Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
Artist: BILL BRUFORD
Album: MASTER STROKES 1978-1985
I first became aware of Bill Bruford’s drumming prowess in my early teens via his work on Yes’ first five albums, and then a few years later I discovered his two stints with King Crimson in the mid-‘70s & early-‘80s as well as his contributions to the first album by short-lived prog-rock supergroup U.K. (which I highlighted in my Two And Through post). He also had a solo career via the aptly-named Bruford, the band he formed with guitar virtuoso (and U.K. bandmate) Allan Holdsworth, bassist extraordinaire Jeff Berlin and keyboard maestro Dave Stewart (from prog greats Hatfield And The North, National Health, Egg and many more, not the Eurythmics guy). Guitarist John Clark took over for Holdsworth on their third & final album. The only Bruford album I owned during high school was their sophomore effort, One Of A Kind, while the other two, as well as the two keyboard-and-drum duet records he released with Patrick Moraz (Yes/The Moody Blues), were hard to find. That made the 15-track compilation, Master Strokes 1978-1985, such an important release, as it provided a summary of that era and gave me a chance to own some Bruford on the new compact disc format (I bought my first CD player the previous year). I didn’t expect to include compilations in this series but since I’m highlighting the 1986 albums that meant the most to me back then, I think it deserves its own spotlight.
Nearly half of this collection comes from the aforementioned One Of A Kind, including both parts of “One Of A Kind,” dark & synth-heavy album opener “Hell’s Bells,” the Zappa-esque guitar-and-vibraphone jazz/rock fusion of “Five G,” the light-and-shade of “Travels With Myself – And Someone Else” which moves from light, airy piano jazz to driving fusion, and progressive rock/jazz hybrid “Fainting In Coils,” with its spoken-word vocals in the intro. The other two Bruford records are represented by the swinging fusion with killer bass lines of “If You Can’t Stand The Heat…,” the propulsive vibes-laden “Beelzebub,” the Dixie Dregs-indebted “Joe Frazier” and the only vocal track here, “Gothic 17.” Jeff Berlin’s deep voice and off-kilter delivery put this into similar territory as Stewart Copeland’s songs with The Police & his Klark Kent project. The melodic hook of “walking on broken glass” & the guitar refrain that follows should reel in anyone with a taste for slightly askew art-rock. Only three songs from the Moraz collaborations made the track listing but they’re all good ones. The stark, eerie & slightly dissonant “Living Space,” Bruford’s interpretation of the Max Roach solo piece “The Drum Also Waltzes” and the dynamic piano-and-drum duet “Split Seconds” should entice listeners to check out their parent albums. Master Strokes 1978-1985 is an excellent introduction to the early solo works of one of the most singular drummers of the last half-century. His later jazz group Earthworks was equally impressive but for fans of ‘70s jazz-fusion it’s hard to argue that the recordings included here are his definitive musical statements outside of the bands that made him a drumming icon.