Bill Bruford – Feels Good To Me

While working away this weekend in the home office, I found myself listening to Bill Bruford’s LP “Feels Good To Me“.
It is difficult to explain how eye-opening this LP was when I first went out and bought it in early 1979. It is also amazing and gratifying to find out that it still sounds like a damn fine LP nearly 40 years later.
For those of us who were following the UK music scene, Bruford had already shown his willingness to go out on a limb musically more than once. He had quit the drum seat in the band Yes in 1972, when Yes were poised to break out and become a massive band worldwide. At the time the move was greeted with a fair bit of astonishment in the UK, not only because Bruford was leaving Yes, a band seemingly on the rise, but because he was leaving Yes to join…King Crimson, a band whose audience, in contrast to that of Yes, seemed to be shrinking, and whose main newsworthy activity seemed to be the latest item of news about who had just left the band. King Crimson violated most people’s expectations at the time that bands should have a stable enduring line-up. Not only that, but Crimson’s musical approach seemingly changed from LP to LP, confusing listeners and reviewers alike.
At the time that Bruford joined King Crimson, the previous version of the band had essentially ceased to exist, and Robert Fripp had recruited Bruford into a brand new incarnation of Crimson.
The band, with Bruford’s straight man drumming offset by the unique percussion stylings of Scottish percussionist Jamie Muir, was either brave or suicidal depending on your point of view – they opened their first gig in 1972 in Germany with with a 30 minute free improvisation, and played “20th Century Schizoid Man” only as an encore. However, playing with Muir awakened Bruford’s interest in tuned untuned percussion, which he would use to good effect on his own projects.
That version of the band recorded “Larks Tongues In Aspic” in 1973, an album that, for those who bought it, had an impact out of all proportion to its modest sales. “Larks Tongues” was a mixture of jazz, heavy metal, classical music and other forms not even categorizable. (One thing that you will not find in “Larks Tongues”, however, is any trace of the blues). It still sounds unique and fresh to this day.
However, after 1972, King Crimson began to shed members once more, and Fripp disbanded that version of the band in 1974, leaving Bruford to pursue itinerant session and touring gigs, until he teamed up with Eddie Jobson, John Wetton (who had been the bass player and vocalist in Crimson), and guitar player Allan Holdsworth to form the progressive rock band UK. UK released one album to good reviews, but Holdsworth left during their first major tour, and the band fizzled out.
After the UK experiment, Bruford retreated to his home studio, and working with Dave Stewart and Jeff Berlin, wrote the tunes for what would become “Feels Good To Me”. For the LP recording sessions, Bruford showed that he was a man of much more musical reach relative to just about every drummer on the planet. He recruited Stewart to play keyboards, Jeff Berlin to play bass, and persuaded Holdsworth to play guitar (in true Holdsworthian style, he would again leave the band after its first UK tour). He also called on the unique lyrical and vocal approach of the American singer Annette Peacock. Lastly, he asked jazz trumpeter Kenny Wheeler to play on several tunes.
“Feels Good To Me” covers a lot of stylistic ground, from hard pop through to intricate instrumental tunes, some with odd standard time signatures, led by Bruford’s mallet and tuned percussion playing, through to mini suites. However, what still rises to the surface is Bruford’s innate sense of melodicism. His tune melodies refuse to go in straight lines, but they have a logic and a destination, they just take more time than 8 4/4 bars to get there as they tell a more elaborate story than most instrumental melodies.
“Feels Good To Me” is a long way removed from most drummer LPs, which tend to comprise tunes designed more to showcase technique than musical story telling. Bruford has technique to throw away, but it was always used to support the tunes.
After “Feels Good To Me”, the band recorded “One Of A Kind”, this time without Peacock or Wheeler, but Holdsworth left the band before their next tour, and John Clark became the band’s guitar player. The LP is less accessible than “Feels Good To Me”, mainly because of the lack of the lack of vocals. The band then recorded a third LP “Gradually Going Tornado”, with Jef Berlin trying his hand at singing (verdict: average). They disbanded in 1983, and Bruford would then re-group and launch his project Earthworks, another genre-smashing ensemble.

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