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coverpic flag England - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 23 - 09/06/98

Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
B. L. U. E.
Papa Bear Records

Okay, okay, I know this one has been out a while, but I just can't help myself. Let me tell you why, with still four months left, B.L.U.E. is one of the contenders for "Album of the Year".

Drummer Bill Bruford and bassist Tony Levin probably don't need any introduction, but just to make sure you're with me: Bruford was the original drummer with Yes, before Robert Fripp asked him to join King Crimson in the early seventies. Levin came aboard Crimson in 1981. Both have made countless recordings; especially Levin has an impressive track record as a session man. Since Fripp paired Bruford and Levin for Crimson's eighties incarnation, they've been one of the better rhythm sections out there.

For this album, they've enlisted the services of two other brilliant musicians. Loop-guitar guru David Torn used the Bruford/Levin combination on his 1987 album Cloud About Mercury, and here they've asked him to return the favour and lay down some of his noisy loops. Surprisingly enough, he also does some acoustic playing here. They've also included a trumpet player, Chris Botti, who at times sound a bit like Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis.

The music sounds like... well, it doesn't sound quite like anything else I've ever heard. Levin lays down his strange and cool basslines with Bruford now fully into his "metric modulation" playing, displacing rhythms, turning them backwards and forwards at the same time. David Torn makes his guitar howl, scream, sigh and vomit all at the same time, while Chris Botti gives the music a sense of "cool". Together the foursome has found a chemistry that is unheard of in most bands of today.

With the lineup of Bruford, Levin, Torn and Botti you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is Cloud About Mercury, Part II (Where Mark Isham played trumpet), but this is a completely different beast. Cloud... was Torn's vehicle, while B.L.U.E. has its focus set on the rhythm section. Bill Bruford is the Master of Weird. He jumps in and out of Levin's bass lines sometimes with the grace of a cat, sometimes with the force of an anvil dropping on your head. Tony Levin is the chameleon. From normal bass playing to Funk Fingers (Chopped off drumsticks attached to his right hand index and middle fingers) to tapping on the Chapman Stick to bowing the electric upright bass. With these varied techniques he creates different moods for Torn and Botti to complement.

Highlights on the album include Levin's vocal drone and Funk Fingers with Bruford's madness on the opening track Cerulean Sea, the band having dinner at the start of Etude Revisited - originally a song from Levin's solo album World Diary, revisited here with Torn and Botti. In between a few of the songs, we find interludes with Bruford drumming on Tony Levin's old piano. There are also a couple of tracks where the two play on the same instrument - a "drumbass" - at the same time!

As I said: Bruford Levin Upper Extremities doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard before. It's a wild ride, lots of fun, lots of intensity. All I can say in the end is "Go and get it!" Your world will eventually turn to a shade of BLUE.

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