Jack Bruce / Legacy Lives On In New Box Set Smiles & Grins

Fresh from his time with the mighty Cream, Jack Bruce took little time to launch himself back into the public eye, the maestro of the bass and vocals determined to get creating. From this time until his passing in 2014, he seemingly never stopped, and this new box set from the good people at Esoteric Recordings and Cherry Red brings together various live sets between 1970 and 2001. 

Jack Bruce – Smiles & Grins

The Broadcast Sessions 1970-2001 (Cherry Red Records)

Release Date: Out Now

Words: Paul Monkhouse

Containing four CDs and two Blu-rays, Smiles & Grins highlights some of the many dazzling facets of the artist, his range breathtaking as he stretches out musically and is seemingly adept at every single thing he turns his hand to.

Hewn from the BBC archives, all six discs catch Bruce at his many changing peaks, each disc a kaleidoscopic overview of different styles ranging from blues, jazz, rock and with a bit of folk and country thrown in two as more subtle flavours. 

The first disc, BBC Radio One In Concert 1971, has a dizzying selection of moods. It starts gently but gets wilder as each track continues, with star keys wizard Graham Bond and guitarist Chris Spedding beefing the sound up nicely. Far from the high decibel bluster that shaped Cream live, there’s plenty of light and shade here as the band make their way through the set. Numbers like A Letter of Thanks and the soul-drenched Have You Ever Loved A Woman? still sound magnificent.

Jack Bruce - Smiles & Grins box set
Jack Bruce – Smiles & Grins box set

Disc two splits its running length between a Sounds Of The ’70s Session and Jazz In Britain, the eclectic mix again casting its spell. Featuring Theme For An Imaginary Western, a song that Mountain would cover, with Leslie West and Corky Laing later teaming up with Bruce, the first part has some more dazzling work, Bond and Spedding there again. 

As good as that undoubtedly is, it’s when the bass player/singer hooks up with Jon Hiseman and John Surman for the jazz tracks that it really shows off the four-string as it dances and moves through Baru, Powerhouse Sod and Clearway, amongst others.

The trio appear again on the Jazz In Britain selection on disc three but this is preceded by a set from The Jack Bruce Band on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975. 

With a band featuring former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor and American jazz pianist and composer Carla Bley on keys, here was a group that really gave Bruce the ability to flex his muscles in new areas, and it sounds like the band is tight but certainly having fun. The JiB tracks are taken from 1978 and again are wonders of expression that remain taught and never veer off into the totally self-absorbed Fifteen Minutes Past Three and Ten To Four, worth the price of admission alone.

By the time of the 1977 Jack Bruce Band recordings, both Taylor and Bley had gone off to do other things, but the combo was enhanced by the presence of master session drummer Simon Phillips. This constantly shifting set of players colours each set with its own hues. It’s fascinating to hear each as they make their own impression on the overall sound as the main man anchors everything with his mellifluous playing and distinct vocals. The Bruce/Hiseman/Surman combination once again works wonders, and Twenty Past Four pulses with a vibrant life.

The two Blu-ray discs cover the three decades, and themselves illustrate the chemistry between the various artists the Scot had drawn around him. 

Amongst the concert footage, it’s possible to get lost in wonderland, and there’s plenty to pick from, each confection having its own joy as numbers from his whole career are showcased, including some of Cream’s most well-known and loved numbers like White Room, Politician and Sunshine Of Your Love. 

All in all, it’s a superb set, and these live takes add extra fire and sparks of undeniable warmth and life to the studio originals, Bruce and his co-conspirators showing exactly what true musical artists can achieve, shorn of any backroom gloss and just playing things as raw as it can be. 

Jack Bruce – Smiles & Grins is an essential purchase for the committed and a definitely worthwhile investment for anyone wanting to explore this legendary figure’s intriguing and varied back catalogue.

For more details, visit Cherry Red Records.

Sleeve Notes

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