Jack Bruce – Rockplast – The 50th Birthday Concerts (2014)
Performers: Jack Bruce – bass, guitar, cello, piano, vocals; Ginger Baker – drums; Simon Phillips – drums; Gary Moore – guitar; Clem Clempson – guitar; Dick Heckstall-Smith – saxophone; Bernie Worrell – piano; Gary Husband – piano; Francois Garny – bass; Maggy Reilly – vocals)
Studio: MIG Music MIG 90617 ( 2 DVDs)
Video: 4×3 Color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 235 minutes
Rating: Audio: ***1/2 Video: ***1/2 Overall: ****
Jack Bruce passed away last year. The Scottish-born musician was renowned as a member of the first rock “supergroup”, Cream. Along with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, they revolutionized rock and roll, introducing extended, blues solos in their psychedelic-tinged compositions. Bruce was a major songwriting contributor. His background was in classical music (he studied cello and composition) at the Royal Scottish Academy Of Music And Drama), but he began his professional career in jazz, not uncommon in the UK. Coming of age in the Sixties, Bruce embraced blues, and participated in several ensembles including John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Eventually he teamed with Clapton and Baker in the ultimate power trio. Bruce’s prominent bass and brilliant vocals made the band iconic (despite releasing only three albums). Never approximating the fame of Cream, Baker released several records in the subsequent two decades, collaborating with Robin Trower (Procol Harum) and Leslie West (in another well-regarded group West Bruce & Lang). He recorded until his death in 2014.
MIG Music has released a live DVD set (Jack Bruce – The 50th Birthday Concerts) capturing two November performances in Cologne (November 1993). This concert feels like a retrospective on a multi-instrumentalist (Bruce plays, bass, doublebass, piano, cello and sings) and his broader music styles. There is a flow of different players over the two-day celebration. DVD 1 opens with a cello piece by Bruce (“Improvisation on Minuet No. 1”). He takes on a jazzy piano/vocal (“FM”). For the next three songs, Bruce stays on piano, but the iconic voice is warming up, especially on “Running Thro’ Our Hands”). Then another legend, Ginger Baker lends his still amazing drum skills on an assortment of free-form and bebop numbers. Many English rockers had roots in jazz, none more than Baker and Bruce. With the addition of saxophone (Dick Heckstall-Smith), it is hardcore jazz. But the transition to blues illuminates the music. Clem Clempson adds electric guitar intensity to “First Time I Met The Blues” Eventually the band rips on a couple of Chicago-style blues opuses, “Neighbor, Neighbor” and the gut-wrenching standard, “Born Under A Bad Sign”. Bruce may be the greatest English blues singer, ever. His under-appreciated “non-Cream” work, “Ships In The Night” (from Something Else) and “Theme From An Imaginary Western” (from Songs For A Tailor) feature vocal duets with Maggy Reilly.
DVD 2 starts out in similar fashion. Bruce plays guitar and sings, accompanied by a pair of cellists on “As You Said”. Still on guitar he brings the rock ensemble onstage to perform “Rope Ladder To The Moon” (also from Songs For A Tailor). Like the first disc, things pick up when Bruce grabs his bass, laying down ska-infused riffs on Life On Earth”. Then he lets loose with the first series of classic songs. “NSU” (with that trademark psychedelic droning) showcases long bluesy improvisations that defined Cream. And the hits keep coming, propelled by Baker’s unique drumming. “Sitting on Top Of The World”, “Politician” (with an unexpected appearance from songwriter Pete Brown), “White Room” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” (with two drummers and rock ‘n’ soul horn/reed section) follow and the crowd appreciates it. Then, guitarist Gary Moore joins in, and these songs are taken up a notch. The attitude is tougher on “NSU” and “White Room”. The distorted guitar tonality adds muscle to the jams. “Spoonful” may be the highlight, with Bruce’s howling vocals, Moore’s piercing guitar and Baker’s thundering drum transform the music.
There are other editions of Jack Bruce – The 50th Birthday Concerts, including a Special Edition (box set with 3 DVDs + bonus CD) and an Extended Edition (box set with two DVDs + CD in CD-digi-format). Overall, the stereo sound is balanced and mixed adequately, commensurate with a DVD of this ilk. The video is good, with a few notable shots (one of Ginger Baker in a haze of violet lights with the ever-present dangling cigarette stands out).
DVD 1: Improvisation On Minuet No. 1; FM; Can’t You Follow; Running Thro’ Our Hands; Childsong; The Tube; Over The Cliff; Statues; First Time I Met The Blues; Smiles And Grins; Bird Alone; Neighbor, Neighbor; Born Under A Bad Sign; Boston Ball Game 1967; Ships In The Night; Willpower; Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune; Theme From An Imaginary Western; Golden Days
DVD 2: As You Said; Rope Ladder To The Moon; Life On Earth; Drum Solo: Simon Phillips; NSU; Sitting On Top Of The World; Politician; White Room; Sunshine Of Your Love; Blues You Can’t Loose; Life On Earth – feat. Gary Moore; Politician – feat. Gary Moore; Spoonful – feat. Gary Moore; White Room – feat. Gary Moore