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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jack Bruce - Things We Like

Update, August 2016: We will be playing Jack Bruce's Music again at JJ Smyth's in Dublin on August 25th at 20.20 - hope to see some of the readers of this blog there. And if you do read this blog and are at the gig - please say hello!

Jack Bruce is probably the reason why I play the bass. Although I was raised on jazz at home, and have spent my musical life in jazz, it was hearing Bruce’s great bass lines with Cream that first made me think of how much I liked that sound, and how this could be something I’d like to check out for myself. At one point I obsessively listened to Cream, really focusing on the bass playing and it inspired me to buy my first bass.

Although I migrated fairly rapidly to jazz, I was always checking Jack Bruce out and hearing how different and individualistic his music was – on his solo albums, and with Lifetime, with Mike Gibbs etc. His own background was jazz and he took what he knew into the rock world and did some revolutionary things, as well as writing some of the great rock classics such as ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ and ‘I Feel Free’.

Years later I had the extraordinary experience of meeting him. I was playing with Alan Skidmore at Ronnie Scott's Club, and Jack came in to see Skid - they were old mates from the 60's London scene. At that time I'd developed a very fluent plectrum technique on the bass, (I gave up the plectrum in '93 when I got my new bass as I didn't like the sound, thereby halving my technique overnight, and probably halving the number of Youtube followers I would have 25 years later....), and coming off the stage at the end of a set, a shadowy figure loomed out of the darkness and asked, in a very heavy Glasgow accent, 'How the fuck do you play the bass with a plectrum like that!?' I was a little taken aback at this sudden question from a stranger and muttered something in response, and then, as my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, realised, 'holy shit - that's Jack Bruce!'

Skid arrived and they hugged and chatted, with me just standing there gawping at Jack, a bit overawed to be in the presence of the guy who'd started everything for me on the bass. Skid and Jack decided to go for a drink and Jack invited me to join them - I didn't need asking twice.... So off we went to the Dog and Duck down the road from Ronnie's, and apart from it being a great thrill for me to be in his company, I found him to be a great guy – very funny and warm with no ‘superstar’ vibe about him – a real musician, and I still am thrilled to have had the chance to meet him and spend a little time with him.

Listening to him now, and the work he did with Cream in the 60's, you can hear why he was the leading bassist of the rock era, his bass lines are so much more than the usual one-note thump so typical of bassists of that time. The bass lines are virile and active, and really grooving, and you can hear the influence of his jazz background. His musicianship and versatility allowed him to play beyond the boundaries of rock, and his collaborators included such luminaries as Tony Williams, Carla Bley and Mike Gibbs. And although he was disparaging of his time studying classical music, there's no doubt that his abilities on cello and piano helped him to express the full range of his song writing talents on the many solo albums he made after leaving Cream.

When he passed away last year, it made me think about him again, and I wanted to do a project based on his music and great songs. So I’ve put together a band to play his music at the legendary JJ Smyth's in Dublin on the 18th of June, and had a great time going through his enormous songbook and picking tunes I love and trying to find a way to do them that are both respectful to the songs while allowing myself to respond to them in a personal way. The ones I've chosen so far are from the Cream canon - 'Sunshine of Your Love', 'I Feel Free', 'We're Going Wrong', and White Room', as well as the great pieces from 'Songs for a Tailor' - 'Never tell Your Mother She's Out of Tune', and 'Rope Ladder to the Moon'

We'll also be playing 'Things We Like' from Jack's out and out jazz album with John McLaughlin. I've had a liking for this simple little counterpoint-driven them. It has a kind of Ornette-ish innocence about it and will give us a break from the quite complex arrangements I've written for the other pieces.

I’m lucky to have a great band with me – Margot Daly (vocals), Michael Buckley (saxophones), Joe O' Callaghan (guitar), Izumi Kimura (keyboards), and Brendan Doherty (Drums) are ideal musicians for this, with the incredible range of skills necessary to do justice to one of the great musicians of the 20th Century.

Shortly after his passing last year I recorded a little improvisation for him, and we'll also be doing this piece in tribute to him. If you're around on June 18th in Dublin, come down to JJ's and join us in the celebration of his music. R.I.P. Jack - your music lives on....

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