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Album review

Jack Bruce 

Somethin Els - Cities of the Heart - Monkjack

added: 16 Feb 2014 // release date: 16 Feb 2014 // label: Esoteric
reviewer: Andy Snipper

Jack Bruce - Somethin Els - Cities of the Heart - Monkjack - Printable version
These hail from the period 1993 – 1995 and show his strengths as a vocalist and pianist as well as as a bass player. He is no less as a composer as the songs on ‘Monkjack’ show but also as a bandleader and the live ‘Cities of the Heart’ includes a list of guest artists that could be a list of the best of their period.

‘Somethin Els’
At first listen this is slightly dated sounding with a bit of an AOR feel all sorts of synth loadings and little guitar tweets over a heavy and metronomic drum but when you listen a little deeper there is a fabulous bass line and those guitar tweets have more structure than you first imagined. A certain Mr Clapton on lead and a gorgeous vocal from Jack on a song written by Bruce and Pete Brown, ‘Waiting on a Word’, and then leading into ‘Willpower’ which has all the power and dynamism you could wish for: Clapton in lead and Clem Clempson on rhythm guitar and a massive horn section with Bruce wailing and Bluesey vocals cooking up a great dish. ‘Ships in the Night’ brings it down with a great harmony and vocal from Maggie Reilly and featuring Bruce on cello. ‘Peaces of the East’ is essentially a solo piece with Bruce playing all the instruments and Maggie Reilly supplying backing vocals – complex and brilliant.
The whole album is this good with track after track demonstrating Bruce and Brown’s songwriting abilities and the whole ensemble playing and singing their respective asses off. The solos by Clapton are his best for years and miles better than his solo stuff and Stuart Elliot’s drumming and percussion throughout are a feature of a great album.

‘Cities of the Heart’
This was recorded in Cologne (Koln if you prefer) and in typical Bruce manner does not start with a blast: I’ve seen him many times over the years and he eschews the ‘normal’ rock habits of opening with a massive throwaway – you have to be listening and ready right from the off and he opens here with him on piano and vocals on a harrowing and intense ‘Can You Follow?’.
The band builds with ‘Over The Cliff’ and ‘Statues’ with Dick Heckstall Smith on sax and Ginger Baker on drums (Bruce on bass of course). Baker gives a fine solo on ‘…Cliff’ and the three work perfectly together on the intricate ‘Statues’ with what seems like three solo pieces fitting together like a triptych.
Clem Clempson is added on Buddy Guy’s ‘First Time I Met The Blues’ and that standard is brilliantly delivered before the band is swelled by Art Themon on sax, Bernie Worrell on Hammond, son Malcolm on synth and Gary Husband on drums for ‘Smiles & Grins’ – great ensemble playing based around Bruce’ bass and vocals. Bernie Worrell came out of Parliament/Funkadelic and brings a great sense of soul and funk to the jazz based team around him while Husband’s drums are less powerful than Bakers and more free flowing.
The band grows and shrinks through some classic numbers peaking on the first disc with a monstrous version of ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ showing just how good this hoary old classic can be.
Artists such as Maggie Reilly, Simon Phillips (drums) Henry Lowther (trumpet) and Gary Moore (guitar) add to the musicians previously mentioned and the second disc continues the brilliant form of the first with a wonderful ‘Ships In The Night’ followed by the fun of ‘Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune’ before ‘Theme From An Imaginary Western’. I saw a review of Mountain’s version that suggested it was written by Felix Pappalardi but it is a Bruce & Brown number and this version ‘owns’ it like no other. Bruce classics follow – ‘NSU’, ‘Politician’ – as well as great ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ and ‘Spoonful’ featuring Bruce. Baker & Moore (BBM) before the entire ensemble come back together for a ridiculously big ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’.

‘Monkjack’
With just Jack Bruce on vocals and piano and Bernie Worrell on Hammond B3 you might be mistaken for thinking this will be a ‘small’ album but none of it, From the start Bruce is in fine form with his piano playing and vocals standing out and showing his sheer talent as a musician.
He changes the tempo and the style with ease switching between Blues and jazz as well as show numbers.
One of the most satisfying of his solo albums if only because he is able to make the listener enjoy the music as much as he does – this is an album he wanted to make, not a hint of ‘contractual requirement’.

Even now I still find people who say “Jack Bruce, wasn’t he with Cream?” without realising that since the sixties he has been at the forefront and involved with music of remarkable quality. These three albums show a tiny period of his career – three years – but they couldn’t be more different and should prove to anyone that he is a musician of genius and power and not just ‘that bloke who was with Cream’.


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4 stars

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