I have to admit that I've never been the biggest fan of what's known as the power trio in rock and roll. Guitar, bass, and drums aren't a combination of instruments that I've ever found conducive to making the most innovating music. Of course, there have been exceptions. Jimi Hendrix somehow managed to turn that configuration into something that transcended the form, but that had more to do with his extraordinary abilities as a musician than anything else. The majority of power trios have simply ended up sounding remarkably similar after a while with nobody deviating too far from the same formulae of electric blues played loud and fast.
So when the German blues label Ruf Records sent me a copy of their latest release, Seven Moons Live featuring former Cream bass player Jack Bruce and 1970s guitar hero Robin Trower accompanied by Gary Husband on drums, I was less than enthusiastic about sitting down to give it a listen. It probably didn't help any when I looked at the track listing and "Sunshine Of Your Love" and "White Room", two old hits from Bruce's days with Cream, were the first titles to catch my eye. If any two songs have been played to death by rock and roll radio stations over the past forty years it's them.
To make matters worse live albums like this only seem to encourage the type of playing from power trios I find the most irritating – the obligatory long winded solo from the guitar player that ends up sounding tedious before it's even half over. It wouldn't be so bad if they only did it once or twice per recording, but when they fill a record's worth of songs with guitar solos that do nothing for the music, it becomes boring awfully fast. I had remembered Trower as one of those guys who would play a guitar solo at the drop of the hat in the seventies, but if your looking for a disc full of his solos, you'll have to look elsewhere, for it turns out this disc is one of those exceptions to the rule.
I don't know whether it's age that's mellowed Bruce and Trower, but their approach to music seems to have changed radically since the last time I cast an ear in their directions. Although to be honest, and fair, I've not followed either of them very closely so what I heard on Seven Moons Live could be the continuation of a process begun some time ago. For while the disc is still a collection of electric blues based rock they appear far more interested in developing the subtle intricacies of a song than blasting their way through them. While there still are guitar solos scattered through out the disc, instead of feeling like the exercises in ego stroking I was used to hearing, Trower now ensures that his individual efforts compliment whatever song he is working on.
Naturally as a bass player Bruce doesn't have the same opportunities for solo work as Trower. However, this is unlike most recordings which bury the bass in the mix so you are left with only the sensation of the bass being played while never hearing any notes being played. Now when I say hearing the bass, I'm not talking about that mega-bass shit that people have for their car stereos that rattles windows and sterilizes frogs at twenty paces, I'm talking about listening to the individual notes being played. Like a jazz musician Bruce does more with his bass then keep time. Instead of his playing being like having a concrete pylon shoved into your chest because the volume is too loud, it's like hearing a complicated rhythm being played on a set of congas.
However, like Trower's leads, his playing doesn't draw attention to himself at the expense of the song. Instead it serves to make each piece that much more interesting by adding an extra layer of texture that is normally absent from the power trio configuration. In fact, musically, these three have more in common with a jazz trio than they do most rock trios that I've heard. Even the old chestnuts, "Sunshine Of Your Love" and "White Room", are given a far more interesting treatment on this recording than any I've heard before. Sure they still have the same distinctive tune that has the audience cheering as soon as they hear the first notes, but within that framework Trower, Bruce, and Husband take a much more sophisticated approach than you're liable to hear elsewhere.
The one area on this disc that was slightly weaker than the rest was Bruce's vocals. I don't know how much of a range he may have had at one time, but now it's quite limited and he sounded like he was straining to reach most notes. However, to give credit where credit is due, he's also not a screamer, nor one of those vocalists who tries to hide any of his or her deficiencies behind a mess of effects. He was articulate and clear at all times, so you could actually understand every word of his singing. He also made every effort to be as expressive as possible in spite of his limitations, which almost compensated for any straining that became too obvious.
All in all Seven Moons Live is a surprisingly well performed and interestingly presented collection of songs. For instead of merely being at attempt by fading rock stars to recapture some of their former glory by blasting their way through a collection of their former hits, these three have taken their considerable talents and applied them to making the music more sophisticated and interesting. It just goes to show that some old dogs can learn new tricks, and in the process take that which once old and stale and make it new and interesting.