Jack Bruce was one of the finest and most original musicians in popular music. And while he is famous predominately for his work in Sixties supergroup Cream (with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker), his solo output is no less impressive, which in itself was a genre-defying display of talent that remains startling even today.
Spirit: Live At The BBC is a compendium of recordings made between 1971 and 1978, featuring many songs from his post Cream period, along with a few surprises in between. The first disc consists of a performance captured by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz In Britain program on 10th August and 18th September 1971. For the September sessions Bruce had assembled a stellar group, one which consisted of Graham Bond (organ and saxophone), Chris Spedding (guitar), John Marshall (drums), and Art Themen (sax).
Apart from superb renditions of “You Burned The Tables On Me,” “Smiles And Grins,” “Folk Song,” and “A Letter Of Thanks,” all from his solo LP Harmony Row, he also performed a new arrangement of the Cream-era “We’re Going Wrong,” along with one track from Songs For A Tailor, “The Clearout.” He concludes the set with old chestnut “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” (including Graham Bond on lead vocals), a brawny “Powerhouse Sod,” and a strong “You Sure Look Good To Me.”
The final three tracks, from the August session, with drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist John Surman, are equally compelling, especially “Jack’s Gone,” a hypnotic jazz number quite unlike anything Bruce’s fans would have been familiar with at the time.
The second CD consists of a performance made for the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test on 6th June 1975, as well as two tracks taken once again from Radio 3’s Jazz In Britain on 4th September 1978. The former session is notable since it includes ex-Rolling Stone guitarist Mick Taylor, who had just recently turned his back on the band in search of less commercial pastures.
Alongside older material such as “Can You Follow,” “Morning Glory,” and “Smiles And Grins,” The Jack Bruce Band also perform newer numbers off Jack’s 1974 LP Out Of The Storm, “Pieces Of Mind,” and “One,” plus a marvellous version of “Spirit,” written by Tony Williams. Mick Taylor does an excellent job throughout, to the extent that one wouldn’t even know that he’d just left The Rolling Stones, proving in the process that he could quite easily have forged a career as a quality jazz fusion guitarist.
The third CD stems from two shows, the first on 14th April 1977, along with one track recorded on 4th September 1978. Performed in the set were songs mainly from his latest album How’s Tricks, and the then unreleased Jet Set Jewel, including “Madhouse,” “Times,” “Baby Jane,” “Something To Live For,” and “Lost Inside A Song,” including a reworked “Without A Word,” and Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign,” a tune of course Bruce had recorded during his days with Cream, although the rendition here is a little jazzier than the heavy blues of the 1967 version.
Other highlights include a second version of “Spirit,” an emotional “Out Into The Fields,” and a stirring “You Burned The Tables On Me.” Final track, “Twenty Past Four,” is a veritable tour de force, with Bruce, Surman and Hiseman blowing plenty of creative steam throughout its twelve intense minutes, managing to produce their very own weather system in the process.
Spirit: Live At The BBC is not just a treasure trove for fans, but further evidence of Jack Bruce’s brilliance as a musician and composer. Ever the musical explorer, the man simply couldn’t sit still for too long at any one time, pushing himself into less radio-friendly frontiers, far away from the international success he had garnered in the late 1960’s. And while it’s unlikely that many followers of Cream are aware of Bruce’s solo work, for devotees of jazz-rock, this collection comes highly recommended.