Rockin’ the blues
Jack Bruce, the legendary bass guitarist of Cream, is on his way to Edinburgh with a supergroup that includes Procol Harum’s Robin Trower and jazz drummer Gary Husband.
Jack Bruce remembers his first Edinburgh Festival appearance - as a schoolboy cellist accompanying the Young Communist League Choir in some Beethoven arrangements of Robert Burns songs.
There'll be nothing quite so genteel when the Glasgow-born bass guitarist, singer and songwriter who conquered the rock world with Cream in the 1960s returns to play in the blues programme of this year's Edinburgh International Jazz & Blues Festival, He fronts a power trio with guitarist Robin Trower and drummer Gary Husband, although even in his heaviest configurations Bruce has proved capable of great delicacy.
The guitar, bass and drums format has been a recurring feature of Bruce's career, most notably, of course, with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in Cream, with whom Bruce reunited for concerts in London and New York five years ago, but also with Mountain's Leslie West and Trower as the guitarist foils in the 1970s and with Gary Moore and Baker again in the 1990s band BBM.
"It's something that actually goes back to when I started out as a jazzer in the early 1960s," says Bruce. "Back then, I was really keen on saxophonist Ornette Coleman, and his band that I particularly liked, had no pianist. I also played quite a lot with jazz trios, so I took that idea into the rock arena, if you like. There are a lot of things I like about it but mostly it's the freedom aspect I enjoy. When you play with keyboards, you get locked down into set chord structures, whereas this way, you can really get into something spontaneous and explore a contrapuntal approach, if that doesn't sound too high-flown, which is how I like to play."
For Bruce,the past six years have been a bonus. In September 2003 he underwent a liver transplant after being diagnosed with cancer, and there were fears that he might not make Cream's return, which had already been pencilled in for the following summer.
"It's not something that I like to go on about too much but the transplant was a gift, a miracle really," he says. "It's been tremendous because it's allowed me to spend time with my family and see my son growing up, and it's also allowed me to do some more playing, which has been a big part of my life."
The appeal of getting up onstage has changed with the years, he concedes. Where once, when he was younger, he felt the gunslinger's need to prove himself as the fastest in the West, now he simply goes out and has fun, especially playing with Trower.
"When Robin and I got together in the 1970s, he just got in touch, asked if I wanted to be part of an album he was making and that turned into BLT, which sold well and was a lot of fun," he says. "We made another album shortly after that, then there was a long gap and he got in touch again, and it's the same thing really. We've made an album, we're going out playing and it all feels very natural."
Jack Bruce, Robin Trower & Gary Husband Queen's Hall, August 7, 8.30pm 0131 473 2000
If you like this, try the Alyn Cosker Trio at The Lot, 31 July