Sunday, March 02, 2003


Jazz drummer and bandleader Bill Bruford was in jocular mood for his interview with Claire Martin on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Jazz Line-Up’ (Saturday 1 March, 4.30pm). Highlighting Earthworks’ latest live album and DVD (‘Footloose and Fancy Free’, 2002) and upcoming tour, he talked about recording, the inspiration behind the quartet, working with Tim Garland, the influence of his art-rock roots, and what it means to play at Ronnie Scott’s after all these years.

Earthworks has moved away from its earlier, more experimental phase around Bruford’s old Simmons electronic drums. The band has returned, in recent years, to its post-bop roots. Even so, the music is complex, eclectically melodic, and draws on a range of sound sources without resorting to the cliché and over-statement that gave ‘fusion’ a bad name in the 1980s. Here are a few highlights from Bruford’s remarks:

[On the recording process] “It is brave [to go in live]… Studio is sometimes easier, but to tell the truth I find the whole process like pulling teeth.”

[On recruiting legendary ex-Corea sidesman Tim Garland on sax] “I was flagging somewhat as a composer, and wanted to get in another really good writer … to broaden the scope of the compositions.”

[On playing at Ronnie Scott’s] “Ronnies has a kind of mythical status to it… I went to [the] old place in [London’s] Chinatown years ago, and heard Ornette Coleman and Charlie Moffett … and then the new place, [where] in the ‘60s I [listened to] Roland Kirk, Jimi Hendrix, all kinds of stuff. I’ve done a couple of showcases … but this is the first time I’ve ever played there as an adult!”

[On “the intrepid Julian Arguelles” depping for Tim Garland in Oxford] “He’ll be sight-reading his way through [the lot]… It’ll be a real feast of musicianship. I’ll buy him an alcohol-free pint afterwards.”

“I find it’s the bass player these days who often holds the heart of the thing down… when all is lost I refer to Mark [Hodgson].”

[On Earthworks’ style] “The music is pretty idiosyncratic, so it’s difficult to have somebody to just drop by. It’s very tight… There’s a bit of the old art-rock there… When you say a word like that you could expect quite a bit of high drama in the composition, .. some fancy odd twists and turns .. also a lot of odd metres.. I’m one of those strange individuals who's more comfortable in odd metres than in 4/4. I have great difficulty playing in 4/4”

“I like a good tune, no doubt about that. Something like ‘Footloose and Fancy Free’ is a foot-tapper… one for the milkman – if you’ve got a very hip milkman!”

[asked about whether his writing is as spontaneous as the music sounds] “Oh no.. I have to reluctantly drag myself to the piano, sharpen endless pencils, have lots of coffee .. and it’s very slow-going. And then because I’m a drummer my composition may have some rather questionable harmony attached to it, so Steve Hamilton has to give it the once over, the tick of health.”

[On former collaborator and new music/jazz composer Django Bates] “I love Django, and he’s more than welcome to drop in… we’ll confuse the heck out of him any time he wants!”

[Repertoire in Japan and the Far East] “Sometimes if it’s a festival they want some kind of … Asian-European connection… so maybe we’d play with some Asian musicians. We did that in Hong Kong [recently] with a very good [Chinese] guitar player called Eugene Pao. But generally we just turn up and do what we do.”

See the Arguelles article [94.3] below for other musician links. The Japanese import of 'Footloose and Fancy Free' has a bonus track, "Shadow Of A Doubt". This edition of 'Jazz Line-Up' can be heard on line (link above) until next Sunday at 3pm.

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