists Patrick Moraz and Michiel Borstlap, amongst many others both famous and less so. The package also includes a detailed biographical extended essay in hardbacked book form, written by Bill in his style of thoughtful academic suffused with a dry sense of humour (a familiar trait if you’ve read either of his books), it also features rare and unseen photos and the text is liberally interspersed with quotes from a number of his fellow performers, contemporaries, or admirers, commenting positively on Bill’s style, attitude and performances. The outer box artwork, gatefold CDs and booklet have been designed by his long-time artist and graphic designer Dave McKean and is quite tastefully achieved.

There is quite a telling statement quoted from Bill himself that epitomises his approach to his work. “I’m not a technocrat, nor a music puritan, nor a trained musician. This last one is an important pointer to my musical choices: patchy technical ability has always left me insecure and in need of friends to help me out. It means that I have to seek differentiation elsewhere; through odd meters, perhaps, or electronics, or mallet playing. It means that I don’t always know why something succeeded or failed or, necessarily, how I made it do either,” he says.

This is a remarkable box set in many ways. Firstly, in that a musician, retired since 2009, with such a long and artistically fruitful career, can reflect on that lifework and select tracks that cover such an expansive release. There must have been so many tunes that “almost” made it to selection. Secondly, that the music itself can be so colourfully impactful whilst remaining splendidly diverse. Throughout, you can notice Bill’s progression as a musician. It takes knowledge and experience of one’s craft to be able to improvise so creatively and successfully.  Lastly, when Bill was drumming in rock-music he managed to combine subtlety with drive, moving the tunes often with power, full of ideas and imagination. He fused with bass players creating tremendous rhythm sections, including with Chris Squire, John Wetton, Tony Levin and Jeff Berlin, amongst others. The move into a jazzier world saw the same results, creating sounds from his chosen instruments that no one had achieved before. Throughout, Bill maintained musical intelligence which he combined with innovation and creativity. Robert Fripp reflects that; “Bill is the only man I know who would be prepared to abandon nearly everything he’s worked for and earned as a musician and start again”. Bill Bruford’s journey through music can best be summed up in a single word – unique. Not too many of those musical characters around, they’re to be cherished!

THE COLLABORATOR


Disc One       

  1. Yes – I’ve Seen all Good People
  2. Yes – Heart of the Sunrise
  3. Yes – And You & I
  4. King Crimson – The Great Deceiver
  5. King Crimson – Fracture
  6. King Crimson – One More Red Nightmare
  7. King Crimson – Starless
  8. UK. – Nevermore

Disc Two       

  1. King Crimson – Frame by Frame
  2. King Crimson – Neal and Jack and Me
  3. King Crimson – Heartbeat
  4. King Crimson – Waiting Man
  5. Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe – Brother of Mine (Radio Edit)
  6. King Crimson – Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream
  7. King Crimson – Larks’ Tongues in Aspic: Pt 2
  8. King Crimson – Three of a Perfect Pair
  9. King Crimson – Man with an Open Heart
  10. King Crimson – Elephant Talk
  11. King Crimson – Indiscipline
  12. King Crimson – Big Funk
  13. PianoCircus Bill Bruford & Colin Riley – The Still Small Voice

THE COMPOSING LEADER

Disc THREE

  1. Bruford – Seems Like a Lifetime Ago: Pt 1
  2. Bruford – Seems Like a Lifetime Ago: Pt 2
  3. Bruford – One of a Kind: Pt 1
  4. Bruford – One of a Kind: Pt 2
  5. Bruford – Palewell Park
  6. Bruford – Joe Frazier
  7. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – It Needn’t End in Tears
  8. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – My Heart Declares a Holiday
  9. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – Downtown
  10. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – Pilgrims’ Way
  11. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – Temple of the Winds
  12. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – Candles Still Flicker in Romania’s Dark
  13. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – Nerve
  14. Bruford, Towner, Gomez – Thistledown

Disc FOUR

  1. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – Beelzebub
  2. Bruford-Levin – Original Sin
  3. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – Revel Without a Pause
  4. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – Triplicity
  5. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – The Sound of Surprise
  6. Earthworks Underground Orchestra – Speaking in Wooden Tongues
  7. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – Modern Folk
  8. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – White Knuckle Wedding
  9. Earthworks Underground Orchestra – Footloose and Fancy Free
  10. Earthworks Underground Orchestra – Thud

THE SPECIAL GUEST

Disc FIVE

  1. Roy Harper – Grown Ups are Just Silly Children
  2. Roy Harper – Hallucinating Light
  3. Chris Squire – Lucky Seven (Single Edit)
  4. Chris Squire – Silently Falling
  5. Al Di Meola – Calliope
  6. David Torn – Voodoo Chile
  7. Kazumi Watanabe – Andre
  8. Kazumi Watanabe – Small Wonder
  9. Steve Howe – The Inner Battle
  10. Buddy Rich Big Band – Lingo
  11. Pete Lockett’s Network of Sparks feat. Bill Bruford – Prism
  12. PianoCircus Bill Bruford & Colin Riley – Achilles Feel

THE IMPROVISER

Disc SIX        

  1. Moraz-Bruford – Galatea
  2. Moraz-Bruford – Symmetry
  3. PianoCircus Bill Bruford & Colin Riley – Stalling Between Two Fools
  4. King Crimson – No Warning
  5. Moraz-Bruford – Flags
  6. Moraz-Bruford -Split Seconds
  7. David Torn – Previous Man
  8. David Torn – Three Minutes of Pure Entertainment
  9. Bruford-Borstlap – 16 Kingdoms of the 5 Barbarians
  10. Bruford-Borstlap – Stand on Zanzibar
  11. Earthworks – With Friends Like These…
  12. Bruford-Borstlap – Low Tide, Camber Sands
  13. Bruford-Borstlap – Kinship

Bill Bruford – drums & percussion

With:

Numerous other musicians

Label: BMG

Release date: 29th April, 2022

Format: CD Boxset

Pre-order the Boxset here:https://billbruford.lnk.to/MASDPR

https://www.facebook.com/billbruford

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