BRUFORD: FEELS GOOD TO ME (1977)
1) Beelzebub; 2) Back To The Beginning; 3) Seems Like A Lifetime Ago (part 1); 4) Seems Like A Lifetime Ago (part 2); 5) Sample And Hold; 6) Feels Good To Me; 7) Either End Of August; 8) If You Can't Stand The Heat; 9) Springtime In Siberia; 10) Adios A La Pasada.
Be it Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, or even Phil "How The Hell Did I End Up Behind A Drum Kit When I'd Always Wanted To Be The Beatles?" Collins, you do not usually hold high expectations for a drummer's solo career, no matter how many bonus points he gets in the agility department. Drummers do not tend to make good songwriters, are usually terrible at singing (a few exceptions like Levon Helm just proving the rule), and have an inferiority complex because they never get laid as much as the front man or the lead guitarist. For that reason, the world did not exactly hold its breath when, after the next demise of King Crimson, the newly freed Bill Bruford announced that, after all those years of loyal servitude to Yes and Robert Fripp, he would finally start up a band of his own — simply called «Bruford» for short.
The good news was that he'd managed to assemble a somewhat spectacular lineup: Dave Stewart (of Canterbury's Hatfield and the North and National Health fame) on keyboards, Allan Holdsworth (of Soft Machine fame, although he only played there for a short time) on lead guitar, and former violinist Jeff Berlin on bass; additional guests on the band's first album included Brand X's John Goodsall on rhythm guitar, jazz pro Kenny Wheeler on flugelhorn, and dreamy-eccentric-avantgarde artist Annette Peacock on vocals. All the compositions were credited either to Bruford alone or to the Bruford/Stewart team — but it goes without saying that composition is not the most important aspect on most of these tracks.
The best thing that can be said about the record is that, although it is technically a «fusion» album, it is by no means a generic, predictable one. It does share certain similarities with Brand X's Unorthodox Behaviour, released a year earlier — jazz-fusion at the core, yet with numerous melodic overtones that reflect the drummers' earlier symphonic-prog experience. But it goes even further than Brand X, because the addition of Annette Peacock to this lineup gives the music an extra romantic-philosophical-mystical dimension: the lengthy tracks on which she is given enough freedom (ʽBack To The Beginningʼ and especially the closing ʽAdios A La Pasadaʼ, which she co-wrote) are easily the best on the record. On ʽBack To The Beginningʼ, she is placed unusually high in the mix (so much so that you can easily get a jump when the vocals burst out of the speakers), and her avantgarde jazz singing is actually the least normal thing on the track — the sheer contrast between the free modulation of her voice and the strict fusion groove of the music should count as a psychedelic experience.
On ʽAdios A La Pasadaʼ, most of the time she does not even sing, but just delivers a half-spoken monologue, while Stewart and Holdsworth are trying to give the album a suitably grand-epic conclusion, the former emulating a symphonic orchestra and the latter trying to combine speedy technique with an expression of total joy at the perspective of riding into the unknown, if you know what I mean. However, without those vocals, this would still largely be just a tight fusion jam with symphonic overtones — Peacock's performance gives it more soul than anything else. Likewise, the first (ballad) part of ʽSeems Like A Lifetime Agoʼ, where her singing is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, is clearly more memorable and evocative than the second one, where the vocals go away and we are just left with the fusionists having their fusionist fun.
Not that it is impossible to have your fun along with them: after all, these are musicians of the highest caliber, and the rhythm section of Bruford and Berlin alone will occasionally tear you off the ground (check out, for instance, the coda of ʽIf You Can't Stand The Heatʼ, when Stewart and Berlin are playing a complex riff in unison and Bruford is gently, but firmly supporting them with a tricky time signature — it's playful, but dazzling). Also, ʽSpringtime In Siberiaʼ is largely just a melancholic jazz ballad, completely given over to the piano and the flugelhorn, sounding like something off an early Coltrane record (and yes, springtime can be a particularly lovely time in Siberia indeed, although it depends). But it is difficult for me to qualify this as an «average» or an «excellent» fusion record on the whole, as I tend to get lost in this genre a little — it always goes for «technique» and «feel» over «meaningful melody», and my bet is usually on meaningful melodies, which, unsurprisingly, here largely coincide with the presence of the lady singer.
The title track, I must say, feels a wee bit corny rather than good, almost as if they were trying to make a catchy, clap-along «fusion-pop» ditty here, with a silly-cheerful synth tone and with the rhythmic pattern occasionally lapsing into ska. This might irritate veteran fusion fans and prog aficionados alike, or maybe even bring to mind unnecessary associations with early Eighties' Genesis (of the Duke variety). However, the tune is not at all representative of either the real fusion or the real progressive parts of the record, and can be taken or left at will.
The general verdict should be positive — no, the album does not exactly shatter the anti-solo-drummer prejudice, but as a tasteful divertissement with a twist, Feels Good To Me is probably much better than it could have been, had Bruford assembled a less talented team or had he decided to completely subjugate himself to the fusion formula. Ironically, though, despite uniting the drummer from two of the decade's most innovative bands and the keyboardist from two of the decade's most crazyass innovative bands, the album feels totally conservative compared to all of those — then again, it was 1977, and most of the people who were on the cutting edge in the early Seventies had already blunted their powers, at the speed they were moving at. Regardless, a well-deserved thumbs up for the effort is perfectly in order.