To get some idea of what this album is all about, best forget the headliners for a moment and check out the fine print. That's where you'll discover an inventory of the instruments and effects that guest guitarist David Torn brought to the session. Inside his sonic bag of tricks are a shattered electric bouzouki, a couple of National steel guitars, an e-bow, lots of digital loops that introduce the sounds of a "broken bird" or a "squoze cat" and, for good measure, some "light industry dementia" and "big vile winged things." Let's all say a prayer for his roadie.
Of course, little if any of this music will ever be heard on the radio, but since Bruford and company obviously knew that going into the studio, they were free to indulge their whims and imagination. The result is an album that alludes, intentionally or not, to a lot of pop, rock and jazz musicians and bands, including Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream and Adrian Belew, while occasionally recalling drummer Bruford and bassist Levin's ties to King Crimson. But for all the album's obvious reference points, the musicians are too stubbornly willful to fall into any groove for long. Whether its trumpeter Chris Botti's languid evocations of fusion-era Miles Davis or Torn's Hendrixian squalls -- both are evident on "Original Sin" -- the familiar sounds are merely pieces in an unusually large and colorful musical mosaic -- a mosaic assembled with a lot more brains than brawn. Appearing Wednesday at the Birchmere with David Torn and Chris Botti. To hear a free Sound Bite from Bill Bruford and Tony Levin, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8132. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)