Buckle up, kiddies, it's going to be a bit of a rough ride. Our destination? Jack Bruce. The vehicle? His 50th birthday concert in Germany in '93. I should warn the passengers that the craft is not entirely reliable, is of foreign manufacture, and, worse, not always governed by normal laws of navigation, but let's get underway anyhow, shall we? The estimable, and now late, Mr. Bruce has been a multi-disciplinary presence since his early jazz and rock days, but overall most famed for a residency in the short-lived Cream, which collapsed in the wake of a bitter ceaseless agitancy between he and drummer Ginger Baker, the latter not exactly of entirely rational frame either.
The two came damn near to killing each other and might well have taken poor longsuffering Eric Clapton along with 'em, so E.C. called an end to things. Heroin addiction more than enough of a problem, it didn't help to have to stride through life with two squabbling albatrosses athwart one's neck as well. Jack was never again to attain to the heights despite a plethora of releases, but he was not too long after to be an integral cause of another monster ensemble's crash: Mountain, when he stole Leslie West away from Cream's ex-producer Felix Pappalardi, whom many view as the true key to Cream's success. Jack then formed West, Bruce, and Laing.
Why that band never made it, I'll never know. I'm definitely in the minority in thinking it to be a rather nice presentation of two LPs (with the killerest version of Eddie Boyd's Third Degree I've ever heard) and a live one-off, but then…Leslie West's a tedious and tendentious asshole, so no one needs an issue of Psychology Today to figure things out on that score either. Add Jack's unbelievable drug usage, a habit that had nearly bankrupted him more than once, into the mix, and no griots or prophets were needed to predict the future of that very brief incarnation.
Bruce's earlier Songs for a Tailor (1974), however, was his ne plus ultra as a solo act. Why? Because Pappalardi produced it as well. Sigh! Artists are s'posed to be angels, aren't they?, and that's one of Bruce's two redeeming traits: sure, he could play that bass, but, man, could he ever sing! But rough angels like Mr. Bruce aren't always polymaths. 50th Birthday starts with cello solo by our boy that quickly reveals why he was never a pro classicalist. He whips out some mediocre piano after, but when he opens his mouth and encants? The heavens open up and critics weep. This is why Carla Bley, Mike Mantler, the Golden Palominos, and others were eager to recruit the guy for their avant-rock-jazz-neoclassicalities and other expositions.
Jack 'n Ginge musta kissed 'n made up 'cause, after Dick Heckstall-Smith plies his reeds here, Baker enters to thunderous applause and shows just why he's most likely the true-est heir to Buddy Rich…who was also a lunatic. The cinnamon haired monster (catch the documentary Beware Mr. Baker) is just inhumanly good and he keeps popping up though the date, switching off with Simon Phillips. In the concert, Jack's 50 but looks 75 while Baker appears to be 80 or more—man, them drugs do demand their price, don' they?—yet plays like he's 30. Just astonishing. A lot of jazz noodling erupts and carries on until Clem Clempson trots in on guitar and starts to rescue the affair. We get into a blues, and the show's properly under way. 'Ere long, Gary 'Mudbone' Cooper duets with Jack on the unusual disparallaxed Boston Ball Game 1967, and then Maggie Reilly takes Cooper's place on Ships in the Night.
One of the biggest treats of the event is the appearance of Pete Brown, Cream's lyricist and later founder of Piblokto and Battered Ornaments, for a couple cuts. Clapton was supposed to show but had to beg off, the choice, then, of Moore as alternative a great one. I'd been into the bloke since his obscure Skid Row debut (1970) hit the racks, what with its Mad Dog Woman, a cut harmonizing with Wishbone Ash in angularities and echoing Three Man Army in sheer bravado. Gary's later switch to blues brought him apogee fame but his performances here turn everything upside down, clearly the top dog of the gig, which even Bruce silently admits as his own playing ratchets up to meet the fireball axemeister.
In sum, there are a lot interesting passages and renditions (I died over As You Said and Rope Ladder to the Moon accompanied by two young cellists) but just as many doldrums and non-zingers, Moore Galahading in to light the borderlands up and lower the gritty heavens. 50th Birthday Concert is by no means the now-passed legend's best…nor his worst…and so we see why it took over a decade for this gig to finally see the light of day.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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