Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
Knitting Factory, N.Y., N.Y.
April 18, 1998
It’s the return of the acoustic Bill Bruford! Take away all those electronic toys and it’s 1973 all over again with a new improved twist. While Robert Fripp is off touring with his King Crimson/Project Two band, BLUE (Bruford Levin Upper Extremities) is tearing up the northeast United States coast after a Japanese tour. At the Knitting Factory last night, an excited crowd packed a mostly standing room venue – i.e. little or no seats to start with.
Master percussionist Bruford (King Crimson, Earthworks, founding member of Yes) started the evenings proceedings with a drum solo shortly to be joined by co-leader Tony Levin on bass and stick. While the polyrhythmic Bruford performed his amazing drum styling updated for this tour, Levin skronked a couple of notes on an electric upright bass by sawing close to the bridge and bouncing the bow on the strings. Post-Hendrix texturalist David Torn trotted on stage to add his guitar soon to be followed by trumpet player Chris Botti.
While the are similarities – Bruford, Levin & Torn recorded with trumpet player Mark Isham on 1987’s Cloud About Mercury (ECM) – this band sometimes sounds more like King Crimson. On Fin de Siecle, the band started with a chromatic unison riff that lead to a classic Crimson twister. A middle section recalled both Cloud About Mercury and Crimson’s 1974 classic Red: a trumpet and bass melody (Cloud About Mercury) with a repeating guitar part that was very Fripp (Red). Unlike the cd, most of the compositions at this concert were stretched out and improvised upon.
Cracking the Midnight’s Glass gave way to a bass riff reminiscent of Led Zepplelin’s Kashmir while Torn (solo, David Sylvian) abused his guitar – here’s a guitarist who’s not afraid to snap out those upper harmonics with a lot of distortion! Unfortunately, even when he showed off his stream-of-notes Holdsworth legato, the over abundant reverb from the board made his sound muddy. Torn spent as much time playing his guitar as generating undulating sheets of sound from his digital signal processing equipment. During the encore, he waved a tape recorder playing what sounded like a mid-eastern singer next to his guitar pickups and caught the sound in a digital loop, bringing it back many times for effect.
Shades of Miles: I always thought that Cloud About Mercury was the ultimate direction for Miles Davis – the album he never made. Chris Botti (Paul Simon, Blue Nile) suggested Miles but Botti’s trumpet also had too much reverb, but in a way, this was perfect for the ethereal melodies he was spinning. An exceptional horn player perfect for this band.
Co-leader Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) held down the music with his distinctive bass. Always solid and never a parody of his past, it is refreshing to hear an artist grow. With this concert, Bruford and Levin show that there is life outside of King Crimson by research independent research. While at the top of his form, Bruford in particular hasn’t shown any growth since 1989’s Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe. Let’s hope there is more to the band Bruford Levin. Maybe more albums and tours with other soloist’s – might I suggest Bill Frisell and/or Pat Metheny?
Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.