William Scott Bruford, primarily known as the “go to” prog drummer, as stints in Yes, King Crimson (three times), Genesis, and UK attest, has had a career that is so much more than that. After all, the time he spent in those bands covers less than half of the time span commencing with the start of Yes and ending with Bill’s retirement in 2009. This tastefully packaged box set, which includes a hardback book and a poster, as well as the essential ingredients, the three double-CD digipaks, aims to guide the maybe uninitiated listener through Bill’s lengthy career, and the three out of four bands mentioned he released music with only take up about a third of the tracks on this set. He never recorded any music with Genesis, so rightly they are not represented here.
The three double CDs are themed, and so we have his work as part of a group on CDs 1 and 2, under the heading The Collaborator, CDs 3 and 4 are The Composing Leader, which logically enough feature tracks mostly from Bruford and Bill Bruford’s Earthworks. CDs 5 and 6 are entitled Special Guest & Improviser, and contain a highly varied collection of tunes.
Right then, let’s take a tour around Mr Bruford’s long and interesting career. Bill had not long turned 19 when he became a founding member of Yes, after a few previous false starts in second division psych bands, and even a very short and improbable stint with blues rockers Savoy Brown! Having learnt his chops from jazz records, messing around with the beat in a jazz stylee cannot have gone down well with the straight ahead blooze boys. The feeling of being in the wrong place was mutual. Round by the corner, but not yet at the edge were Yes, who were probably the perfect place for Bill to hone his craft and develop his style, as here was a band doing the exact same thing. There are only three Yes tracks here, including the pivotal Heart of the Sunrise, which Bill describes in a recent interview thus: “Until Heart of the Sunrise we were a covers band trying to be a progressive rock group and not quite knowing how.”
Having certainly become that “progressive rock group”, and peaking with Close to the Edge, Bill didn’t fancy playing it ad infinitum and fancied a change of scene. Can you imagine! 😉 Enter King Crimson, an entirely different and more challenging beast, and right up to the task of pushing the young drummer’s abilities to the max. Indeed, the first album he recorded with Crimson was Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, where he had to share percussion duties with the mercurial Jamie Muir. Out of the comfy slippers, and up on the asymmetrical stilts with you, Bill me boy! The four tracks from Bill’s tenure in the ’70s version of the band are peerless, without being too obvious. There’s no Red, but have no fear, Starless is here!
A pioneer of nascent electronic percussion, the early example of Bill hitting things that go beep, bong, and boom is all over the ’80s incarnation of King Crimson, as evidenced by the sublime Waiting Man, a live version of which is the first track on the video below, which shows the suave Mr Bruford getting in the groove with the equally dapper Mr Belew:
No doubt licensing issues are the reason for an absence of songs from the ’90s incarnation of King Crimson, which is a shame as the contrast between the three very different versions of the band, each separated by an approximately seven-year hiatus, is sadly incomplete. As Bill’s third King Crimson residency saw him swapping rhythmic I.O.U.s with Pat Mastelotto, I would be surprised if this era’s absence was intended.
Another Bruford high point, namely Bruford Levin Upper Extremities, is also regrettably under-represented, with only one track. A couple of cuts from B.L.U.E. Nights, which ranks as one of the best live albums by anyone, in my never ’umble opinings, would have gone down well chez moi!
The Composing Leader set gives us Bill in his band leader mode, firstly with the eponymous Bruford, the name inspired by the likes of Santana and Argent. Simple and to the point, unlike the music, an increasingly complex jazz fusion, tending towards the “dry”, if you want my entirely subjective opinion. That aridity might be at least partly down to guitarists’ guitarist Allan Holdsworth, whose style I have always found a tad hard going. Trivia point – possibly uniquely in his career, Holdsworth stayed with this band for more than one album.
To my tired old shell-likes, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks are a far more listenable prospect, and there’s plenty of time on CDs 3 and 4 to get into their densely sumptuous groove, with Bill’s deft rhythms and percussion never far below the surface.
CDs 5 and 6 – Special Guest & Improviser set – is where it gets really interesting, not that it hasn’t been a good trip so far. As a guest player on albums of artists as diverse as Roy Harper and David Torn, we see Bill go from paid sideman sticking to a script, all the way out to edge-of-seat improv and back again. There are tracks here I have not heard before, like the daftly named but sublime Stalling Between Two Fools by the intriguing combo Piano Circus feat. Bill Bruford & Colin Riley, who also have a track on The Collaborator set. More investigating needed, methinks!
The juxtaposition of disciplines on this last double helping keeps the listener on their toes, and is a most absorbing listen. It is undoubtedly the set I will go back to the most in this lavishly tooled box.
Bill Bruford retired in 2009, only to take up the further education he missed out on when he joined Yes instead of doing his economics degree all those years ago. He attained a PhD in music at Surrey University in 2016, the clever bloke!
The one thing I wonder about this box set is, who is it aimed at? Are there that many fans of Bill Bruford, drummer about progtown, who don’t already have all this music, who will rush out to spend their sixty notes on this admittedly very nicely presented artefact? The uninitiated or simply curious may be put off by the price tag, who knows? I’m sure the market research folk at BMG will have done their work!
Disc One: The Collaborator
01. I’ve Seen All Good People (A. Your Move, B. All Good People) – Yes
02. Heart of the Sunrise – Yes
03. Close to the Edge (I. The Solid Time of Change, II. Total Mass Retain, III. I Get Up I Get Down, IV. Seasons of Man) – Yes
04. The Great Deceiver – King Crimson
05. Fracture – King Crimson
06. One More Red Nightmare – King Crimson
07. Starless – King Crimson
08. Nevermore – U.K.
Disc Two: The Collaborator
01. Frame By Frame – King Crimson
02. Neal and Jack and Me – King Crimson
03. Heartbeat – King Crimson
04. Waiting Man – King Crimson
05. Brother of Mine (Rock Edit) – Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe
06. Sex Eat Sleep Drink Dream – King Crimson
07. Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Pt. 2) – King Crimson
08. Three of A Perfect Pair – King Crimson
09. Man With an Open Heart – King Crimson
10. Elephant Talk – King Crimson
11. Indiscipline – King Crimson
12. Big Funk – King Crimson
13. The Still Small Voice – Piano Circus
Dice Three: The Composing Leader
01. Seems Like A Lifetime Ago (Pt.1) – Bruford
02. Seems Like A Lifetime Ago (Pt.2) – Bruford
03. One of A Kind (Pt.1) – Bruford
04. One of A Kind (Pt.2) – Bruford
05. Palewell Park – Bruford
06. Joe Frazier – Bruford
07. It Needn’t End in Tears – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
08. My Heart Declares A Holiday – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
09. Downtown – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
10. Pilgrim’s Way – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
11. Temple of the Winds – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
12. Candles Still Flicker in Romania – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
13. Nerve – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
14. Thistledown – Bill Bruford
Disc Four: The Composing Leader
01. Beelzebub – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
02. Original Sin – Bruford-Levin
03. Revel Without A Pause – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
04. Triplicity – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
05. The Sound of Surprise – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
06. Speaking in Wooden Tongues – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
07. Modern Folk – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
08. Children’s Concerto – Patrick Moraz & Bill Bruford
09. Footloose and Fancy Free – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
10. Thud (Live, Iridium Jazz Club, New York City, December 2004) – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
Disc Five: Special Guest & Improviser
01. Grown Ups Are Just Silly Children – Roy Harper
02. Hallucinating Light – Roy Harper
03. Lucky Seven (Single Edit) – Chris Squire
04. Silently Falling – Chris Squire
05. Calliope – Al Di Meola
06. Voodoo Chile – David Torn
07. Andre – Kazumi Watanabe
08. Small Wonder – Kazumi Watanabe
09. The Inner Battle – Steve Howe
10. Lingo – Burning For Buddy – A Tribute to the Music of Buddy Rich
11. Prism – Pete Lockett’s Network of Sparks
12. Achilles’ Feel – Piano Circus
Disc Six: Special Guest & Improviser
01. Galatea – Patrick Moraz & Bill Bruford
02. Symmetry – Patrick Moraz & Bill Bruford
03. Stalling Between Two Fools – Piano Circus
04. No Warning – King Crimson
05. Bajo Del Sol (Live, Yoshi’s, Oakland, 13 & 14 May 2003) – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks & Tim Garland
06. White Knuckle Wedding (Live, Yoshi’s, Oakland, 13 & 14 May 2003) – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks & Tim Garland
07. Previous Man – David Torn
08. Three Minutes of Pure Entertainment – David Torn
09. Temples of Joy – Patrick Moraz & Bill Bruford
10. Infra Dig – Patrick Moraz & Bill Bruford
11. With Friends Like These… – Earthworks
12. Low Tide, Camber Sands – Michiel Borstlap & Bill Bruford
13. Kinship – Michiel Borstlap & Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford – and many others too numerous to list…
Record Label: BMG
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 29th April 2022