Interview with Bill Bruford The Birmingham Post

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Date Submitted: 14-Jul-2000
Submitted By: Kathryn Ottersten (ottkat at bellatlantic dot net)

Birmingham Post, July 16, 1998
Copyright 1998 Midland Independent Newspapers plc
Birmingham Post
July 16, 1998,


Robert Fripp once described Bill Bruford as a drummer who possessed the temperament of a classical player and the technique of a jazz musician but who had somehow ended up playing rock music.

Most famously in the Yes line-up of the early 70s, that recorded the albums Fragile and Close To the Edge, and on and off for the past 25 years with King Crimson, Bruford has become the drummer's drummer, the ideal towards which many younger players gravitate.

With the latest Crimson incarnation on semi-permanent hold Bruford has returned to his first love, jazz, and revived his Earthworks project that between 1987 and 1994 acted as a training ground for such front-line young British jazz players as Django Bates, Iain Ballamy and Tim Harries.

Bruford reactivated the band last year when it became clear that the current Crimson had run its course. Earthworks are playing a series of gigs over the summer, recording an album in the autumn and then touring the states during January and February.

"There's a busy immediate future for the band," the always affable Bruford told me. "New music has to be worked up and worked into and once you get into a roll with these things it's very hard to stop because the planning is so far ahead.

"I'm now booking February and March which means I'd be reluctant to interrupt that flow. I believe you should either start it and see it through or not start it at all. So I guess there won't be a Crimson for a while."

The merest hint of irritation creeps into Bruford's voice when he discusses the current Crimson hiatus. He's been here before of course. Having left the lucrative drummer's seat in Yes for the altogether less predictable King Crimson in 1973, Bruford was disappointed, to put it mildly, when Fripp called the whole thing to a halt two years later, just as the band was on the verge of breaking through in the American market.

There was a strong sense of deja-vu when Fripp pulled the plug on the 1980s Crimson line-up, a band whose power can at last be fully appreciated on the recently-released double live set Absent Lovers (Discipline).

Now history seems to have repeated itself for a third time, although Fripp insists the current spate of Projeckts involving members of Crimson are keeping the band's spirit alive.

Bruford is more cautious however. "Robert seems to find it very hard to put Crimson together," he says. "He seems incapable of it until a kind of grand masterplan appears in his head. That master plan needn't be told to anybody else and certainly doesn't have to be understood by anybody else, it's just a kind of thing which enables him to get it going. The last band had six people and was very expensive to run, so I think he feels he has to do something 'different' every time. I think the Projeckts are partly to move a block in Robert's own mind about the whole thing."

Although Bruford was involved in Projeckt One, which "only briefly flourished" last December, playing four nights at London's Jazz Cafe, he is less than complimentary about Projeckt Two, which played at Ronnie's earlier this year.

"I found the music a little flat," Bruford says, "because it's controlled by the dynamics of these digital drums which I find a little unsurprising. I'm moving back to the much broader dynamic range of jazz rather than the digital dynamic range which governs something like Projeckt Two."

His attitude regarding Crimson seems to be a mixture of resignation and slight frustration. "Because I've been through dozens of these Crimson plots, the incline to 1981 and what have you I just get on with life. It feels like I've been involved with a lot of Crimsons, it must be about 14 or 15 album's worth of stuff since 1973, and I don't regret a minute of it, but I don't sit around waiting for it.

"Since Robert now is the only man who can say if we are ever going to play again I would really rather progress with something that I'm making rapid inroads into, which is the European jazz festivals and jazz in general, which is a great place for a thinking drummer. Rock is very limiting.

"I like to write a lot and the stuff I like to write wouldn't be used by Crimson. Nobody writes for Crimson, it sort of appears. Earthworks for me is very much a writing group. Hearing the young whizz kids play fresh stuff is lovely."

The new Earthworks features pianist Steve Hamilton, bassist Geoff Gascoyne and hot young sax player Patrick Clahar. Their music is largely improvised, which was also true of King Crimson, especially the early 70s Larks Tongues In Aspic line-up. "I would always have liked more in Crimson," Bruford says, "and there's no doubt that when it comes to improvising jazz players are going to be hotter on the scales and harmonics whereas rock guys are more limited in that area but perhaps better with timbre and instrumental sound, which requires huge racks of equipment, and therefore heavy overheads.

"Crimson always had a foot in that tradition which is why it was the only rock band I was ever interested in and it still has an ability to do that, albeit with six people."

The prolific Bruford has also just released an album, B.L.U.E. recorded with Crimson colleague Tony Levin, guitarist David Torn and first call New York session trumpeter Chris Botti. Although made around the same time as last year's If Summer Had Its Ghosts, an exquisite collaboration with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez, B.L.U.E. could not be more different.

"I think it's a lovely record, it's much darker, much more metal, much noisier with a lead trumpet as opposed to guitar," he says.

Given the experimental nature of much of Bruford's music in the 90s it's hard to imagine he was once part of the stentorian prog rockers Yes.

"It was certainly very different to what I'm doing now," Bruford says. "It's a quarter of a century ago and I've more or less forgotten all about it, but it was a good place to start. I was learning my craft, learning how to get on with other musicians, learning how to co-operate with a group, which is all very important especially when you're a prima-donna young drummer, who thinks he's played everything when in fact he's played nothing."

Despite his apparent desire to wipe the Yes experience from his memory Bruford has returned to the band on two occasions, as part of the late 80s Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe aggregate and the overblown 1991 Union tour. He clearly has no desire to repeat either experience.

"The Union tour was like an overpaid holiday really, it was just a nostalgia trip. It was fun for two or three months, tops, but it's nothing you want to give up your day job for."