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A mixed bag

Bill Bruford's Earthworks and The Zawinul Syndicate
at St David's Hall, Cardiff on Tuesday 4 May 2004,
reviewed by REX HARLEY


I'd expected an evening of jazz. The modern variety, of course; even post-modern -- but it didn't work out quite that way.

First up on the double bill was Bill Bruford's Earthworks. A group led by a drummer is always an interesting phenomenon. There's the hell-for-leather kind, like Art Blakey and Buddy Rich; the subtle, lots-of-brushwork, like Shelley Manne; the free-form like Tony Oxley; and the springy, versatile, synthetic kind, like Bill Bruford. He's also ironic and self-deprecating, which is no bad thing, and appreciative of the musicians he plays with; in this case, Tim Garland on saxes, Steve Hamilton on piano and new boy Lawrence Cottle on electric bass.

Tim Garland is a fine musician, writes too, and has played with luminaries like Chick Corea. So, even in a short, forty five minute, set there should have been a great deal to enjoy. Well, there was -- and there wasn't. For a start, the sound balance was wrong. Within a minute, Lawrence Cottle was gesticulating furiously to the sound-man to raise the volume of the bass and, foolishly, he was obliged. So, however subtle Tim Garland tried to be, whether on sax or bass clarinet, there was the bass thudding away underneath. This is no comment on Cottle's playing, which was remarkably accomplished, but the effect also emphasised the strange tinniness of Steve Hamilton's piano. Hamilton read most of the music from a written chart, and his solos were rather vapid affairs. When he wasn't soloing there was too much vamping and unimaginative and predictable harmonic progressions.

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Copyright © 29 May 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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