Thoroughly mixing It

ONE of the underlying assumptions (at various points argued for) throughout my book Solid Mental Grace: Listening to the Music of Yes is that a wide listening palette enables a much more fruitful interaction with any given music, as well as opening up the frontiers of creativity in performance, arrangement and composition.

So it was interesting to be reminded recently of an especially fecund ‘listening list’ conveyed to the then weekly music paper, Melody Maker, on 6th May 1978, by Bill Bruford — who at that point in his career had passed through the ranks of both Yes and King Crimson, had performed briefly with Gong,  Brand X and Genesis, and had released his first solo album (‘Feels Good to Me’, with stellar collaborators Allan Holdsworth, Dave Stewart, Jeff Berlin, Annette Peacock and master jazzer Kenny Wheeler) exactly four months earlier.

billbruford.comBruford had since been hired for the rock-fusion band UK by John Wetton, and as he puts it in his own carefully crafted timeline, “sensing this will lead too far into the realm of pop music, Bill suggests [virtuoso experimental guitarist] Allan Holdsworth as fourth member and counter-weight [to Wetton and ex-Zappa violin/keys player Eddie Jobson].” UK was to start with a flourish and end with a sacking (for Bruford and Holdsworth) when those musical strains did indeed exercise themselves. Somewhere in the midst of this tumultuous period, Melody Maker asked the ambitious drummer/percussionist to participate in a series “in which artists list their favourite tracks” (see here). My thanks to Chris Edwards for bringing this back online.

Given what one might expect on a Bruford ‘all-time’ list (Art Blakey, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Philly Joe Jones would surely feature), this one appears to be more of an ‘in the moment’ thing, but with a strong awareness of the past as well as the present and future. Many musicians would be tempted by the PR schtick of including what might seem most ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ to be seen liking on such a list. But although Bill has needed to play the music media game throughout his career (something that he documents and bemoans in his fine memoire), there is little sense in this intriguing list that he is trying to accommodate to some bland A&R agenda. Rather, it looks to be what has genuinely been crossing his radar at the time he is asked.

While King Crimson features (“Groon” from the second, pre-Bruford album, ‘In the Wake of Poseidon’), it is perhaps notable that there’s nothing here from his first band, Yes. The strong jazz influences are to be anticipated — Stan Tracey (whose Dylan Thomas inspired ‘Starless and Bible Black’ preceded KC’s take), multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, the Freddy Redd Quartet with Jackie McLean (music from ‘The Connection”), Miles Davis (a Ron Carter composition from the 1965 classic line-up, as well as the more obvious jazz-rock “Bitches Brew”), South African pianist Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim), John McLaughlin, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock (twice), Jan Hammer and Pat Metheny (staples of the fusion repertoire), plus Johnny Griffin III (the American tenor sax exponent and bandleader who did stints with Thelonius Monk and Art Blakey), avant trombonist Grachan Moncur III,  Ornette Coleman, Andrew Hill (out-there pianist, two tracks), McCoy Tyner, Roland Kirk/Benny Golson, Charlie Mingus, Keith Jarrett, Pharoah Saunders and Wes Montomery (also beloved of Steve Howe). That’s a wide scoping of the jazz spectrum, from post-bop through modal and into fusion, avant-garde and free-form. It comprises almost half the selections.

BaileyThe experimentalist predilection is also signalled by the inclusion of hugely respected, positively eccentric ‘instant composers’ and improvisers Derek Bailey and Han Bennink (guitar and percussion respectively, pictured). Save for the aforementioned Crimson and Robert Wyatt (the evocative “Sea Song’ from the eclectic 1974 album ‘Rock Bottom’), there’s little on the list that could be accused of being progressive rock, though perhaps Jean Luc Ponty and Frank Zappa’s “King Kong” could squeeze up close to that category — while Frank would of course be having none of it!

Classical music features in the shape of Bartok (Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste), Albinoni (the equally well-known Adagio), Brahms’ Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor Op. 102 (with timpani) and Mahler (Symphony No. 1, “The Titan”, which includes six timpani, a bass drum, symbols, triangle and tam-tam). Bruford was never into the classical sound world in a big way — no doubt partly on account of his preference for improvised music over the closely scored — but he did go on to work on two fine recorded/live projects with strong ‘classical’ links: the New Percussion Group of Amsterdam (‘Go Between’, released in 1986, also featured on the new 3CD ‘The Percussion Collection’, Winterfold/Cherry Red Records, 2019) and the superb ‘Skin and Wire’ with Colin Riley and Piano Circus in 2009, which turned out to be his final original professional release.

Also featured in the ’78 Bruford list are some of the high-profile and high-quality artists of the day, including Joni Mitchell (also cited by other key members of Yes as an influence), John Lennon (with whom Bill’s Yes-successor Alan White famously worked), Stevie Wonder, Joe Cocker and Roy Harper (with whom Bill had collaborated on the seminal 1975 album, ‘HQ’). Sly and the Family Stone have been described as “pivotal in the development of funk, soul, rock, and psychedelic music”, and were also among Yes bassist Chris Squire’s early listening habits, too. Perhaps less expected, by me at any rate, is the depth of the blues/RnB/soul representation on Bruford’s choices: Dr John (a New Orleans original), Graham Bond (schooled in jazz and actually the first rock artist to use a mellotron), the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Martha and the Vandellas, Aretha Franklin, the Jackson Five, Tom Rush (folk and blues singer-songwriter), KC and the Sunshine Band, and Otis Redding. Of course that is entirely explicable in relation to Bill’s formative years on the English music scene, as he explains eloquently to a probably rather puzzled MTV interviewer here in 1984.

What strikes me about this list overall is how incredibly wide-ranging it is. The more you consider its contents in detail, the more evident that becomes. I can’t imagine that much more than a third of it would have been ‘in the zone’ for Melody Maker readers at the time. It reflects the varied, uncompromising  tastes of a musician who was and is both of his time, steeped in tradition (particularly that of jazz) and open to an emerging  future. The blues/pop-oriented material is probably the biggest challenge for me. But there’s plenty on this rich, historic list to discover or to remind ourselves of today.

(Photo credits: billbruford.com and Discogs.)

 

 

2 thoughts on “Thoroughly mixing It

  1. Scott Bluebond March 1, 2020 — 5:14 pm

    It’s Pat Metheny; there’s a typo here. 🙂

    Like

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