Bruford - Bruford 1977-1980: Seems Like A Lifetime Ago album review

Lavish box set from Bill Bruford

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This rather impressively lavish box set collects the recorded output from Bill Bruford’s eponymous band that enjoyed an all-too-brief existence from 1977 to 1980. The collection contains their three studio records and one live album, alongside the previously unreleased Live At The Venue from 1980, and a collection of rehearsal snippets from the sessions for the planned but never realised fourth studio album. All that’s missing is their 1979 Rock Goes To College performance.

The original incarnation featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth, bassist Jeff Berlin and keyboardist Dave Stewart. When Holdsworth departed the fold, his spot was filled by his protégé John Clark, who, bizarrely enough, subsequently became Cliff Richard’s guitarist. The first two albums, Feels Good To Me and One Of A Kind, have been remixed from the master tapes and are presented here in three formats: the original mixes, a 2017 remix by Jakko Jakszyk, and in surround sound 5.1.

The new remixes really open up the music, bringing Berlin’s bass out of the background and providing clarity to even the densest sections. Musically, Bruford played a blend of progressive rock and fusion, not dissimilar to Weather Report or Billy Cobham’s work with George Duke, only with a little more muscle. Their 1978 debutFeels Good To Me features occasional vocals from Annette Peacock but is predominantly instrumental.

Bruford himself never hogs the spotlight, resisting any urge to smother the songs in reckless runs around the drum kit. If anything, it’s Holdsworth and Berlin who repeatedly threaten to steal the show. Holdsworth’s lead work impresses throughout, from the dark and dirty lines of Hell’s Bells to his lightning-fast soloing in Seems Like A Lifetime Ago, Part Two. As for Berlin, his lithe playing in Travels With MyselfAnd Someone Else recalls Jaco Pastorius, and he powers his way through the appropriately heavy-hitting Joe Frazier. Gradually Going Tornado moves into Zappa territory with its twisted funk and absurd lyrics.

The live recordings, The Bruford Tapes and Live At The Venue, are the highlights here as the music really breathes once set loose from the studio. The bandleader launches Sample And Hold, from Live At The Venue, with a bristling drum solo, and the live versions of Joe Frazier and Five G handily outpace their studio forebears – Berlin’s bass playing on the former is superb. “Not too bad,” comments Bruford, a master of understatement.

The set also comes with a booklet of interviews and articles, plus photos and a poster. A collector’s dream.