Jack Bruce, Bass Out Front–HCKKH Blues & N.S.U [1968]

Rest in Peace, Jack Bruce

Here from 1968, is Jack Bruce’s modern jazz opus, the too-often overlooked THINGS WE LIKE, which certainly changed my life…looking as I was back then for a more modern conception of the jazz guitar.

This was pre-USA John McLaughlin, from 1968, then scuffling about on the English jazz scene, an old mate of Jack and Ginger Baker’s from their stint in the Graham Bond Organization, circa 1963-1964.

So impressed was drummer Tony Williams with what he heard of McLaughlin herein, and on selections he heard of a Ronnie Scott’s club date with Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland, that he hired McLaughlin sight unseen, and subsequently brought on-board Bruce himself to join them with organist Larry Young in the legendary original edition of the Tony Williams Lifetime (which you may sample herein on the desperate-sounding, punk jazz cacophony of “Vuelta Abajo”).

Jack plays acoustic bass on this electrifying collective performance of “HCKKH Blues,” which should prove a revelation to those only familiar with his influential bass guitar sound signature–his tone and attack are immense and commanding, guiding the group in a powerful 6/8 improv very much in the spirit of Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman.

McLaughlin’s gnarly, vocaized tone is raspy and distorted, more a hard blues/Brit-Rock sound than an atypical jazz tone, and some of his asymmetrical phrases on one climactic episode (check in about 1:40) initially put me in mind of Eric Dolphy when as a young pup I first heard this performance, back in 1970-71 when THINGS WE LIKE was originally released.

Drummer Jon Hiseman provides elemental energy and swing, while reed-man Dick Heckstall-Smith is a heraldic melodic focus, very much in his Sonny Rollins mode, through towards the end of his solo he goes all Roland Kirk on us, simultaneously playing both tenor and soprano.

In light of the three classic solo albums of Rock/R&B/folk/Classically-inflected songs which Jack Bruce unleashed post-Cream in a gush of creativity (SONGS FOR A TAILOR, HARMONY ROW, IN FROM THE STORM), his work on THINGS WE LIKE in general, and “HCKKH Blues” in particular clearly illustrates the jazz peidgree he and Ginger Baker brought to Cream.

(As did his subsequent collaborations with Tony Williams, Larry Coryell, Mick Taylor, Carla Bley, Billy Cobahm, Frank Zappa and further explorations of his unique take on the post-Beatles song form.)

Still, “HCKKH Blues” retains a special place in my heart, as does this elemental collective improv with Ginger and Eric from a gig at Winterland in 1968, “N.S.U.”

Note how time-wise, Jack’s bass tends to push ahead of the beat, while Ginger’s drums seem to reside just behind the beat, summing out into an extraordinary degree of rhythmic tension, inspiring a desperate sense of immediacy from Clapton, as the power trio relentlessly builds to a cathartic climax worthy of Ravi Shankar or John Coltrane–clearly anticipating the coming of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and the burgeoning jazz-fusion movement, every bit as much as a host of hard rock and metal bands on the not too distant horizon.

So much more which could be said, and will be said, about Jack’s solo albums, the greater arc of an illustrious career as an improvising bassist and a songwriter, iconic collaborations (such as his power trio hangs with Frank Zappa and Jim Gordon on “Apostrophe” and McLaughlin and Paul Motian from their “Rawalpindi Blues” showcase on keyboardist-composer Carla Bley’s operatic epic, ESCALATOR OVER THE HILL) his most recent set of songs, SILVER RAILS, and certainly a greater focus on more famous, influential songs, such as “Sunshine Of Your Love,” of course. of course…

But herein, in my own little corner of cyberspace, RADIO FREE CHIP chooses to celebrate a more obscure, under-appreciated aspect of the bass innovator’s instrumental oeuvre.  As such, Jack Bruce put the bass out front, giving the electric bass guitar a more prominent rhythmic-melodic role in modern music, paving the way for Steve Swallow, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius and generation upon generation of electric bass virtuosos, much as Scott LaFaro’s freely-inflected counterpoint changed expectations of how the acoustic bass might function in a post-modern jazz ensemble.

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One comment on “Jack Bruce, Bass Out Front–HCKKH Blues & N.S.U [1968]
  1. Pleaseshutup says:

    Charles Winokoor25 de9cembre 2012Speaking of which: A few years later M. Orchestra was burning up staegs across the USA. I don t dwell in the past, but it still strikes me as very sad that so little live material from the Cobham-era group has been released. I personally witnessed shows that blew away what is officially available on CD.

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