Drummer-percussionist Bill Bruford’s powerful percussive rhythms drove some of the best progressive rock bands during that genre’s heydays in the 1970s. He was the authoritative force behind YES, King Crimson, Genesis and UK and his work during that time stands out as a testament to solid musicianship punctuated by the ability to handle complex polyrhythms with ease. Since those days, he is best known for Bill Bruford’s Earthworks. Created in 1986, this ensemble has moved Bruford back to his jazz roots with a rock sensibility.Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Bruford’s musical life is the ease with which he is able to move back and forth between rock and jazz. To document his life in each of those two musical genres, Bruford founded two different record labels with the intent that each would index his work in the different arenas. Winterfold Records catalogs Bruford’s rock excursions and Summerfold Records catalogs the jazz side. As of the writing of this review in May, 2009, Bruford has retired from public performance.
The Summerfold Collection 1987-2008, a two-disc set, collects music from the jazz music Bruford spent the last 20 years of his public performance career spending most of his time involved in, fusion jazz. The set contains music from Bruford’s Earthworks, Dig?, All Heaven Broke Loose, Stamping Ground, if Summer Had Its Ghosts, A Part And Yet Apart, Sound Of Surprise, Every Step A Dance, In Two Minds, A Coat Of Many Colors, Earthworks Underground Orchestra and Random Acts Of Happiness recordings. What is so remarkable about all of this music is how easily Bruford is able to perform with an incredibly wide array of jazz artists.
In today’s jazz world, it’s all about putting like-minded artists together in order for their shared musical proclivities to shine to their fullest. In this collection, you can hear how incredibly easily Bruford is able to play with artists as disparate as trumpeter Alex Sipiagin (Earthworks Underground), free jazz revolutionary and pianist Michiel Borstlap (In Two Minds), flutist Tim Garland (Random Acts), saxophonist Ian Ballamy (Earthworks), straight-ahead and Latin jazz master bassist Eddie Gomez (If Summer), and guitarist and jazz trend setter Ralph Towner (If Summer).
One can’t help but be blown-away listening to Bruford’s work on chordal drums on "Pilgram’s Way." He accompanies saxophonist Ballamy in the only manner this Bruford/Ballamy-penned chart has room for, light and detached yet amazingly rhythmically exacting. Other standout tracks include "Candles Still Flicker In Romania’s Dark." This ballad allows Bruford’s sweetly singing ability on cymbals to be showcased, yet still be continually in the role of accompaniment. Few can pull this off as well as Bruford. "Revel Without A Pause" from Sound is a groover that reminds one of Weather Report without stealing any of their thunder. The two selections from In Two Minds, "Kinship" and From The Source We Tumble Headlong," only barely hints at the joy that live concert recording will elicit and the previously unreleased power uptempo 2002 recording of "Beelzebub" is a fitting close to as close to perfection a lifetime retrospective of an amazing jazz musician can be and still fit in two discs.
Bruford’s rock abilities are little known to the jazz world, just as his jazz abilities are little known to the rock world. Thankfully these discs can point people in the right direction as they provide an overview of perhaps the greatest rock drummer of the late 20th century and a fantastically gifted jazz drummer as well.