Before Nirvana in the 90’s, another hypnotic, dreamy, hard driving trio set the tone as the first band to embrace psychedelic acid rock without ambiguity. Fronted by Eric Clapton on guitar, Ginger Baker on drums, and Jack Bruce on bass, voted by Rolling Stone as one of the five greatest bass guitar players ever, the trio carved out their place in the bedrock of rock and roll legend. Their legendary epic anthems “White Room”, “Sunshine of Your Love “Crossroads” and “I Feel Free” are easily recognizable even to Generation Z, thanks to their prolific use in films and network shows. The band was Cream, and before internal discord resulted in their disbanding in 1968, the three musicians ascended to the summit of greatest rock and roll bands ever. The band set the standard for the supergroups that followed, like Led Zeppelin, Blind Faith, Bad Company, and Asia, among others. But Cream is number 1 on Guitar World’s list of the 20 most relevant supergroups.
Bassist Jack Bruce passed away in 2014 on October 25th, but his musical legacy is prolific and includes his surviving son, Malcolm Bruce, who is a gifted singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in his own right. A few fortunate New Yorkers were treated to a live performance from Bruce at The Cutting Room last Wednesday night, August 6th. Backed by an impromptu band quickly assembled by his good friend and frequent collaborator, guitarist David Malachowski, Bruce gave a powerful and electric performance that included a couple of his father’s Cream hits.
Bruce has written songs, music for the theatre, media, for children, and also orchestral concert music. From the beginning of his life, Bruce was immersed in music. As a teenager he attended the Guildhall School of Music to study composition and has been performing professionally since the age of 16. Bruce has worked with a multitude of musicians over the years. Early in his career work included Bill Ward’s (Black Sabbath) record ‘Ward 1’ featuring Ozzy Osbourne, recording with Dick Heckstall-Smith, and also Brand X featuring Percy Jones, John Goodsall and Pierre Moerlan. Bruce has performed with his father Jack off and on over the years, and has also appeared on a number of Jack’s recordings, most recently ‘Shadows in the Air’ (2001) and ‘More Jack than God’ (2003) both recorded in NYC, (including performances by Eric Clapton, Dr. John, and Horacio Hernandez). Bruce also worked with his father on his final album ‘Silver Rails’ recorded at Abbey Road with producer Rob Cass.
As a composer, recent commissions have included Music Start, a government funded project to write music for children aged 2-5, given to 100,000 families in the UK (with performances by 30 musicians from all over the World, including narration from Cathy Tyson (Mona Lisa)); and music for the play ‘At War with Churchill’ by Peter Wolf (UK national tour). Sometime in September or October, or possibly a little later depending on a number of factors, like marketing and tour schedules, Bruce will drop a new album which he is currently back in the studio in London putting the finishing touches on. The album is being released through Pledge Music so the time line is based on completion of the funding phase and the subsequent manufacture. Everyone who pledges towards the album will also receive a free 4 song EP download. More info is available at www.pledgemusic.com/projects/malcolmbruce.
Asked about how it felt to play with musicians he had never met prior to the gig at The Cutting Room, Bruce replied “The show went well based on minimal rehearsal. David Malachowski (who MD’d the show and works with Anthony Rapp amongst many others) put together a band consisting of top NY players who are on the Broadway scene so they are used to jumping into situations and getting a result fast. They all did a fantastic job.”
Talking about the inspiration and time involved behind the songwriting on the new album, Bruce replied “I had the opportunity to go to Nashville and work at Kevin McKendree’s studio a few years ago. Kevin is a Grammy award-winning pianist and producer and was MD for Delbert McClinton for many years. I put together about 17 songs for the sessions, really just based on what I had at that point. Over time what emerged were the songs that worked together conceptually and musically, so there will be around 10 or 11 on this record. Some of the songs are social commentary, others very personal. The working title has been ‘From Slaveocracy To Salvation’ but it may still change to something a little easier to grasp. For me music is such a malleable force, so it is a challenge to reach a finite ‘completion’ point within arrangements within the recording process. It is always changing, evolving. So the songs have been developing over time. I’m finishing recording right now and will be mixing in September. The fact I have been touring so much and working on other projects over this period of time has also drawn out the process somewhat. The last few years have been massive for me in terms of personal development as well, so I think all these aspects have made it take longer than expected. Hopefully it will have been worth the wait in terms of creating something with its own uniqueness and original signature sound. I purposefully resisted modelling the music on any pre-existing format, but none-the-less had the idea of creating something simple and accessible.
Production is such an important aspect when it comes to recording an album, and Bruce is the producer on this next album, but he was clear to point out the collaborative nature behind what goes on in the studio. “I have been producer for this album, but have had input along the way from a number of people, including Kevin at the studio and engineer Mark Allison who recorded the basic tracks. Mark has worked with everyone from Miles Davis to Donna Summer and brought his wonderful ear to the process. I think for my next album I will be working with a producer; I am headstrong when it comes to ideas but having a team is always beneficial from many perspectives.”
For New Yorkers who missed Bruce’s show at The Cutting Room, there is good news; he will be back. “Yes, I’m working with my agent on a full USA tour towards the end of this year in support of the current album and will play a show in NYC again, probably this November/ December. I’m also collaborating on some musical theatre projects and will be doing some workshops next year. I had my first song in an off-Broadway musical this year at The Kaye Playhouse and am developing new work.
Asked about his impressions on the city, and performing for audiences here, Bruce had the following to say, “I’ve been coming to NYC since I was a child, worked with my Father Jack Bruce in studios over the years (we made 2 of his records at Sorcerer Sound when it was still a functioning studio) and I played a show at The Bottom Line with him many years ago. Since then I’ve headlined a number of venues in NYC in various bands, including BB Kings, Iridium and The Cutting Room and always enjoy the vibrancy and big heart of the indigenous population! In some strange way it has become a home from home and I have made many good friends in the City. I’m aware of the rich history of NYC in terms of music and the energy of the place is always an inspiration.
Multiple Award-winning designer, art director, writer and radio host, Spencer Drate, who along with his partner Judith Salavetz was recently selected for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame permanent collection, and was in the audience on Wednesday night, said that Bruce’s voice sounds very similar to his father’s. Drate suggested listening to a Cream album where Jack Bruce is singing and then listen to Bruce’s songs again, and keep an ear out for the tonality that is like the senior Bruce’s sound. Drate is clear about pointing out that the younger Bruce is “In his own zone, he has his own sound, it’s not even related to Cream at all; he’s got his own thing, and it’s like a driving, very driving, a lot of repetition going on, but really beautiful, and I call it hard driving, and no way related to Cream.” “His creative stuff, his own music is very different, but I still find it interesting when I hear inflections of his father’s voice. Cream was an exceptional band. Jack Bruce’s first solo album ‘Songs for a Tailor’, which is classic, by the way, a really good album, and there you can hear his voice, and the genes are there.”
The Funky Feelgoodz warmed up the room with a short set of hard funk sounds, and were followed by Ilona, featuring the British singer/songwriter Tony Moore. Ilona is a young artist who is receiving much attention back in hometown London, and she made it clear to the audience how thrilled she was to perform on The Cutting Room stage just prior to Malcolm Bruce. Her voice has been described as the smooth sound of Sade meets a rockier edge and she is currently on tour here in the US.
The lineup for Bruce’s show on August 6th at The Cutting Room were as follows: Malcolm Bruce – voice / guitar, David Malachowski – guitar, Marcel Hamel – bass. Lauren Wright – violin and Gary Seligson – drums.
For further information on Malcolm Bruce, his music, bio and tour dates please check www.malcolmbrucemusic.com, www.facebook.com/malcolmbrucemusic, and http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/malcolmbruce