The Class of 1968/70/71: Jack Bruce — ‘Things We Like’
Graham Bond was the godfather of the British jazz-rock-blues movement that began in earnest in the early 1960s. Many important musicians passed through his band, The Graham Bond Organisation, like John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers who followed him. Three of the titans in the band at one point were Jack Bruce, John McLaughlin, and Ginger Baker. When Baker left the band, he was replaced by drummer John Hiseman. Saxophone player Dick Heckstall-Smith would later replace McLaughlin in the band.
Bruce and Baker would hook up with Eric Clapton in 1966 to form Cream. Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith would form Colosseum in 1968, one of the very first prog rock-fusion bands, along with Miles Davis and Frank Zappa. And McLaughlin would form The Mahavishnu Orchestra after his work with Davis.
All of that would help to explain the anomaly that Jack Bruce recorded in August 1968, an album on Polydor in the U.K. and on Atco in the U.S. (same labels Cream appeared on). Things We Like would not be released in the U.K. until 1970 and in the U.S. in 1971.
Most people know Bruce only in the context of Cream; some know him from his outstanding solo output of 14 studio recordings and eight live albums. Things We Like sounded like none of those, although two of these songs appear on his live 50th birthday concert event Cities of the Heart recorded November 2 & 3, 1993. By the time Things We Like was released, Bruce already had a solid “debut” album on the charts, Songs for a Tailor (August 1969).
Things We Like was recorded between Cream’s live tracks on Wheels of Fire in March and the farewell tour in the fall, including the live tracks on Goodbye in October. The recording was done at I.B.C. Studios in London, produced by Bruce by arrangement with the Robert Stigwood Organisation (who also managed Cream). The sleeve design was by Hamish + Gustav, and the front photograph was taken by Roger Brown. “Jack Bruce’s sausages + mash courtesy of Bob Adcock.”
Atco SD 33-349 is the only Jack Bruce album without lyrics by his songwriting partner Pete Brown, the man responsible for such hits as “Sunshine of Your Love,” “SWLABR (She Walks Like a Bearded Rainbow),” “White Room,” and “Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune.”
Lineup for the album: Jack Bruce, double bass; John McLaughlin, guitar; Dick Heckstall-Smith, saxophones; and Jon Hiseman, drums. Heckstall-Smith and Hiseman would also play on Songs for a Tailor. The music ranges from bebop and jazz standards to free jazz, and it is awesome. All compositions are by Bruce except as noted.
Things We Like
“Over the Cliff” (2:49) is a free-blowing romp, bass and drums pumping furiously to support great sax work from Heckstall-Smith, who effectively used the double-sax method defined by Rahsaan Roland Kirk and George Braith. Heckstall-Smith has a short tenor solo, and Bruce sprints through an excellent solo as well. This is a very intense three minutes of music to open the album.
“Statues” (7:21) is compartmentalized. The first two minutes are avant-garde before the they settle into a fairly straight-ahead bebop section including more double sax. Bruce then plays arco (bowed), then a long solo with Hiseman comping. Hiseman next has a great feature before they return to the head. Heckstall-Smith and Ginger Baker performed this song and “Over the Cliff” with Bruce on Cities of the Heart.
“Sam Enchanted Dick” (7:17) Medley: Sam Sack [Milt Jackson] > Rill’s Thrills [Heckstall-Smith] marks McLaughlin’s first appearance. That gorgeous fat tone matches up so well with Bruce’s fat double bass tone. McLaughlin knocks this out of the park before Bruce struts. Heckstall-Smith jumps in at 3:30 for his half of the medley. This is another great bebop section, with a twist. More double sax and fine sax work.
The quartet goes way inside for a lovely reading of “Born to Be Blue” (4:13) [Mel Torne-Robert Wells]. McLaughlin and Hiseman are way down in the mix as Bruce supports lovely tenor work from Heckstall-Smith.
“HCKHH Blues” (8:54) was a tune Bruce recorded with Graham Bond in 1963, originally titled “Ho Ho Country Kickin’ Blues” [Wikipedia]. All four members are soaring. The album is worth another time through just to concentrate on Bruce’s incredible work on double bass. McLaughlin’s work at the beginning of the track is clearly a precursor to his work in 1969 and beyond with Miles Davis. Bruce has a great solo, Heckstall-Smith wails, and Hiseman’s superb work, especially with cymbals, colors this and every track. This music followed in the tradition of Mingus and Ornette Coleman and other great innovators.
“Ballad for Arthur” (7:28) opens with Bruce before Heckstall-Smith enters, restrained on this lovely ballad, with fine support form Hiseman. McLaughlin’s work here is likewise reserved if a bit twisted.Heckstall-Smith’s breathy solo is lovely. The second half of the song gets more frenetic and decidedly more outside. All the while Bruce sounds amazing (and a great recording at that).
They close the album with another avant-garde piece, the title track “Things We Like” (3:28). Everybody offers jabs and punches as the song explodes after the head.
CD BONUS TRACK
“Ageing Jack Bruce, Three, from Scotland, England” (5:20) reminds of a Rahsaan Roland Kirk expedition. The song begins calmly, but it doesn’t take long for the band to kick out the jazz jams.
If you dig adventurous jazz, take Things We Like for a spin. You’ll like how it handles.