Mig Music [Release date 25.10.19]
I reviewed the film launch of ‘Sunshine Of Your Love: A Concert For Jack Bruce’ in May of last year. And 18 months later it’s been released as a double CD/DVD set with a colourful 28 page booklet worthy of Bruce’s musical legacy.
Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the project seems a lot more fresh and vibrant this time round. And given the potential pitfalls of such an all star affair and the wild card that was Ginger Baker, it’s good to report that the music does ultimately triumph.
A roll call of some 35 musicians under the guidance of Nitin Sawhney brings a coherent flow to a well chosen set of Bruce’s exhaustive back catalogue.
The actual Roundhouse concert took place 4 years ago – a year after Jacks passing – and it’s a stirring reminder of the depth of his music.
For the purposes of this review I’m concentrating mainly on the CD.
Bass playing vocalist Mark King was perhaps a surprising choice as the linchpin of the project, but he immediately stamps his mark on an opening call and response vocals with Stealth on the 1980 Bruce and Pete Brown penned ‘Hit & Run’.
The duo are joined by guitarist Uli Jon Roth on the uplifting ‘I Feel Free’, while the opening triumvirate of contrasting Bruce penned musical styles is completed by a dreamy tango called ‘Milonga’, which is a perfect example of Bruce’s melodic sensibility.
Paddy Milner also features on piano and vocal and adds a clarity of diction that perfectly nuances the poetic lyrics. He’s fully supported by Ian Anderson on flute.
If the original concert was occasionally hampered by pregnant pauses between songs and during change overs, then some nifty editing allows the CD to flow mellifluously. This is especially so when Chantelle Nandi’s adds a breathless vocal on Bruce’s latter career ‘Don’t Look Now’, another one of his lingering melodies.
Overall the 35 musicians help colour and broaden the arrangements and at their best really get inside the songs.
Tony Remy’s ascending guitar solo on ‘Don’t Look Now’ for example, gives the song a notable lift, while the extended funky workout of ‘Keep It Down’ is a timely reminder of both King’s bass playing prowess and vocal credentials and Paddy Milner’s lyrical piano playing skills, perfectly framed here by some judicious bv’s.
Not everything works consistently well though. Hugh Cornwall has to work hard to bring gravitas to the cabaret feel to Graham Bond’s 1965 ‘Hear Me Calling Your Name’, while the 30 year old ‘No Surrender’, is a tough rocker on which King’s gritty vocals are offset by Vernon Reid scratchy toned guitar, on a song full of bluster, but not a lot of feel.
The signature riff of ‘Politician’ is also given a heavy duty reading, as Neil Murray adds a pounding bass line to offset Liam Bailey’s muscular vocal. You can imagine this is a fun song to play, but it’s far too ponderous here and struggles to escape the feeling of claustrophobia, or perhaps the band were musically voicing Bruce’s disdain for politicians?
It’s a measure of Jack Bruce’s broad musical scope that the light, airy feel and colourful imagery of ‘Weird Of Hermiston’ could occupy the same set as the former song. This is in no small part due to Kyla Simone Bruce on vocals and piano who brings real presence and feel to the piece.
Everyone doubtless will doubtless pick a favourite moment, but Jack would surely have approved of Ayanna Wiiter-Johnson idiosyncratic reading of ‘Rope Ladder To The Moon’.
The percussive ‘Candlelight’ is taken from 2014 ‘Silver Rails’ album, and the Ian Anderson flute and vocal led ‘Tickets To Waterfalls’ reprises an early career Bruce highlight. Anderson’s weathered voice wraps its way round the song with some expressive phrasing on a track that somehow ends up sounding like Jethro Tull.
‘Badge’ features vocalist Liam Bailey and Uli John Roth’s cascading guitar part with a warm flowing tone, which counterweights the absence of the original dynamic tension of the solo.
‘I’m So Glad’ injects some much needed energy into the set and benefits from some pumping horn stabs. The horns also feature on Joss Stone’s version of the humorously titled ‘Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune’.
But it’s Aruba Red who steals the show on the prophetic late 60′ anthem ‘We’re Going Wrong’, on which producer Nitin Sawhney sits in on piano alongside Anderson’s nuanced flute.
Aruba’s emotive vocal sends shivers down your spine as it drips with Bruce’s DNA, on one of his very best songs of his career and arguably the highlight of the night.
‘Sunshine of Your Love’ provides the inevitable finale as 5 guitarist including he magisterial Clem Clemson battle to find some space between a sullen Ginger Baker’s sledgehammer pounding and some boisterous horns.
It’s perhaps the one moment when everything gets too cluttered, which considering the 22 tracks in all, is not a bad ratio.
The accompanying multi camera DVD picks out the musical highlights, but probably suffers from multi camera overload, especially when compared to the simple solo archive clip of Jack in Germany. This version of ‘Theme For An Imaginary Western’, eloquently distils what he was all about.
Ultimately, ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ offers some pleasant surprises and occasional near misses when everyone strains too hard to get it right. But it’s a worthy purchase, with the accompanying DVD giving value for money and is a fitting tribute to a legendary rock star. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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