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Bill Bruford's Earthworks

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BILL BRUFORD'S EARTHWORKS

As the drummer for Yes and later King Crimson, Bill Bruford plied fusion from the wild side, so when he took a few steps away from their extravagant prog and formed his jazz-rock group Earthworks in 1986, it represented a shift in balance rather than a sea change in the substance of his music. Comprising fellow Brits about half their leader's age, the first incarnation of Earthworks was distinguished by Bruford's energetic, Chick Corea-influenced compositions and inventive, tasteful use of drum electronics--it was the last noteworthy fusion band, and perhaps the most thoughtful in a decade. But that was last century. On The Sound of Surprise (Discipline Global Mobile), the brand-new seventh recording under the Earthworks name, Bruford leads an all-acoustic quartet that has little to do with jazz-rock fusion--the same lineup he introduced on his previous disc, in a change that really did surprise his fans. (The album's title comes from New Yorker writer Whitney Balliett's too-frequently quoted definition of jazz.) Bruford has a sturdy, earnest saxophonist, Patrick Clahar, who's well schooled in the ways of modern giants like Joe Lovano and Joe Henderson, and a polished pianist, Steve Hamilton, whose flights sometimes echo Corea's. And though Bruford provides the excitement, he doesn't do it the obvious way--his drumming doesn't bring a raw rock energy to the music. Instead he emerges as an exceptionally vivid jazz player, a master of acoustic color who doesn't need drum synths and triggered samples to paint extraordinary sonic pictures. Yet I still find myself disappointed at the absence of electronics, which Bruford wielded with such panache in earlier editions of the band. The Earthworks on Sound of Surprise is a perfectly respectable but hardly earthshaking jazz quartet--worth hearing for Bruford's finesse and imagination, but not the drop-dead stunner captured on such albums as Dig? (1989) or All Heaven Broke Loose (1991). Saturday, June 2, 10 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-404-9494.

NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Matthias Ketz.

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