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Bill Bruford's Earthworks

Heavenly Bodies

Review by Gary Hill

This newly released double CD compilation gathers up a number of studio and live recordings from Bill Bruford's Earthworks in a nice re-mastered package. For those who haven't heard the band, don't come in expecting progressive rock. While it at times is likely to make you think of various parts of Bruford's career including Yes and King Crimson, this is jazz. I only include it in the progressive rock section of MSJ because I consider Bruford a prog musician, and the music does qualify somewhat as fusion, which we generally put under prog. All that said, if you enjoy innovative jazz with prog leanings, there is plenty to enjoy here. It should be noted that I previously reviewed some of these songs on other sets, so for the sake of consistency these track reviews are modified from those.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2020  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
CD1
             
Stromboli Kicks

A playful texture leads this off and although there’s a bit of a weird modern electronic sound to this it feels very much like some old school jazz. Of course, that applies mostly to the extended intro. They take it out into a groove that has a much more modern sound, although there is still a bit of a tongue in cheek weirdness felt on much of this. It is quite a dynamic piece and works through a number of intriguing changes, moving between nearly pure jazz and something closer to Rock In Opposition. There are moments that feel like, in different formation, they might have been at home on an album by Louis Armstrong.

Making a Song and Dance
A Caribbean type percussion starts this, then eventually the band joins in a smooth jazz jam that is quite potent. It stays like this for a while, but after a time shifts into a killer movement that feels a bit like King Crimson turns traditional jazz. Then they move it on to a nice sax solo segment that is a pretty piece of variety. This then gets incorporated into the section from before to carry it forward, uniting the elements of the composition. Another new segment, sedate yet dramatic, comes in later and elements of dissonance emerge at points here.
Up North
Starting with a slow, bouncy progression, this one builds in a more electronic sounding modern way. Eventually more traditional jazz elements emerge over this backdrop to carry it onward. As they smoothly transition, the number it becomes an especially effective and powerful jazz progression. This one is definitely a showstopper features some exceptionally tasty soloing and textures. They move it over the course of the piece through several interesting and varied changes. The groove and sense of fun are never lost, though.
Candles Still Flicker in Romania's Dark
This is mellower and far slower. It’s got a more pure jazz texture to it. This is pretty and a nice addition to this collection.
Pigalle

There is sort of an island vibe to this in some ways. It has a playful vibe as it grows outward. I really love some of the bass work on this a lot. It really drives a lot of the time. There is an almost Zydeco vibe to parts of this further down the road. This piece grows organically, but it grows a lot. It explodes out into more of a pure jazz exploration later, losing that Zydeco thing. That's the most abrupt change of the piece. They get into some pretty crazed exploration as they do.

My Heart Declares a Holiday
Feeling like a jazz take on King Crimson's "Thela Hun Ginjeet" on the rhythmic structures, the over layers seem to convey an Asian texture at times. It moves into some varying segments, but still holds its general themes, but intensifies the energy.
Temple of the Winds
Gentle tones bring this into being. It has a dreamy sort of mellow jazz quality as it begins to grow outward. It gradually rises up with a fast paced, but rather sparse percussive element. They get into more pure jazz zones and start to really pound out after a while. There are both modern and old-school jazz things at play here, sometimes at the same time. Again I really love some of the bass work on this thing a lot.
Nerve
The funky edge to this is so cool. The track is based around some seriously experimental and almost freeform jazz jamming. It's high-energy and decidedly tasty. They drop to something that sounds like a more electronic and jazzy take on some of the mellower King Crimson weirdness from their first album - think the middle portion of "Moonchild." This eventually begins to grow back outward into a pounding, driving powerhouse of jazz jamming. This is particularly dynamic and powerful jamming.
Gentle Persuasion
This is not gentle at all. Instead, it's a dynamic piece that has some killer jazz built into it. It drives in different directions, but is always geared more toward melodic jazz with a playful tone.
It Needn't End in Tears
They come in mellow and sedate on this with a killer smooth jazz groove. This one doesn't wander far; instead content to stay in a pretty and potent mellow mode.
Libreville
Percussion brings this number into being. There is a real electronic vibe as it works out. It eventually makes its way to more pure jazz jam. I swear I can hear some hints of the Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe song "Teakbois" here and there on this thing. They get into some killer jazz jamming as they drive it forward. There is really some smoking hot instrumental work on this piece. It gets pretty crazed at times. It works back to the opening movement before it's over.
Dancing on Frith Street
There is a Frank Zappa fusion-like vibe as this opens with weird coolness. The cut drives out with style as it continues. This is of the more freeform variety and a real powerhouse. It's one of the most dynamic things here, too. This has some killer sounds and textures built into it. It's an inspired musical journey.
Bridge of Inhibition
Building on a riff, this moves into a killer prog rock jazz dominated jam that is particularly entertaining and powerful. The band works their way over variations on the song's main themes in quite dramatic ways. This one has some more Zappa-like elements but also features some very traditional jazz (almost Dixieland) sounds. This one is dynamic and very strong.
CD2

            

No Truce with the Furies

The fast paced jazz groove driving this thing is so strong and classic. They take it through some cool twists and turns along the road. This has some much energy and style. It's very much in a traditional jazz format.

Dewey-Eyed, Then Dancing
A mellower jam opens this, but it's no less mainstream jazz-based. There is some prominent and particularly tasty bass work on this number. This builds out into some really powerful jazz stylings as it continues. It closes with a powerful crescendo.
A Part, and Yet Apart
Percussion and piano bring us into the music here. It eventually makes its way into more of a full band treatment as the melodies grow and the piece grooves. It is another effective jazz journey. A drop back to a bass led-movement around the three-and-a-half-minute mark is a nice touch. The cut builds to a potent closing bit. 
Revel Without a Pause
More killer jazz grooves are on the menu here. They take this thing through a number of shifts and changes as it cruises along. There are more powered up and faster movements along with mellower ones that are more reflective. There is a real pure jazz element at play throughout, though. A drop back to piano dominated movement is a great touch, too. There is a powerhouse drum workout later along the road, too.
The Sound of Surprise
This comes in decidedly subdued with percussion the main factor at first. It grows outward in slow ways with a bit of a world music edge to it. The whole piece works through in style from there, really covering some intriguing fusion-styled territory.
White Knuckle Wedding
This cut starts with percussion that reminds me of “Thela Hun Ginjeet.” They take this into a somewhat freeform, but still cohesive and rather “groove oriented” jazz jam from there. It makes its way through a number of changes and alterations in a killer arrangement that has shades of mellower and more intense music. There’s a great section that’s more stripped down and laden with middle Eastern musical flavors. It feels like something out of a movie soundtrack, but gets quite involved as the percussion takes control
Youth
Percussion brings this piece into being. The cut works out from there with some particularly dramatic jazz jamming. There is a bit of a start-and-stop edge to it that is cool. A rhythm section led workout is a real powerhouse jam. The tune has some cool twists and turns. There is a bit mellower section that takes over near the end to close things out with some variety.
Rosa Ballerina
An almost classical air opens this piece. The arrangement really has plenty of classical music in it. The piece gets into a fairly slow moving zone that has a lot of traditional jazz at its heart.
Thud
This live recording powers in fast-paced and rocking. Its jazz stylings twist and turn as they drive the piece onward. This is such a powerful jam. It gets into some decidedly freeform zones as it continues. I love the horn soloing, but also the bass jamming that serves as the backdrop for it. The tune is on fire. Some of the most potent jamming of the whole set is built into parts of this. The fast-paced movement around the mid-section of the piece is one of the real standout passages of the whole affair. They don't stay there, though. This thing just keeps shifting and changing. It manages to entertain and impress with each new movement, too.
Blues for Little Joe
The first portion of this is a piano solo. As the other instruments join they launch out into another killer jazz instrumental. At times this one reminds me of some of the music from West Side Story. It’s a killer old school jazz jam. The piano returns as a solo instrument here and there throughout the course of this and it gets pretty intense.
 
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