Jack Bruce: Silver Rails

When it comes to delivering the low end, Jack Bruce has been the cream of the crop for six decades and counting. His syncopated approach to playing bass helped shift pop music’s bottom-end emphasis away from just laying down root notes and fifths, in turn opening the door to a more adventurous yet melodically inclined style that laid the foundation for the rock explosion of the ’60s. Turns in both Manfred Mann and John Mayall’s band set the table for Bruce to connect with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker and forge Cream, wherein the super Scotsman set the heavy-blues power-trio standard with epic runs and full-band interplay in songs like “I Feel Free,” “Spoonful,” “Politician,” and “Sunshine of Your Love.”

Once Cream curdled, Bruce delved further into flexing his compositional and jazz chops, as evidenced by his 1970 free-form fusion precursor Things We Like and 2012’s improv-driven, self-titled group tribute to late jazz drummer Tony Williams, Spectrum Road. Silver Rails, his first solo studio effort in 10 years, brings his career-long broad genre explorations under one roof.

514bruce.cd.jpgBruce cut Rails at Abbey Road Studios, and the fabled London locale reaps many a sonic dividend. The man is also a top-shelf piano player, and his chops and vamps are clear and inviting on the brooding, confessional “Reach for the Night” and the heartfelt ballad “Industrial Child.” Meanwhile, on “Don’t Look Now,” Bruce expertly holds and extends the vowels during the verses, using his lower register to great effect. During the song’s back half, the interplay between Bruce, his son Malcolm Bruce’s sustained guitar, and John Medeski’s Hammond organ comps and swooping Mellotron lines will take you directly to improv heaven.

For a low-end workout, cue up “Drone” and prepare to be pummelled. Deep fuzz and amplifier feedback crackle and croak during the intro before a dive-bombing plane begins swirling across the channels as Bruce’s dirge-like vocals get spread wide across the soundfield. “Drone” could almost be a lost track from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid sessions, especially when the pace intensifies after some particularly harsh cymbal thrashing by drummer Milos Pal, while that ever-present plane weaves and darts between Bruce’s relentless and, er, droning bass line.

A quite defiant “No Surrender” brings Rails to a close. Bernie Marsden’s wah-infused guitar solo plays off of Cindy Blackman Santana’s militant drum attack and Bruce’s loping bass before the song comes to a hard stop after the final syllable of surrender. Bruce might be entering the twilight of his recording years, but he’s still delivering the cream straight up and fresh.

Label: Esoteric Antenna
Audio Format: 44.1-kHz/16-bit PCM stereo
Number of Tracks: 10
Length: 47:55
Producer: Rob Cass
Engineers: Paul Pritchard, Pearse MacIntyre