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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Bruford Levin Upper Extremities

BLUE Nights

Review by Gary Hill

This recording chronicles the live performances of Bruford Levin Upper Extremities from 1998. The disc showcases the band's unique blend of jazzy modes with Crimsonesque textures and, occassionally, just plain weirdness. Many of the tracks become looser jams in the live performance. For those who saw this tour, the disc will be a great momento. For those who didn't, it will serve as a shining example of what they missed, and encouragement to be more careful not to miss tours in the future.

The band is Tony Levin, Bill Bruford, Chris Botti and David Torn. To order from Papa Bear Records, write to Papa Bear Records, P.O. Box 498, Woodstock, NY, 12498. Be sure to visit their web page at, to get a copy of the online order form or call 1-800-688-2227 to order by phone.


This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Piercing Glances
This one was recorded at Orion Sound, Baltimore on April 17th. An extended and wild percussion solo begins this cut. It is nearly three minutes into the song before other instruments join. The first sound to add to the percussion is a very deep bass sound. This cut has neo-classical tendencies at times, feeling a bit like a symphony on acid. It is meandering, experimental sort of piece that features many odd elements, including white noise oriented shrieking and unique disonant passages.
Etude Revisited
Coming across with more energy and power than the studio rendition, this is a high energy, jazzy jam. It includes some hard rocking, bluesy moments. This number was recorded at the Park West in Chicago on December 9th.
A Palace Of Pearls (on a blade of grass)
Ambient textures begin this one, which was recorded at Boston's House of Blues on December 5th, 1998. Trumpet heralds in the more melodic tones. This is a great jam that has some wonderful textures.
Original Sin
This cut features the guitar taking a more prominent role than on the studio version. This is a wonderful musical journey that covers many styles and includes some very nice jazz modes. The jam in the middle gets pretty wild. This cut was also recorded at the Boston H.O.B..
Dentures of the Gods
Another piece that was recorded at the Chicago show, this one starts with jazzy guitar textures. After a very short time, drums join in, followed by bass. The overall texture at this point is a free form, almost garage band type jam. As the trumpet joins in, new textures and layers emerge, still in a very experimental jam motif. This one gets quite intense at times, and very weird towards the end.
Deeper Blue
Beginning with sedate trumpet tones and ambient backing textures, this cut, also from the Chicago show, sets a nice contrast to the ferocity of the last piece.
Cobalt Canyons
Beginning with an odd looping vocal segment, the bass comes in, ripping circles to form a melody. Drums in a nice counter rhythm enter, with screeching guitar sounds accomanying and replacing the vocal loops. This song just screams with power and energy live. About 2 1/2 minutes into the piece, the powerful segment just stops to be replaced by a slow, mellow and somewhat twisted lounge sounding interlude. This section holds the piece for a time until the a bass groove takes command. This is joined by trumpet, then percussion to create a fast paced and fun jam. A ways into this, it begins to merge with the beginning segments of the piece. Those frantic earlier textures eventually reclaim control of the cut to bring it to its conclusion. This performance was recorded at the Birchmere Theater, Alexandria on April 15th.
Disc 2
Fin De Siecle
A killer bass riff starts the number. The live version really benefits from some guitar that really screams. This is a great cut. It is another from the Orion show.
Picnic on Vesuvius
Recorded at The Bottom Line in New York on December 3rd, atmospheric tones start this one. Pretty trumpet takes a dominance of the piece. The bass and drums join in, and this becomes a strong, slower evocative number. Jazzy and electronic at the same time, this one is quite a cool jam. It kicks into high gear about 6 minutes in and really screams. It then dromps back down after a minute or so to nearly solo percussion. It becomes a sedate form of its earlier modes to end the piece.
Cerulean Sea
Weird pseudo synthesized textures start this cut, then bass enters. Thisis a very strong that has a some killer textures. It was recorded at the same show as the previous cut.
Bent Taqasim/Torn Drumbass
Recorded at the Theater of Living Arts in Philadelphia on the 14th of April, this is a great cut. Killer guitar work with both bluesy rock textures and eastern stylings start this one. Looping adds a nice atmosphere and fullness. The cut then takes on very strong bluesy textures. Bruford and Levin join in, making it a solid blues rock groove. Botti's trumpet adds to the mis, changing the texture towards soaring jazz.
Cracking The Midnight Glass
Very dramatic, neo-classical textures begin the cut, sounding almost like a violin solo, or perhaps a little like a Jimmy Page violin bow version of a violin solo. This is a bit more stripped down and raw textured than the studio rendition. It gets quite hard edged at times, and features some intriguing trumpet work. This cut works very well live as it becomes an awesome jam. This one is from the HOB show.
President's Day
Another from the Philly TOLA show, this starts with trumpet. The overall texture is of a funky sort of groove, but Torn's work lends an otherworldly angle to the cut. Those ambient sorts of looping textures take control for a short time. The cut dissolves into Torn driven chaos as weird sound effects and feedback oriented guitar takes control. This segment is punctuated by some drums and horns and serves to end the piece. The last few minutes of this track is actually a humourous spoken word intro to the next piece by Bill Bruford.
3 Minutes of Pure Entertainment
This one is oddly named considering it is nearly 11 minutes in length. Starting in textural yet rhythmic modes, this one begins gradually building. It pops into high gear once in a while for short bits. It eventually jumps into a nicely uptempo and quite pleasant groove that features some scorching guitar work and a killer jazzy arrangement. It goes into a very traditional jazz sort of segment for a short time to end the piece. This composition really feels much shorter than it is. It was another cut recorded at the House of Blues.
Outer Blue - Remix by Splatter Cell
This is a unique, electro/techno remix of various live BLUE segments.
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