Jack Bruce - bass, vocals; Hughie Burns - guitar, lead vocal on "Baby Jane"; Tony Hymas - keyboards; Simon Phillips - drums
Jack Bruce has always been an adventurous musician and a supreme innovator. Whether he is the greatest electric bass player of all time is open to debate, but his influence on the course of the instrument and its role within modern music cannot be denied. A multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and composer who has worked extensively in the context of jazz, blues, and rock 'n' roll, Bruce has always pushed himself into uncharted waters, refusing to be pinned down to any one genre. Rooted not on only in jazz and the blues, Bruce also studied the classical works of Schubert and Bach, incorporating a contrapuntal approach to the bass that has been monumentally influential. Early on, Bruce soared beyond the instrument's accepted limitations and redefined the role of the bass player. Collaborative efforts within many genres including rock, jazz, blues, fusion, avant-garde, and R&B continue to be the ongoing theme of Bruce's impressive career.
By July of 1966, when Bruce formed the legendary trio, Cream, with Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton, he was already a seasoned musician who had a devoted following through years of work with Alexis Korner, John Mayall, and other lesser known U.K. jazz and blues groups. Although Cream would last only three years, the group can be credited with changing the context of rock music and bringing the blues to a much younger and larger audience. Every rock 'n' roll musician who experienced Cream in a live context was forced to re-evaluate their own musicianship and rethink their approach. The group's sheer volume and gift for spontaneous improvisation had a profound effect (both good and bad) and paved the way for countless bands to follow.
Never one to stay in one place too long, following the demise of Cream, Bruce released several diverse and acclaimed solo albums that showcased his gift for surrealistic songwriting and instrumental innovation. He also dove headfirst into the embryonic forms of jazz-fusion, working with some of the key pioneers like John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Carla Bley, and most significantly, drummer Tony Williams in his groundbreaking band, Lifetime. He later continued to pursue the blues-rock power trio format he forged with Cream by collaborating with members of the hard rock band Mountain in West, Bruce and Laing. By the mid-1970s, the fusion scene was well underway and Bruce began working with drummer Simon Phillips and keyboard player Tony Hymas. Forming the Jack Bruce Band, which also featured guitar slinger, Hughie Burns, they recorded the album How's Tricks, which continued Bruce's tradition of highly original and often eccentric songwriting. Bruce's longtime lyricist and collaborator, Pete Brown, who consistently wrote imaginative, evocative and esoteric lyrics, helped give Bruce's newest compositions lyrical depth and distinctiveness.
In 1977, the Jack Bruce Band hit the road, performing a wide range of material that spanned Bruce's entire career. The King Biscuit Flower Hour was on hand to capture the band at the Bottom Line in New York City that November. Excerpts were broadcast early the following year and have circulated ever since, but here for the first time is the complete performance from the opening night of that run.
Appropriately enough, the set kicks off with a brief but impressive bass improvisation that displays Bruce's dexterity. As the band eases in, Bruce's distinctive bass line directs the musical flow into "Born Under A Bad Sign." The tight interplay of this band, along with strong vocals from Bruce, propel this classic Albert King blues, pleasing old fans before venturing into new territory. Two numbers from the How's Tricks album follow, each dramatically different than what preceded them. That album's opener, "Without A Word," features intriguing lyrical poetry from Brown, beginning slow and dramatic. A strong fusion-esque solo follows Bruce's emotive and tortured vocal before suddenly taking off into a smoking jam that recalls Aja era Steely Dan. Guitarist Hughie Burns next fronts the band on his own "Baby Jane," a sort of glam-rock outing that sounds out of place amidst the other material.
The group returns to form on the highly improvisational instrumental, "Spirit." This Tony Williams composition allows the group to fully display their instrumental prowess. Clocking in at over 10 minutes, this features incredibly explosive drumming from Phillips, a jazz-inflected bass solo, and very impressive guitar and keyboard pyrotechnics from Burns and Hymas, at times recalling the intensity of Mahavishnu Orchestra. The classic Bruce/Brown Cream-era composition, "Politician" follows. The precision and expressiveness of Bruce's bass playing on this is undeniable. The group takes it at a slower tempo than the original, serving to increase the song's already inherent swagger.
Returning to How's Tricks material, "Waiting for the Call," is next. This is pure blues at its best, returning to Bruce's root sound most convincingly, before they tackle one of his most beautiful compositions, "Theme From An Imaginary Western." As they wind toward a close, the group launch in "Pieces Of Mind," one of the standout tracks from Bruce's 1974 album, Out Of The Storm. Released again in live form on his Jack Bruce Band Live album, his enthusiasm for this number is palpable and the entire band, although clean and concise in their playing, cook up a storm. This particular rendition is quite different to the studio recording, again showing the distinct influence of Steely Dan, who was at the peak of popularity during this time. Following six minutes of outstanding ensemble playing, Simon Phillips takes a drum solo that is quite impressive.
This remarkable performance concludes with the career defining Cream number, "Sunshine Of Your Love." From the immediately recognizable opening bass riff, this is a somewhat relaxed, but nevertheless engaging performance. Initially true to the original arrangement during the vocal, this then gives the musicians a chance to improvise as Bruce veers off. Leading the way with an impressive bass solo midway, this takes off into a brief but highly impressive jam, before gradually slowing it back down to bring the set to a dramatic conclusion.