A stirring blast of (nearly) electric jazz from 1968...
Peter Marsh 2003-04-04
Things We Like was recorded a few months ahead of Cream's demise in August 1968, though not released till 1970, when Jack Bruce's solo career was well underway. Since then it's become rare as hen's teeth, yet hasn't been accorded the kind of mythic status that other Britjazz albums of the era seemed to have had bestowed on them. It would be trite to suggest that jazz snobbery might be in effect here...or would it? Maybe the fact that Jack wasn't tempted to enjoy the poverty and critical hostility that was the lot of the British jazzer on a permanent basis caught the attention of the Jazz Police. Who knows..?
Bruce wrote these tunes when he was 12; he must have spent a huge amount of his childhood devouring industrial sized quantities of post bop jazz. These are vivacious, maybe even brash compositions, but they don't sound like the work of a 12 year old (particularly the stalking, episodic "HCKHH Blues" or the hectic, tumbling "Over the Cliff"). To play them, Bruce returned to the double bass and enlisted former Graham Bond colleagues Dick Heckstall-Smith and John McLaughlin, plus drummer Jon Hiseman of Colosseum. Like Bruce, all these musicians had grown up on a diet of R'n'B and rock as well as jazz, and were casually breaking down the doors between them.
Heckstall-Smith's raspy tenor (and occasional soprano)is the dominant voice, stuffed with equal amounts of blues honk and post bop technique. Occasional Roland Kirk inspired dual saxophone action livens things up too. Mclaughlin is on fiery form, with his scrabbly, distorted Hendrix-plays-bebop runs at an early but satisfying stage.
Meanwhile Bruce and Hiseman power things along at a fair old lick. What they sometimes lack in sophistication they make up for in drive and splashy energy. Bruce's love of Mingus makes itself felt in his solo spots, while his tangy melodies recall the warped Texas blues of Ornette Coleman. A year or so later Mclaughlin had honed the first stirrings of electric jazz heard here into the sweet blast of Extrapolation, rightly regarded as a classic. While Things We Like isn't maybe on that level, it's definitely a forgotten gem, and full marks to Universal for digging it out of the vaults.