JACK BRUCE & FRIENDS
Released as part of ‘The Bottom Line Archive’ series, this is, according to liner notes by Gregg Bendian within a rather smart 4 panel digipak, the first official Jack Bruce release since his passing five years ago. Bendian explains that, beyond his Cream fame, the Scottish bassist/singer/songwriter’s solo career spanned 45+ years, with countless album releases, together with a prolificacy of guest/session/collaborative work. And this is one such solo venture, from a show recorded at New York’s Bottom Line venue, 19th March 1980.
So, who are Bruce’s ‘Friends’? Clem Clempson on guitar; David Sancious on keyboards and guitar; Billy Cobham on drums. Billy Cobham on drums?! Yep, I was utterly delighted to read this. The Mahavishnu Orchestra legend… and beyond. And the man’s still drumming today, well into his 70s. In fact, I had a conversation about Cobham with Billy Sheehan last year, who said he’d seen him play in Dreams, pre-Mahavishnu, and irrefutably claimed, “He changed the world of drumming. They should have in drumming, BC - Before Cobham… and after!” So yep, what a lineup! And the resulting set doesn’t disappoint.
Across the 2 CDs, sound-wise, it’s not all pristine, but we’re not talking anywhere near lo-fi here. There’s a little light hiss noticeable during quieter moments, but the recordings (which have a great stereo mix) sound wonderfully organic, which enhances the live essence of it all. Set-wise, Cream material obviously features, bookended with perennially famed anthems ‘White Room’ and ‘Sunshine of Your Love’. And it’s all fleshed out with material from Bruce’s solo albums (of which he’d already released six at the time of this show), and instrumental interludes, such as ‘Quadrant 4’ from Cobham’s ‘Spectrum’ album.
The musicianship is simply breathtaking from all, throughout both discs - particularly Bruce and Cobham, whose bass and drums both meld and tangentially play off each other in the most exhilarating of ways. It’s a joy to listen to. The pinnacle of such is, perhaps, the 19 minute track ‘Bird Alone’, which is a jazzy, proggy and, at times, heavied-up raucous piece of innovative, genre-defying bliss. And complete with a Cobham drum solo, I hasten to add, which, quite frankly, corroborates Sheehan’s lauding. Virtuoso is a word gets bandied around all over the place when talking about the high level of technical skills of musicians, but Cobham is more than such. It’s more than mere technical skill he had and still has. The artistry of the man is otherworldly! For those who believe extreme metal drumming was invented with the advent of extreme metal, think again. Cobham was already there, decades earlier, as part of his much wider chops.
Interestingly, the crowd noise that can be heard between tracks, and brought into the mix during certain songs, kind of belies the nature of the music. It sounds like an audience from some sort of punk gig, with screams, whistles and yells from punters who were axiomatically enthused and pumped up for the occasion. It’s what was billed as a “Late Show” at the Bottom Line, so I’m guessing many beers had been drunk by showtime. Makes you wish you'd been there. Incredible stuff.
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THE BOTTOM LINE ARCHIVE
Review by Mark Holmes
42:38 & 46:09
13th December 2019
DISC ONE: 1) White Room; 2) Jet Set Jewel; 3) Post War; 4) Born Under a Bad Sign; 5) The Loner; 6) Politician; 7) Running Through Our Hands
DISC TWO: 1) Theme for an Imaginary Western; 2) Quadrant 4 (Cobham); 3) Childsong; 4) Bird Alone; 5) Sunshine of Your Love
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"The musicianship is simply breathtaking from all... particularly Bruce and Cobham, whose bass and drums both meld and tangentially play off each other in the most exhilarating of ways. It’s a joy to listen to."