BOSTON — A LONG-HAIRED die-hard fan turned to others and said: ``Remember Bill and Robert? They used to play in a band together. They're not together anymore, though. Each has his own thing going. Bill - that's the drummer - is into what he calls British Jazz. Robert - he's the guitar player - is out there sounding weirder than ever.'' It's been a long while since Bill Bruford and Robert Fripp played together, though they've recorded a number of influential albums as part of the now-legendary art-rock band King Crimson. Word has it that Bruford and Fripp never got along well, though they have the greatest respect for each other as musicians.
A good opportunity to compare each musician's path since King Crimson's final break-up in 1983 presented itself when, within a three-day span, both musicians played in Boston last month. Bill Bruford played with Earthworks at Nightstage on Oct. 3, and Robert Fripp did the same at the Paradise Club on Oct. 6, with a class of his own students generally known as the League of Crafty Guitarists.
Both Bruford and Fripp are recognized as two of the most daring musicians Britain has produced. Both stem from the art-rock background that spawned bands like Yes, Genesis, and King Crimson. Bruford has, in fact, played in all three of them. A few days before his concert, in a telephone interview, he explained the concept of Earthworks: ``In the early '80s they were inventing a new instrument called electronic percussion.'' Bruford used it ``in it's crude form'' for five years with King Crimson, recording the essential trilogy ``Discipline,'' ``Beat'' and ``Three of a Perfect Pair.''
``Then I had to give it a break,'' he explains, ``because the equipment was simply not suitable. I took two years' sabbatical and played just acoustic drums with acoustic piano with Patrick Moraz'' - himself a former Yes member - ``during which time the electronic percussion manufacturers made leaps and bound forward, and it became apparent that the drums would do the kind of thing that they now can do. I then decided to take that instrument and some of the crop of young British jazz players and make up a kind of British Jazz based around electronic percussion.''
Earthworks has been together for the past five years; Bruford has, meanwhile, become involved with the work of American guitarist David Torn and the re-assemblage of his own Yes band, now known as Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe. ``It's quite common for musicians to be on two or three bands these days,'' declares the drummer. ``Gone are the days when you assumed that one band would contain enough room for all the musical fantasies you had.''
Earthworks music builds up a complex mosaic of references, from electric funk to Caribbean steel drums, blended together in a humorous approach. Besides Bruford's remarkably intricate rhythms and melodic patterns, Earthworks features the impulsive interventions of keyboardist and tenor horn player Django Bates, saxophonist Ian Ballamy, and bass player Tim Harris.
What, no guitar in this band? Curiously, Robert Fripp has no drummers in his band. Actually Fripp's band is made up entirely of guitar players, a team of 11, all of whom are students (under Fripp's guidance) at the Guitar Craft school in Charles Town, West Virginia. Guitar Craft represents a whole new way of approaching the guitar, including a new tuning, a precise study of how to play with a pick, and, underneath the technical details, something of a way of life.
Paul Richards, one of the members of the League of Crafty Guitarists - and, since Robert Fripp makes it a strict policy never to give interviews - something of a spokesman for the group, explains that this new tuning - New Standard Tuning - ``has expanded the range of the guitar, which goes much lower and a bit higher as well. We play parts that sound like they could only come from a bass player.''
The League's working team that played here in Boston gave a susprising and somewhat disturbing performance. Discipline seems to be the key to Guitar Craft. Most of the compositions demand an astounding capacity of ensemble, blending all sorts of quick and varied patterns into one, as if the players were not individuals but eleven fingers on a single hand. After every three guitar tunes, singer Patricia Leavitt rises and sings one of her own a capella works; meanwhile the other players remain in a semicircle, hands motionless, faces serene, as if in Zen posture.
Fripp's and Bruford's ways are thus divided between seriousness and perpetual playfulness. Will they ever get back together again? Maybe. It's no coincidence that each never replaced the other in his own band.