Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bill Bruford - 1980 "Gradually Going Tornado"

Gradually Going Tornado is the third and final studio album by Bruford. It was co-produced by Weather Report collaborator Ron Malo and released in 1980 (see 1980 in music). In contrast to the band's previous all-instrumental effort, several songs were sung by bassist Jeff Berlin. The closing Dave Stewart composition 'Land's End' includes music previously used on the opening and closing tracks of the National Health album Of Queues and Cures (1978). This album is considered among one of the best albums in the progressive rock/fusion genre.
The name of this album was taken from the British-based Romanian artist Paul Neagu who did a performance under that name in 1974 in London.

The Bruford Tapes demonstrated a more raucous energy than Bruford's first two releases, but the follow-up studio album, Gradually Going Tornado, proved that the group was capable of generating the same kind of power in the studio. And while Berlin's singing on half of the album's eight tracks may have seemed a concerted bid for greater acceptance, it's important to note that Bruford had already featured vocals on Feels Good to Me—although the relaxed phrasing of sultry singer Annette Peacock was considerably more artful than Berlin's tighter tenor. The inclusion of vocal tracks might have appeared, on the surface, to be a calculated commercial move rather than an artistic one. Still, the fact is that Bruford and Stewart's writing— which despite the verse-chorus approach of the vocal tracks—retained its harmonic and rhythmic complexities. In that respect Gradually Going Tornado was every bit as progressive as the group's previous albums.

Writing around vocals inherently implies a different kind of structure. Episodic writing becomes a challenge when one has to continually return to predefined verse-chorus song form with its inherent hooks. Still, by this point Stewart and Bruford had proved themselves highly creative at working around such restrictions. And while Berlin may not have had the most memorable voice—adequate, but lacking the kind of quality that gives it weight—the fact is he was called upon to execute melodies that would have challenged singers possessing more appealing tone. As was the case in Hatfield and the North, Stewart was absolutely unprepared to concede any harmonic ground for the inclusion of vocals and neither, it would appear was Bruford. The result is melodies that feel a little awkward on first hearing, but feel more natural on repeated exposure. And while tunes like "Plans for J.D." and "The Sliding Floor" veer closer to the rock side of the group's breadth than anything that's come before, there are plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting.

The addition of vocal tracks may have turned off some of the progressive intellectuals, but Gradually Going Tornado also had its share of distinctive instrumentals. Berlin's "Joe Frazier," like Bruford and Stewart's "Sample and Hold" from Feels Good to Me, revolves around a lengthy theme that would test the skills of bassists around the world. Bruford and Stewart's episodic "Q.E.D." would have sounded completely at home in the repertoire of either Hatfield and the North or National Health, featuring Stewart's bell-like electric piano work. Bruford's "Palewell Park" is an uncharacteristic duet, with Stewart's acoustic piano trading off with Berlin's bass throughout its tender changes. Stewart's "Land's End," the ten-minute closer, features wordless vocals by singers Barbara Gaskin and Amanda Parsons—last heard with Hatfield and the North and National Health—and lifts a theme directly from "The Bryden Two-Step," off the latter's Of Queues and Cures. "Lands End," in fact," is demonstrative of just how key Bruford's drumming style was to defining the overall group sound, as it takes on a completely different complexion to Pip Pyle's kit work on the National Health version.

The reissue of Gradually Going Tornado contains a live version of the Berlin/Stewart/Bruford tune "5G" from One of a Kind. While the recording quality isn't the best, it's great to hear a full version, as the take on The Bruford Tapes fades out just when they seem to be getting going.

Gradually Going Tornado would be the last recording by the group. It was around this time that Bruford rejoined guitarist Robert Fripp for a new incarnation of King Crimson that would include guitarist Adrian Belew and bassist Tony Levin, so it's uncertain whether it was the commitment to Crimson that signed the deal-knell or lack of commercial interest. Either way the four discs that Bruford recorded in the mid-to-late 1970s served as notice that he had a greater role to play as bandleader, writer and performer—a role that continues to evolve to this day and shows no sign of slowing down.

After leaving King Crimson in 1974, Bill Bruford had drifted briefly between a number of bands (Gong, National Health, Genesis, Pavlov's Dog), before recording his first solo album, the excellent Feels Good To Me (1978). He then joined UK, taking part in their first (and best) release, and then wisely leaving before John Wetton and Eddie Jobson turned the band into the prototype for Asia.

Following this, his semi-eponymous quartet recorded One Of A Kind (1979), which, if not quite at the level of Feels Good To Me, was still pretty damned close. Bruford and bassist Jeff Berlin (not yet the star virtuoso that he is today) provided for an incredible and unconventional rhythm section, while guitarist Allan Holdsworth and keyboardist Dave Stewart contributed soaring melodic passages. All told, the music was the perfect bridge between the pure progressive rock of King Crimson, and the jazz-pop sensibilities of the Canterbury scene. Bruford's career seemed poised for continued artistic success, accordingly.

So, what happened to make Gradually Going Tornado a relative disappointment?

The first blow was Allan Holdsworth's departure. Always something of a temperamental figure, Holdsworth left the band before they were able to record their live release, The Bruford Tapes (1980). Stuck for a top notch replacement, Bruford replaced him with John Clark -- who, in a nice touch of English humour, was described as "the unknown John Clark" on the album's release (were Bruford from Canada, he might've referred to him as "John Who?"). Clark subsequently proved capable of performing in much the same style as Holdsworth, but not at quite the same level. It probably isn't fair to cast all the blame on his shoulders, but there's little doubt that the band would've been better served by Holdsworth's talents.

Then, Jeff Berlin decided that he wanted to sing. Worse, Bruford (or someone at EG records) decided to let him. Bruford's albums had featured vocals before, of course -- Annette Peacock had lent her inimitable style to Feels Good To Me, and the Gaskin/Parsons duo had made an ephemeral appearance on One Of A Kind. The difference in these cases, though, is that Peacock, Gaskin and Parsons actually had voices that were worth hearing. Berlin, while possessing some technical ability, also possessed a voice that was ... well, boring and colourless. Of Berlin's four vocal parts on the album, only one ("Age Of Information") can in any respect be called a success; "Gothic 17" and "Plans For J.D." come off as flawed, and his cloying efforts at swing-jazz on "The Sliding Floor" are simply annoying.

Third (and perhaps tied in with Berlin's vocal inclinations), the material on GGT is rather more poppish than on Bruford's previous works. This isn't necessarily a strike against the album, of course -- indeed, its Canterbury roots almost necessitate some poppish touches on the work. But when the streamlined form has a direct impact on the material, it's almost invariably going to be negative, and such is the case here.

Such were the strikes against GGT before the album's recording was even finished. They weren't enough to completely sink the project, thankfully; there's a fair bit of good material on the album, which ultimately overshadows most of the bad. That said, anyone interested in exploring Bruford's solo projects would be hard-pressed to find a less appropriate introduction than this.

And such we have Gradually Going Tornado. Can it be described as a good album? Possibly, but the mere fact that the question has to be asked is a sign that something wasn't right in the band's constitution at the time. Bruford, Berlin and Stewart were musicians from related but fairly distinct backgrounds -- when they joined together, the results could be magic (and frequently were). GGT, however, suggests that the combination had run its course by 1980. It is possible that the quartet could have bounced back with a better follow-up; it's much more likely, though, that the group broke up at the right time.

And then came Discipline ...

Track listing

1.    "Age of Information" (Bruford, Stewart) – 4:41
2.    "Gothic 17" (Bruford, Stewart) – 5:07
3.    "Joe Frazier" (Berlin) – 4:41
4.    "Q.E.D." (Bruford, Stewart) – 7:46
5.    "The Sliding Floor" (Berlin, Bruford, Stewart) – 4:58
6.    "Palewell Park" (Bruford) – 3:57
7.    "Plans for J.D." (Bruford) – 3:50
8.    "Land's End" (Stewart) – 10:20


    Bill Bruford - drums, producer
    Dave Stewart - keyboards
    Jeff Berlin - bass, vocals
    The "Unknown" John Clark - guitar

Contrary to the belief of many, John Clark is not actually Allan Holdsworth. He was a guitar student of Holdsworth's whom Allan recommended as his replacement. He is now a long-term guitar player with Cliff Richards' band.


    Georgie Born - cello (2)
    Amanda Parsons & Barbara Gaskin - choir (8)



  2. is there any Mary Halvorson here?