December 2007

Bruford - Borstlap's "In Two Minds"

Last May, I attended the 2007 edition of the Bath International Music Festival. In addition to being one of England's most beautiful and architectural cities, Bath attracts some of the greatest musicians from around the globe; Mavis Staples & Jazz Jamaica, the electronica of Arthurs & Bown and People Like Us; the folk stylings of Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill; and the genre crossing Iain Ballamy & Stian Carstensen. My personal favorites however, were the jazz duo of drummer Bill Bruford and pianist Michiel Borstlap. After a high profile and illustrious career as the rock drummer of his generation (with Yes, Genesis and King Crimson), Bruford carved out an equally successful name as a jazz drummer through his jazz-rock ensemble Earthworks. Borstlap is a brilliant pianist, capable of creating solos of dazzling complexity, but also able to employ space and subtlety. Together they adopt a witty, conversational style: the table talk may turn as much to Liszt Scherzos as to jazz standards and free spirited improvisation. Now comes a recording of that performance in Bath and Norway, the aptly named "In Two Minds".

'In Two Minds' is the second CD to come from this pairing of fine musicians, and will no doubt be hugely anticipated by the large and dedicated fan base built up by these two artists in addition to their own separate respective fan bases who have witnessed them in concert since the duo's first formal collaboration back in 2002. Recorded in 2007, 'In Two Minds' features eleven intimate and conversational tracks of new, original material, and a stand-out reading of the Miles Davis classic 'All Blues'. Released on the Summerfold imprint, the Bruford-Borstlap Duo will again be playing selected live dates in the run up to the release of this album, including their London debut at the London Jazz Festival on 24th November 2007.

I saw Bruford's first piano-drum duo with the Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz in 1982, at New York City's now defunct Bottom Line, and later in 1983, at D.C.'s also defunct Bayou. Bruford and Moraz had released two albums, the acoustic "Music for Piano and Drums", and the electronic "Flags". Consequently, these recordings and others have been reissued on Bruford's new record labels: Summerfold and Winterfold. With their first CD, "Every Step A Dance, Every Word A Song", and a DVD titled "In Concert In Holland", Bruford teamed up with Dutch keyboard master Michiel Borstlap, in duets culled from their 2003-2004 European tour. Although the duo's efforts are rooted in jazz, there are hints of the progressive-rock/New Age flavor of "Flags", where Borstlap employs synthesizer for choruses and textures, and Bruford's well known polyrhythmic beats and syncopations that propel this beautiful musical journey.

Bruford met first Dutch pianist Michiel Borstlap in 2002, and they began playing duo shows that were less about the confines of structure and more about what Bruford terms "performance-based" music, music of the moment where spontaneity and interaction were the predominant factors. Gratefully, the duo returns with "In Two Minds", a live recording of their summer 2007 tour of Norway and England.

Michiel Borstlap and Bill Bruford at the 2007 Bath Festival
Photo by Tim Dickeson

The "Left of the Dial" reviewer Glenn Astarita once noted that "Borstlap primarily uses a grand piano as his instrument of choice via a potpourri of swing vamps, and sublime moments, while Bruford's shading exercises, add color and additional warmth. Highlights include segments where the duo expands themes and unexpectedly switch gears as they often instill a polytonal outlook during jazz standards such as Monk's "Bemsha Swing," for example.

The piece titled "Swansong" from their first CD, is a compelling opus that defines the artists' overriding sense of musical intimacy coupled with power and tenacity. Here, Borstlap executes slashing crescendos amid Art Tatum-like chord voicings, as the unit melds quaint balladry with bluesy passages. The fun factor continues with Bruford's drumming onslaught, which serves as a prelude of sorts, to Borstlap's shrewd use of a synth chorale voicing to finalize the piece. Simply stated, it's about synergy and singular techniques rooted with elements of joy and precision.

Canadian Music reviewer John Kelman wrote that "while Bruford and Borstlap are still more concerned with form than, say, Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi-whose recent album with Paul Motian, Doorways , is another beast entirely-the reciprocation between the two jumps out from the first notes of the more structured "The 16 Kingdoms of the 5 Barbarians." Bruford's liner notes allude to the fact that the performance space impacts the nature of the musical dialogue-smaller rooms having "the intimacy of a dinner table conversation between old friends," while larger venues "naturally become a bit more muscular and assertive."

Some of my favorite pieces from the new CD include the log drum driven "Conference of Bees," "The Art of Conversation" and another abstract, yet faithful reading of the classic Miles Davis tune "All Blues". Bruford may gently assert the forward motion, but he's also become a masterful colourist. And while Borstlap's supplementing of his piano with electronic keyboards sometimes gives the duo a broader complexion, the subtleties of their exchange are never overshadowed by sheer demonstrativeness. There were other fine moments from the Bath show not found on the CD, like the hilariously titled "Sharp Objects in Search of Shade" and I'll never forget Borstlap's playful bit of Gershwin at the end of the concert, however the selections chosen for " In Two Minds" are very fine indeed.

"In Two Minds" is yet another step forward for Borstlap, already a well-established European jazz figure, and truly represents one more advance in the pursuit of a more instinctive and natural approach for Bruford, an artist who has, for all intents and purposes, left his rock roots completely behind him. I absolutely loved it.This CD and others from Bruford's ever growing catalogue can be found on his website:

Chick Corea's Elektric Band Comes to Yoshi's

My first encounter with the enigmatic jazz pianist Chick Corea, came some thirty years ago with his now legendary group, Return to Forever. That incarnation featured future legends, bassist Stanley Clarke, drummer Lenny White and Bill Connors. If my mind wasn't already blown, it surely was after seeing the next RTF line-up, which featured the debut of a young guitarist named Al DiMeola. For three amazing nights in a row and a mere two blocks from my childhood home near the Carter Barron Amphitheater, I sat in awe of this groundbreaking new music that would ultimately become some of the very best of that bygone, jazz-fusion era.

Since that time, Corea has continued to amaze and astound; incredible solo albums; Grammy awards; his acoustic and electric line-ups; recent collaborations with the likes of banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, and of course his "Elektric Band". This latest version adds Flecktone alumni, bassist Victor Wooten and continues their stand at Yoshi's tonight and tomorrow in Oakland.

Corea's Elektric Band, is one of the most critically acclaimed jazz fusion bands of the past two decades. Following the demise of Return to Forever, Corea established the musical ensemble in 1986. The Elektric Band was a little different in style compared to Return to Forever, in that it signified a move away from rock-oriented fusion into a more Post-bop style. Following a long hiatus, the band reunited to produce "To the Stars" in 2004.

The first Elektric Band album can be described as "jazz-rock", though it is much closer to traditional jazz than the jazz-rock albums of 1970s. The keyboard sounds on the album are typical for the mid-1980s. Weckl's electronic drums dominate the album's sound, with the guitar duties split between Scott Henderson and Carlos Rios. The second album, Light Years (1987) is more funk-oriented than its predecessor. Saxophonist Eric Marienthal joins the band and Frank Gambale replaces Henderson and Rios (who plays still on some tracks) to form what is considered the band's definitive lineup.

The third album, Eye of the Beholder, relies on softer sounds. Here Corea relies on acoustic piano, with synthesizers largely in the background. Gambale also plays acoustic guitar on some tracks, lending a Flamenco-influenced sound to pieces like "Eternal Child." The Elektric Band's fourth album, Inside Out (1991), features some compositions that fall in the post-bop rather than the fusion category. The four-part piece "Tale of Daring", which closes the album, relies on unconventional melodies and relatively free improvisation. But two other compositions, the title track and "Kicker," are more traditional fusion pieces.

Corea still uses mostly acoustic piano, but Gambale plays electric guitar throughout. The last album featuring the band's traditional lineup was Beneath the Mask (1991), a return to the electric jazz-funk of the second album. For the next album, Elektric Band II: Paint the World (1993), only Corea and Marienthal returned from the original lineup. The album's style can be described as modern jazz, crossing between post-bop and fusion. The original members reunited in 2004 for To the Stars (2004), which is stylistically close to the avant-garde and post-bop on Inside Out.

Considering the staggering volume of his recorded output over the past 40 years, it is no overstatement to call Chick Corea one of the most prolific composers of the second half of the 20th century. From avant-garde to bebop, from children’s songs to straight ahead, from hard-hitting fusion to heady forays into classical, Chick has touched an astonishing number of musical bases in his illustrious career while maintaining a standard of excellence that is simply uncanny. By reuniting his ground-breaking Elektric Band and adding the unbelievable Victor Wooten on bass, Corea truly continues to blaze trails through a new frontier of electrifying, creative music.

Chick Corea Electrik Band
With Eric Marienthal, Frank Gambale, Victor Wooten and Dave Weckl
Yoshi's Jack London Square, Oakland
Fri & Sat 8pm & 10pm $45