For 18 years, bassist Tony Levin and drummer Bill Bruford have connected musically as King Crimson’s rhythm section, but session work and other projects kept them from combining forces for their own album.
“Bruford Levin Upper Extremities,” available on the Web site for Levin’s Papa Bear Records, is a long-awaited collaboration between the two progressive rock giants. An understated gem of musical textures and emotions, “Upper Extremities” is the perfect platform for their musical ideas, Levin said.
“On the CDs I’ve put out on my own, I kind of avoid having a studio album,” Levin said recently from his Woodstock, N.Y., home, “because what I treasure and what I really have to offer with my music is the special playing that happens among instrumental players. I think there’s great stuff that happens, and I want to be sure the magic of that doesn’t get lost on the records that I’m in charge of.
“For that reason, my first two albums weren’t done in the studio at all. The first, ‘World Diary,’ I did in hotels, people’s houses all over the world, usually duets with interesting players I’ve met. The second one, ‘From the Caves of the Iron Mountain,’ was done in a local cave near Woodstock.
“(‘Upper Extremities’) is the first time I’ve started a project that actually goes anywhere near a studio, and yet I wanted to keep the number of takes down. I didn’t want to go for perfection; I wanted to capture that magic that happens with the first or second take. I also wanted to mix in a bunch of vignettes from around Woodstock.”
“Etude Revisited,” one of the album’s best open-tuned takes, captures the band’s dinner conversation at the Gypsy Wolf Cantina in Woodstock; “DrumBass” finds Levin and Bruford playing the same upright bass made from an American Indian drum, and elsewhere, Bruford’s drumming on a derelict piano in Levin’s garage is used as interludes between the pieces.
It’s a concept that shines because Levin and Bruford, with side players Chris Botti (trumpet) and David Torn (guitar, loops), work so well together.
“We don’t play the same, but we know each other’s playing,” Levin said. “I’m never aware of exactly what Bill’s going to play, he’s totally unpredictable, so I do know that. A good example of that, if I’m writing, I’ll leave the room so he can be himself.
“The first piece on the album, ‘Cerulean Sea,’ I said, ‘What if I play solid 8th notes just almost in a boring way?’ I wouldn’t do that with another drummer because then they would play along with me, and the focal point would be somewhere else. But with Bill, I suspect he would do something surprising. Well, he did, he started almost not playing at all and kind of grew through the whole piece. It’s almost a drum solo, a study of counterrhythms, never once playing the time signature I was playing. He was playing every other time signature possible. It’s classic Bruford.”
BWF (before we forget): More on Bruford Levin, including tour dates, can be found on the Web @ www.papabear.com.