“Once you plug in the microphone, it’s all electronic music.” That’s something Bill Bruford once said. Bruford was one of the first musicians I ever interviewed, and he said it to me. I was in college at the time, and he was touring with Earthworks, his then fairly new and plugged-in jazz ensemble that had world-music flourishes, an interest in minimalist patterning, and a solid sense of swing. Around then, the emergence of Wynton Marsalis and his staunch if inspired jazz traditionalism had drawn a firm line in the sand, and that line appeared ’round about when Miles Davis had first plugged in.
I was doing a radio show at WYBC when Bruford came through town, and I had been watching the jazz culture war unfold in the liner notes to the record albums that arrived weekly at the station, like missives from the front line (it was especially informative to watch Stanley Crouch go from maverick of the avant-garde to defender of the faith). I had asked Bruford, during the interview, what it meant to play jazz with electric instruments, but mostly what I wanted to do was talk about his work with the band King Crimson, in which he’d been a drummer on some of their best albums, notably Discipline. Drop the swing for the moment, and it’s clear that the work achieved by him and his rhythm-section partner in King Crimson, Tony Levin (on bass and Chapman stick), was clearly the root from which Earthworks was beginning to grow.
Over at the Crimson-and-related website dgmlive.com, a studio recording (circa 1982) has been posted of an early take on what, as the entry notes, would become “Waiting Man,” the track that closed the first side of Discipline‘s follow-up, Beat (this was the age of the vinyl LP). It’s an intricate, pattern-rich jam featuring just Bruford and Levin (none of the dual guitars of their Crimson partners, Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp, the early live-looping progenitor). And it’s very much an adoption of minimalism by a rock ensemble (MP3), just as the Who had done with Terry Riley decades earlier, and Tortoise would do with Steve Reich a decade later.
The DGMLive site only keeps those MP3s posted briefly, so get it while you can. It’s brief, but it’s a splendid snapshot of a formative in-studio work-in-progress.