Bill Bruford's Earthworks | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Bill Bruford's Earthworks

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When he gets around to writing his autobiography, drummer Bill Bruford would do well to divide it into two volumes: one to cover his early career, when he provided the smooth surge that powered iconic art-rock bands Yes and King Crimson, and one to detail his ongoing transformation into a British version of jazz drummer Tony Williams. Like Williams before him, Bruford has become a respected veteran at a relatively young age, filling out his bands with excellent up-and-coming players and leading from the back of the stage with vision and authority. Bruford has developed into a significant composer as well, joining Williams among the distinct minority of percussionists who write; also like Williams, whose late-60s trio Lifetime took fusion to the wall, Bruford has helped to shape a viable acoustic music informed by his jazz-rock experience. The 16-year history of Bruford's band Earthworks could itself comprise a couple chapters. The group's first edition--which briefly seemed a possible successor to Weather Report--used electronics, wielded mainly by Bruford, to create an "electroacoustic" fusion; the current edition's sound is resolutely free of inorganic elements. For a while I missed the plugged-in effects, but on Earthworks' latest album--a live double disc called Footloose and Fancy Free (DGM)--the second lineup generates plenty of electricity without them. Saxist Patrick Clahar aspires to Wayne Shorter's tone, and his busier flights neatly combine the knotty logic of Joe Henderson with the sexy forcefulness of Michael Brecker. (Tim Garland, who briefly played in Chick Corea's Origin, recently replaced Clahar; I haven't heard him, but Bruford's taste in sidemen has proved trustworthy so far.) Pianist Steve Hamilton and bassist Mark Hodgson can bubble along with the horn, leaving it plenty of breathing room, or provide the granite foundation needed to support Bruford's vibrant, pounding drum solos. Despite their enormous weight and power, these solos are also exceptionally expressive--a superficial paradox that turns out to be Earthworks' greatest strength. Even the most angular beats Bruford can devise, like the bluntest melody lines he writes for the band, reflect a storyteller's attention to detail and a poet's ear for rhyme; it's this fusion-inspired lyricism that makes the music one potential model for the 21st-century jazz mainstream. Sunday, May 26, 8 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-404-9494.

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