Back To The Edge (Highland HL533/534)
Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO – July 11th, 1980
Disc 1 (51:52): Hell’s Bells, Joe Frazier, Land’s End, The Sliding Floor, Sample And Hold, Fainting In Coils
Disc 2 (33:20): Palewell Park, Flans For J. D., Age Of Information, 5g (including “bass solo”), Beelzebub, Gimme Some Lovin’ / Sunshine Of Your Love
Bill Bruford’s solo act called Bruford was simply a side project with his friend Alan Holdsworth while he was engaged in other commitments with Genesis, UK and ultimately King Crimson again. It was only after leaving UK with Holdworth that Bruford, after the release of their second LP One Of A Kind, considered the band viable enough to tour and play in front of live audiences in the summer of 1979.
(A WLIR broadcast of the July 12th, 1979 show at My Father’s Place in Roslyn has been released officially on The Bruford Tapes in 2005).
After the release of Bruford’s third and final LP Gradually Going Tornado early in 1980, the band toured the UK in the spring and followed with a month long tour of the US that summer.
Back To The Edge utilizes an excellent soundboard recording of the July 11th show at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Missouri, about a month into the tour. Although there are a few small cuts between numbers, and a small cut 11:25 in “Fainting In Coils.”
The songs are drawn from the three Bruford albums plus the covers in the encore section. Musically, it is perhaps the finest jazz-fusion to come out of the seventies, although Bill himself never really acknowledged it as jazz. In November 1980, after playing in Boston, Bruford said in an interview that he didn’t know what kind of music he played. “I play the drums… I’ve no idea what it is — certainly not stuff they’re going to play on American radio, unfortunately. So by that definition, it’s not mainstream pop.”
The show opens with the bright and relatively cheery “Hell’s Bells” from One Of A Kind, the album released in 1979 and is followed immediately by “Joe Frazier,” the tune from the new album Gradually Going Tornado written by the bass player Jeff Berlin. It’s a great funky tune with an interesting guitar interlude by The “Unknown” John Clark. Dave Stewart plays an aggressive Hammond solo over the funk beat.
Afterwards Bruford himself greets he audience saying “how are you doing? Alright, I trust” through what sounds like gritted teeth. He notices that the Uptown Theater has been “refurbished I see since the last time I was here” and jokes that “Hell’s Bells” is “a mega hit no doubt in the Kansas City area.”
They follow with two more songs from the new album. Stewart’s instrumental “Land’s End” starts off with a majestic melody played on the synthesizers before moving into a mid-seventies style funk rhythm.
Bruford himself explains the next song “The Sliding Floor.” About someone named Angel, he discusses how each of the opening measures are missing notes to give an aural representation of the ground shifting under one’s feet.
“Sample And Hold” dates from the first solo album Feels Good To Me and begins with a three minute drum solo. The final track on the disc “Fainting In Coils” has a reference to “Back To The Beginning.”
The second disc opens with “Palewell Park” from the new album. Bill describes it as a showcase for the bass player Jeff and is one of the mellow and relaxing tunes in the set. Berlin carries the melody on bass and plays a duet with Stewart on electric piano.
After a snappy “Plans For J.D.,” they play the two epic numbers of the show. “Age Of Information,” with vocals by Berlin, is almost double in length compared to the studio recording with extended instrumental passages in the middle. In the following piece “5G” Berlin, one of the best underrated bassist, plays a jaw-dropping solo in the middle of the piece.
The show closes with “Beelzebub” from the first album and a two minute encore medley of “Gimme Your Lovin'” seguing into “Sunshine Of Your Love.” Both are given a particular Bruford arrangement, but the melodies are recognizable and are very fun to hear.
Back To The Edge is a very good Highland release and the last of eight Bruford titles they produced. All of the other titles came out early in Highland’s catalog and are difficult to track down today. The artwork is very simple yet effective with various photographs from live gigs from the tour. The excellent soundboard recording and strong performance makes this one worth having.