It’s a wonder why more jazz groups just don’t record live. Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio hasn’t put out a studio recording in over ten years and is the better for it; and Bill Bruford’s current Earthworks band, which now features the inimitable Tim Garland on assorted reeds and flute, clearly excels at the riskier environment of the concert stage. Even more adventurous than his last recording, the also-live Footloose and Fancy Free
, Random Acts of Happiness
benefits from an even better recorded sound, and a repertoire that shows the group still growing, interestingly enough as much by looking back as it does by looking forward.
For this release, Garland has taken over the lion’s share of new compositions, and his penchant for extended composition which has worked so well in his other endeavors, most notably Acoustic Triangle and his Storms/Nocturnes Trio, works to advantage here as well. "White Knuckle Wedding," with its long-and-winding melody, also features Garland on flute, which adds another texture to the ensemble. Also, while Earthworks remains an essentially acoustic ensemble, Garland is not afraid to dabble with electronics, using a pitch-shifter to create a somewhat oriental flavour towards the end of the piece; he also pitch-shifts his saxophone on "Speaking With Wooden Tongues," which may be the most remarkable new piece in the Earthworks songbook, shifting from light counterpoint to intense improvisation.
"Tramontana," co-written with pianist Steve Hamilton, as well as "Bajo Del Sol," with their Latin-leanings, demonstrate some of the influence that Chick Corea had on Garland while a member of Corea’s group, Origin. But in the hands of polyrhythmist Bruford, the pieces become something more as well. In fact, one of the most attractive things about this group is how they create shifts in feel, always keeping things interesting. Bruford’s mathematical precision on pieces like "Modern Folk," coupled with his looser approach on "Bajo Del Sol," shows an artist who, considering his already-established stature continues to look for new inspiration and further develop his sound and approach.
Rather than revisit other Earthworks Mark II pieces for the balance of this recording, Bruford has chosen to look back at his twenty-five year-old repertoire, and select earlier pieces for reinvention. "My Heart Declares A Holiday," which comes from Earthworks Mark I, as well as "Seems Like a Lifetime Ago (part 1)" and "One of a Kind (Parts 1 and 2)," which come from his more fusion-oriented period of the late-1970s, prove that strong material is strong material, regardless of the context in which it is placed. It is interesting, in fact, how things that were, at the time, considered to be signature, like Allan Holdsworth’s guitar or Bruford’s chordal drums, become completely irrelevant in these new arrangements as the ensemble both pays reverence to the source and takes the material to new places.
Recent announcements that (a) Steve Hamilton has left Earthworks and (b) the band will be actively touring in April lead one to wonder exactly what the future of the band is. What is
clear is that, throughout Bruford’s career, he has been honing a singular concept, and while different band mates will certainly affect how it is realized, that concept will continue to grow. Random Acts of Happiness
is another successful juncture signaling, with the departure of Hamilton, the end of one chapter, and with the recruitment of Garland, the beginning of another.Random Acts of Happiness
will receive widespread release in March, but can be purchased online now at Bill Bruford’s Website