Sunday, 26 October 2014

jack bruce RIP

Saturday's BBC radio midnight news led with the announcement that Jack Bruce had died. It had previously been put up on Sky's rolling ticker earlier in the day but outside of that there was nothing obvious on the passing of one of the UK's leading musicians. It seems when the rock and roller reaches a certain age his stock reduces considerably in news worthiness until reaching that dangerous age of 70 their death is expected anyway. And if in life you've been fortunate/unfortunate enough to claim your 15 minutes of fame then it's certain that on your demise that stock will be reduced to just the 15 seconds when it comes to announcing your lifetime achievements. Anything longer is usually determined by how much filthy lucre the taxman has been able to drain from you. In other words your commercial success is worth great respect. You might even get a knighthood if you've really sold big overseas.
And be sure, in just those 2 blitzing years of Cream's life, Ginger, Jack and Eric certainly shifted some units. 35 million of them to be precise. But despite this avalanche of sales the journey of Cream was going to be inevitably short lived. The chemistry between Ginger and Jack was nothing short of dangerous, on and off the stage and Eric has said many times he just had to stand back, mediate if possible, but in the main keep out of the way of likely flying fists, on or off the stage.
Maybe it was that explosive potential that made Cream what they were between 1966 and 68, maybe it was the letting loose out of musical frustration or the joy of the musical freedom that made them far less a pop group and more akin to a full blown improvising jazz combo. Rarely playing anything the same twice and joyously tearing into their biggest numbers. They were unpredictable, demanding and simply a mind blowing stage act. Go and watch Cream's 1968 Farewell Concert at the Albert Hall and see if any band today come close to the shear energy and power these three guys could put out.
The seated audience watched intently until during mid way through the bands hi-octane jams individuals could no longer contain themselves and burst into a frenzy of freak dancing as if posessed by another world entirely.
The later 2 reunion concerts were quite good because they were well seasoned veterans by then but also seemed more the result of agreed group therapy for them to even be performing together and hence lacked that violent confrontation the music had in the 60's.
Then the sound of Bruce's soaring and plaintiff vocals reaching notes barely possible for most rock singers and against the wall of sound that the band produced has rarely been heard or matched since. Many have tried but don't have the lung power or that wall. Either way those bands go their own way and producxe a less volatile end result. Today Muse go for a similar approach and many like what they hear, (very big on the continent), but Muse are not improvisers and risk takers. They produce' a show. Cream took a show apart.
And although Cream were full of blues they were really the first to be put in the record rack as 'progressive' music. Er.. that's not 'prog rock'.

Maybe it was that Jack Bruce was classically trained as a cellist that shaped his vocal style. The cello is not overly associated with the most cheerful of sounds, but a natural slow blues meloncholy. Just listen to Wheels Of Fire's "As You Said" to hear Bruce singing with his cello to get a better idea of where his songs have often begun.
And then there's that bass playing. His early years playing jazz double bass must have given those fingers the strength and dexterity to make an electric bass perform in the way Bruce could do. In Bruce's mitts the bass became virtually a lead instrument, inter playing with Baker's ever evolving kit playing and Clapton's weaving lead lines. This again is usually only heard with jazz players. For rock musicians in 1966, it was unheard of.
Even Hendrix payed deference to the bands style and songs in that famous LuLu show appearance in 1968 when halfway through 'Hey Joe' he unexpectedly announced he'd had enough of playing that and dedicated a version of "Sunshine Of Yor Love" to the band, sending presenter and TV crews into a tail spin.
Cream, although now ex-Cream had been recognised by all media circles as the first Super Group. An expression much bandied around in following years but rarely produced anything very "super" in the way of recordings. It was a time when a certain amount of freedom was being experienced for rock musicians, similar to how jazz groups had always seen their personal change over the years, reforming into new groups. But with rock musicians this was a new thing. The music press loved it, the rock audience less so.

After Cream's demise, Jack Bruce unlike Clapton and Baker persued countless other musical styles and never seemed bothered as to whether they gained commercial success or not. Although it's completely understandable that Clapton wanted the calmer waters of touring with Delaney and Bonnie before stepping back into his own group again.
Artistically Jack Bruce's many projects were fabulous explorations. His outstanding work on Carla Bley's 'Escalator Over The Hill' in the early 70's. Michael Mantler's setting of music to Samuel Beckett's words with the album 'The Answer'. Working with Tony Williams Lifetime again, not to mention his own considerable solo albums and his continuing partnership with his lyricist Pete Brown, who'd previously co-written "Sunshine Of Your Love" "White Room" etc.
Hugely respected amongst other musicians, some say Jack Bruce was the greatest electric bass player of all time. Certainly rock bass player.

It's really difficult to pick just one clip of Jack Bruce's music because he's made so much, and really good stuff too, but his first solo album 'Songs For A Taylor' was a milestone in an outstanding career and the one track from that solo album that seems to summarise his shear energy and aspiration to explore the most he could in music would have to be "Rope Ladder To The Moon", with Jack's soaring vocals, Pete Brown's amazing lyrics and of course that incredible bass playing.

So long Jack... you made a difference.