The Jack Bruce Band
Live '75


The recent re-release program which has made the first solo albums by Jack Bruce available again has made his fans quite happy - while at the same time making it possible for them to offer tangible evidence to those who always went "Jack Who?" or wondered what all the fuss was about. Besides filling a serious documentation gap in the history of Rock That Counts. It's an undisputed fact that Songs For A Tailor (his first solo album from 1969) and Harmony Row (from 1971) - with Out Of The Storm, the follow-up from 1974, being just a tiny bit less indispensable - are fantastic collections of songs: short in duration but long in musical inventiveness, where Bruce used his considerable compositional resources to innovate in the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic realms thanks to an impressive musical background and to his masterful technical command of various instruments - the electric bass, obviously (an instrument that greatly benefited from his contribution), then piano, organ, harp, cello, vocals. All the re-released CDs benefit from a digital remastering that's very respectful of the originals and whose sound is never harsh nor brittle (a rarity these days), with very nice booklets sporting rare and unreleased pictures and exhaustive and reliable liner notes.

The aforementioned studio LPs are the obvious starting point for those unfamiliar with his work, while Live '75 will be of great interest mainly to those already in the know. In fact, this double CD - which features a two-hour long concert recording made at the Manchester Free Trade Hall on 1 June 1975 - is the only official document we have of the Mick Taylor/Carla Bley quintet: a line-up that at the times seemed destined to scale incredible highs but which imploded for obscure reasons before actually recording anything. A few years ago a partial documentation appeared on Live On The Old Grey Whistle Test ('98), a CD that contained recordings made for radio; but its mediocre sound, and a repertory that was presented only in its short tracks, made one wish for more. To tell the truth, the sound of Live '75 - which was quickly mixed in August 1975 and transferred to digital last year - is far from perfect, but the quality and variety of the material make up for it.

The line-up is well-rehearsed, already quite capable of navigating the perilous waters of the leader's compositions. Bruce Gary is a solid and versatile drummer who perfectly reproduces the parts that very different drummers had played in the studio. Ronnie Leahy is the piano player (acoustic and electric - Fender) who has to build the foundation for everything else, a task he fulfills with grace and elegance. Mick Taylor - fresh off the Rolling Stones - is the "rock guitarist" who's perfect for stompers like Keep It Down or for blues moments such as the section in Post War where Bruce had originally played the harmonica - here Taylor wisely uses the bottleneck - while during some of the more harmonically "open" moments such as the Smiles And Grins coda, to which Carla Bley's Mellotron gives a very "Crimson" air, he seems a bit uncomfortable. Carla Bley plays mostly the Hammond organ, from which she extracts her usual original signature timbre, and the Mellotron; always tasteful, always appropriate are the parts that essentially reproduce what Bruce himself had played in the studio, but nice original touches abound - see the "cosmic" Mellotron here and there, or her Hammond on Tickets To Waterfalls, which (starting from about 10') sounds quite like an anticipation of her Dinner Music LP.

Sure, with hindsight it's quite easy to foresee what did not, in fact, work. But the occasional tentativeness of some of these performances brings us back to those long-gone days when the bandstand was the place where a musical synthesis - and the musicians' mutual satisfaction - had to be attained at levels that went way beyond the lowest common denominator (however nowadays disguised).

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2003 | June 10, 2003