Monday, 27 October 2014

Vale Jack Bruce

Bass player Jack Bruce has died at age 71, following complications from liver disease.

Jack was classically trained in playing the stand-up double bass. He wanted to learn to play jazz but was denied by the institute he studied at, the Royal Glasgow Academy of Music (now known as the Royal Conservatoire) encouraged him not to. He moved to London and started playing stand-up bass in the local jazz clubs but then switched to electric bass (then popular in Britain thanks to the pioneering use of the instrument by Jet Black in the Shadows) and joined Alexis Korner's incubator of R&B talent Blues Incorporated. He left to join the Graham Bond Organisation, then he spent three weeks in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (where he met Eric Clapton and he was succeeded by future Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie), spent a couple of months in Manfred Mann early in 1966 and then formed a band called Cream...

...and then proceeded to change music forever.

Cream was arguably Jack's brainchild and the music the three members produced influenced countless musicians over the next few generations (and continues to). With their freeform improvisations, they were arguably as important to the development of jazz rock fusion as Miles Davis was. However, the legacy they left us was the insufferable 15 minute in concert drum solo.

Jack's bass playing, at least in Cream, was melodic and rhythmic all at once, making up for a lack of a rhythm guitarist simply by creating a bass tone so thick it filled out the arrangment completely.

The loose jamming around a conventional song structure was influential to bands such as The Grateful Dead, Phish, Govt. Mule, Neil Young and Crazy Horse and many many others.

In the midst of a Clapton obsession as a teenager, I purchased a copy of Cream's final LP "Goodbye". The whole jamming thing was wildly out of step with the grunge and Alt rock that was going on at the time, but that mattered little. I was struck not by Clapton's playing on that album (at least not on side one) but by the sound and the technique of Jack's playing. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before. The way the instruments were separated in the mix, with Clapton in the right channel, Jack in the left Ginger thundering out all across the stereo spread, i found myself regularly adjusting the balance to remove Eric altogether just to listen to that bass...

The band's closest competition was the Jimi Hendrix Experience, although there were many bands who sprung up in their wake, peddling the same sound in the same format (i.e. The Gun, Grand Funk). As Cream imploded from ever clashing egos and other artistic problems in late 1968, Jimi interrupted a performance on the Lulu show to pay tribute to Cream, launching into a wild impromptu version of "Sunshine of your Love" on air.

Jack's contribution to popular music will be admired and poured over for years to come. He will be missed.

R.I.P. Jack.

Below is a hand-picked collection from the short career of Cream, featuring Jack's incendiary bass playing.

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