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Bruford, Earthworks prove to be rock-solid

May 19, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Despite his strong jazz credentials, drummer Bill Bruford is probably best known for his work with the British art-rock group King Crimson. But when he brought his jazz quartet, Earthworks, on stage at Catalina Bar & Grill on Friday night, the visual imagery was closer to a cluster of accountants than a band of intensely serious rockers.

Once the set began, however, both images were swept aside by the intensity of the music.

Despite his seemingly stiff, soldier-like stance behind the drums, Bruford's playing was loose, articulate and hard-driving -- as comfortable in such relatively unfamiliar time signatures as 5/4 and 11/4 as with jazz's more familiar rhythmic meters.

He was an amiable host too, introducing the tunes with an always entertaining touch of typical English whimsy.

This edition of Earthworks includes pianist Steve Hamilton, bassist Mark Hodgson and tenor saxophonist-woodwind player Tim Garland (who replaced longtime Bruford associate Patrick Clahar a year ago). And the set was largely dominated by both the thorny compositions and the brawny playing of Garland, a former member of Chick Corea's band.

Attacking each of his solos with aggressive intensity, Garland recalled, particularly in his tenor saxophone playing, Joe Lovano's big, muscular sound. But his most intriguing efforts were centered in his darkly serpentine bass clarinet work.

Hamilton was similarly compelling, his powers rooted in thick, two-handed chording and an utter ease with the group's adventurous rhythmic forays. And Hodgson was a constant unifying presence, interacting superbly with Bruford as the unifying link in the music of this fine, under-recognized musical aggregation.

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