One Track Mind: Bruford Levin Upper Extremities, "Cracking The Midnight Glass" (1999)

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by S. Victor Aaron

From the first two words of this group, you already know that it’s a combo that features King Crimson’s all-everything rhythm section of Bill Bruford (drummer extraordinaire) and Tony Levin (bassist extraordinaire). This side project of theirs produced just a self-titled studio album in 1999 and a live document (BLUE Nights) the following year.

In spite of the brief existence, B.L.U.E. was a supergroup that for the most part lived up to the billing because the players are mostly the adventurous types who have had a lot of history among them. From what I have gathered of the anecdotal evidence, the hype was truly lived up to in concert.

Incidentally, the “super” in supergroup wasn’t limited to just Levin and Bruford (although they are the bigger names, here). Crossover jazz trumpeter Chris Botti was in this band, too. Botti has been almost as prolific a sideman trumpeter as Levin has been as a sideman bass player, and even had Levin play on his own last two albums of that time.

The final member who rounded out this Magnificant Four was the textural, loop-crazy guitarist David Torn. Fans of the stunning Cloud About Mercury should notice that you’re only a Botti-for-Mark Isham away from replicating the line-up for Torn’s 1986 masterpiece. And indeed, the album does sound like as if Robert Fripp and his tightly constructed soundscapes have been replaced by Torn with his spacier, slightly crazed temperament. The much more urbane Botti often served as Torn’s foil for the softer pieces.

But for the track I have in mind, Botti’s counterbalance doesn’t even matter, for the trumpet sits out. “Cracking The Midnight Glass” begins unassuming enough with about a minute of Levin’s a capella cello. Then suddenly, the cello’s descent into a bitter note signals Bruford’s entrance and the cello changes over to a chord progression whose structure mimics Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Torn’s loops and barbed single notes combined with Bruford’s sometimes-on, sometimes-off beat help to construct this demonically inclined, Arabic-inspired groove.

As this twisted rhythmic pattern fades out, the solo cello briefly reappears to bookend the song with classical etudes. It creates a mash-up of contrasting styles that’s like the cherry on a sundae for those who like these collisions of genres. I know I do.

Not everything in this album works quite as well; it’s fairly experimental, and the clash of musical personalities sometimes doesn’t quite click. However, sometimes it did, and when it did, as for “Cracking The Midnight Glass,” it makes one wish Bruford and Levin had kept this King Crimson spinoff going a little bit longer.

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“One Track Mind” is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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