Sunday, March 4, 2012

Goodbye: Adios A La Pasada (Goodbye to the Past)

Bruford: Adios a la Pasada (Goodbye to the Past)

I started playing drums in fourth grade, and the next year, because our sixth grade bass drummer broke his leg, and I was big enough to carry it in a parade, our music teacher asked me to play bass drum. Which I did, almost exclusively through high school, to the detriment of my snare drumming. Bottom line, through lack of practice, and probably talent, I was a mediocre drummer. In college, I joined the marching band, because it looked like fun, and wasn’t really a serious musical organization. As a result of the general lack of quality of my fellow percussionists, I ended up playing more snare drum than ever, and actually improved by the time I graduated. Despite my lack of talent, I have always appreciated good drumming, and as I mentioned in my King Crimson post, Bill Bruford is my favorite. His precision and inventiveness amaze me.

Although I was aware that he was in Yes, I’d have to say that my first “ah ha” moment about Bruford was his playing on the live version of “Cinema Show” by Genesis on Seconds Out, where he was hired to allow Phil Collins to take over the singing duties from Peter Gabriel. Although I consider Collins to be an extraordinary rock drummer, Bruford’s playing on that one track took my breath away.

When I heard his first solo album, Feels Good to Me, I was enthralled. It was clearly a “fusion” album, somewhere between rock and jazz, not like the prog-rock of the old King Crimson, or Yes, or Genesis. Fusion gets a bad name, with some arguing that it consists of the worst of both jazz and rock, and others complaining that it was simply instrumental noodling and musical masturbation, with a focus on technique to the exclusion of all else. Like most generalities there is some truth in that. But there are some brilliant and exciting examples of fusion—including albums by Miles Davis, Soft Machine, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Pat Metheny Group, Frank Zappa, Brand X and Jean-Luc Ponty, to name a few—and Bill Bruford.

The four primary musicians on Feels Good to Me are among the best and most interesting players on their instruments, even if they aren’t the most famous—Bruford on drums and percussion (and, apparently clarinet), Alan Holdsworth on guitar, Dave Stewart (from National Health, not The Eurythmics) on keyboards, and the criminally underappreciated Jeff Berlin on bass. Their playing on this album is extraordinary, the songwriting is exciting and the arrangements are exhilarating. Bruford was clearly willing to take chances on this album.

So, let’s talk about this track. Yes, there are vocals, which is unusual for fusion music. The singer is Annette Peacock, whose Allmusic entry says that her “work as a vocalist, pianist, and composer is austere, cryptic, laconic, minimalistic, and relentlessly individual.” Her unusual vocals are the most controversial part of the song—some reviewers love them, others hate them, but few are indifferent. Frankly, I always found them a bit annoying, especially when you add the spaciness of the lyrics to the mix—for example:

What it is, is this
Is what it is
You and I exist
Therefore we are becoming
Here we are in this precisely now

Whatever that means. As a result, when I chose a song to play on the radio from this album, I rarely (never?) chose this one. But listening again to the song today in preparation for writing this, I have to say, it works. And it is evidence that Bruford was not just taking the easy way out on his first solo album.

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