BRUFORD: GRADUALLY GOING TORNADO (1980)
1) Age Of Information; 2) Gothic 17; 3) Joe Frazier; 4) Q.E.D.; 5) The Sliding Floor; 6) Palewell Park; 7) Plans For J.D.; 8) Land's End.
More like Gradually Going Tormato, if you know what I mean. The current version of the Wikipedia page states that "this album is considered among one of the best albums in the progressive rock/fusion genre", with a reference to a review in the All-Music Guide by a certain Leo Bloom, who probably knows his fusion from a fuse and his prog from a frog, but as much as I'd like to agree that Bill Bruford deserves more exposure and promotion, I'd also like to emphasize that fusion is not always nearly as boring as this record. Really, honestly, there are some truly exciting fusion albums out there — this one just does not happen to be one of them.
If you take One Of A Kind as the band's typically generic fusion album, then Gradually Going Tornado differs from it in three respects. First, it's got a less prominent guitarist than Alan Holdsworth (John Clark, who did well enough reproducing Alan's parts live on stage, but who certainly has problems coming up with similar parts on his own). Second, it toys around with the pop scene, including a few cheerful, bouncy, near-danceable fusion-pop hybrids like ʽAge Of Informationʼ. Third, they probably thought that if they'd add vocals they'd be able to sell more copies, and so their bass player Jeff Berlin begins singing — and he is every bit as awful a vocalist as he is awesome as a bass player (and is it just me, or is he unintentionally singing in the wrong key on some of these songs?).
So it's like... generic fusion, only worse. Yes, the dated late 1970s synthesizer tones are still all over the place (and pardon me for the hyperbole when I say that it is these synthesizer tones that may have «killed» progressive rock far more efficiently than any amount of punk attitude), the directionless jamming is still very much in action, and few, if any, of the tunes are memorable or, in fact, meaningful. The «pop» songs are either dreadful quasi-optimistic anthems with synthesized fanfares (ʽAge Of Informationʼ, like the Buggles with more technique, but fewer hooks and no sense of humor), or strange «angry rockers» like ʽGothic 17ʼ, where hard rock, pop, and jazz are mixed in more or less equal dosage and you have no way of understanding what sort of reaction the song is supposed to elicit in the first place. The more «progressive» stuff is less embarrassing, but even less memorable, so you don't have much of a choice.
The only thing about this album that I still find cool is Berlin's bass playing — the man is totally killing it even on the worst tracks, so every time I found the experience close to unbearable, I just had to twist my ear channels so that they blocked out everything except the basslines: fast and fluent like Jon Entwistle's, but also betraying professional jazz training (Berklee College of Music, to be accurate). Could you, please, delete everything else on the tracks and just leave that bass? I am not even impressed by Bruford's drum tracks — next to that fabulous bass, they're just... drums. But why did the guy have to ruin it all by singing over those basslines?
In short, while it is probably possible to gradually convince yourself that the record has its merits, I would suggest disspelling the illusion with a quick listen to Bruford's very next project — the revamped King Crimson would release Discipline just one year later, and show the world what a really inspired and innovative progressive album could sound like in the early 1980s. Compared to other run-of-the-mill fusion records, this one might be «okay», but compared to the best of Yes and King Crimson — two bands, after all, which should be the closest in kin spirit to Bruford — this is a thumbs down all the way.