“Things We Like”: Jack Bruce’s Seldom-Acknowledged Classic?

I originally bought this album around 1973, (and stupidly sold it some years later, for some long - forgotten reason), when I was exploring anything that featured John McLaughlin, then in his pomp with The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Things We Like was an early McLaughlin-related classic, recorded about the same time as his very first solo album Extrapolation, and shortly before Miles Davis paid for him to cross the Atlantic (the ocean, not the record label) to record on In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew and Live/Evil. He also found time to make Devotion, Where Fortune Smiles and My Goals Beyond, as well as co-forming Lifetime (who were never recorded satisfactorily, either in the studio or in the live arena).. The 1968-72 period was thus characterised by this impressive release schedule and the development of his mature guitar style.

Things We Like was actually Jack Bruce’s first solo album, recorded in August 1968, although the song-based Songs for a Tailor was released first. All instrumental, it was clearly a jazz album, and a very good one at that, with Bruce returning to his pre-Cream roots, and it deserves to be included in any list of late-sixties UK modern jazz/rock must-have recordings, alongside the likes of Nucleus and The Keith Tippett Group, and, by extension, the likes of Soft Machine Three and early King Crimson (the first four). He was accompanied by some old muckers from the 60′s British jazz scene: drummer Jon Hiseman was a recent member of Howard Riley’s influential trio, who had recorded their debut, Discussions, in December 1967, which set a high bar for such configurations on these shores. (Hiseman went on in 1968 to form Colosseum, with Dick Heckstall-Smith, the final member of this quartet, both having played with Graham Bond in his Organisation, and as members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers on the Bare Wires album.)

Things We Like fits in perfectly with its contemporaries, giving early notice of McLaughlin’s talents (especially on ‘Sam Enchanted Dick’and ‘HCKHH Blues’), before Mahavishnu rather muddied the creative waters;  confirmation of those of Heckstall-Smith and Hiseman; and a re-affirmation of Bruce’s jazz chops on the double bass, with six tricksy-yet-emotive originals, communicated through a dry, no-frills sound. Unfortunately it tanked commercially - the album only surfaced in 1970, and former Cream fans were perhaps somewhat baffled, and jazz fans possibly doubted the ‘authenticity’ of a recent rock star’s attempts to ‘go solo’ (although Songs For a Tailor proved both a commercial and critical success). Listened to over 50 years later, it slips loose of all these contemporary contexts, and stands out as yet another great British jazz album from what is now generally viewed as somewhat of a ‘golden age’ for the music. There are many, many more albums from the approximate period of 1968 -72 that could bear re-examination, re-discovery (or just mere discovery?) and subsequent re-release. John Surman and the late Kenny Wheeler, to name just two examples among so many others, may be in danger of being forgotten and/or marginalised. A thorough reappraisal of this period, both discographical and bibliographical, is long overdue, although John Wickes’ long out of print ‘Innovations in Jazz’ is well worth seeking out.

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The banner picture is by the late Mal Dean (1941-1974), which featured on the cover of the 1972 Incus Records vinyl release, Live Performances at Verity's Place, by two free improvisation pioneers, the English guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.