The Aldwych Lyceum has of late been fostering in the folds of its Victorian opulence certain rock soirées. A recent one featured Jack Bruce and some reputable friends giving an object lesson in creative music to an appreciative following.
Bruce, the famed electric bassist of the now disbanded Cream, one of the more lyrical and eloquent of the recent groups, can roar like a tuba section to drown guitar and organ, or bubble contrapuntally in a most compelling way. With him were Larry Coryell (ex-Gary Burton guitarist), Mike Mandell (organ, student at Berklee School of Music in Boston), and Mitch Mitchell (ex-Jimi Hendrix drummer).
They married their diverse styles to blow blues and tunes (some Bruce originals) that were free and cohesive essays in creative playing. They tried new forms within the rock idiom, like a 20-bar tune and stranger structures, new textures with the traditional instrumentation, like laying staccato tracks under a drum solo.
But the freshest aspect of it all was simply good, empathetic group improvising, on just about every number, with retention of each individual voice. Coryell played many notes but bent few and comped often: hardly what the crowd would have expected from a lead guitarist. He relied on fast linear solos which were often effective but sometimes just for show, and occasionally outran himself.
Bruce sang a lot in an unusually raucous and uncontrolled manner, and did a raw parody on the Cream hit Sunshine Of Your Love. His bass was strong but not as flexible as it has been or as willing to enter group discussion as it might have been. Mandell kept the lid on the pot with cool, collected organ work – rich dovetailed runs, nice choice of stops. He might have been a little too light for the dark company, but he was a good listener and a beautiful player.
Mitchell was the show-stealer for me: commanding at all times without commandeering, he kept the wheels oiled without histrionics or sensational effect, yet with stunning timing and variety.
It’s a revelation to see, at long last, some of the foremost musicians of our allied but still distinct musical sphere leading their peers out of the muddy limbo of feedback and fakery by administering salubrious dollops of the musical element basic to all music that is really free: collective improvisation.