Imagine the scene in a Stockholm jazz club sometime in 1970. The Gyllene Cirkeln had been host to performers like Eddie Harris and Ornette Coleman (who recorded a pair of Blue Note albums there). Its owner normally booked artists for simply a two-night stand, but he was so impressed by one act that he booked them for 16 days straight. This group was an unusual duo: an American organist born in Waukegan, Illinois and a Polish drummer. Bruce Powell and Wladyslaw “Vlady” Jagiello recorded only one album, and Vampisoul’s essential reissue of The Reality has rescued this forgotten music from obscurity.

The album is a jazz-funk-R&B-rock hybrid as swirling and mesmerizing as its cover. Credited as Bruce and Vlady, the musicians are pictured on a background of concentric circles, separate but visually connected by these recurring lines much as their music goes in different directions yet is connected through an unlikely musical friendship.

Although the 50-minute album lists 10 track titles, the recording unfolds as a continuous suite. “Listen… we’re going to tell the people how reality begins,” Powell says as he introduces an album that is mostly instrumental, but comes off as a strange kind of jazz sermon with avant-garde testifying as well as swirling impassioned Hammond chords. Beats shift from a conventional swing to psychedelic power at the drop of a snare. No matter how wild the music gets, Jagiello maintains an effortlessly shifting pulse from rock to R&B to jazz and back again, keeping a consistent groove from the album’s more contemplative moments through its most intensely virtuosic outbursts.

Powell’s voice comes back at intervals throughout the album, which adds to the sense that he’s delivering an unusual sermon about reality. He quotes the Isley Brothers and James Brown: “Open up the door/ I’ll get it myself!” He waxes on soft drinks: “Even though I got Coca-Cola on my fingers the first time I’ll try again/ … They call that real, to me!”Near the end of the album, out of nowhere, he seems to place a drink order: “Cubes of sugar for me/ I like my coffee that way.” The spoken interludes feel like casual, tossed-off observances whose import ebbs and flows with the music from a duo that was completely in tune with each other. This is indeed reality, but a particularly concentrated form of it defined in keyboard swirls and driving beats.

The duo came together by accident. Powell was in Stockholm for a gig that fell through when his Hammond B-3 was damaged in transit on a cruise ship. Instead of returning home, Powell and his wife stayed in Sweden while he had his instrument repaired, and he looked for work on his own. At a rock club, Powell met Jagiello sitting in with another band. The pair hit if off musically and booked club dates that caught the attention of Rune Wallebom, co-owner of Svensk American Records. Wallebom promised that if they could sell 20,000 records in Sweden, he would get them wider distribution in England and a gig at Ronnie Scott’s famous London club. But after The Reality was released, the label owner announced that his wife and label co-owner was divorcing him. Svensk American dissolved, and Powell and Jagiello never saw any royalties from their album.

The duo recorded four takes for this sole studio album, and it reaches feverish improvisational heights. One can only imagine what the duo was capable of during their club residency. Powell left Stockholm in 1970 and never saw Jagiello again. The drummer mysterious circumstances in 2009. If Powell’s spoken word remarks and inspired playing occasionally seems church bound, it’s no accident.. Today he is musical director at a church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

An original copy of Bruce and Vlady’s album is currently available on Discogs for nearly $800, but Vampisoul’s CD reissue sounds fantastic, and presumably the vinyl edition is of the same quality. The only downside to this rediscovery is that there isn’t more of it. That’s The Reality, a fantastic musical document and a heightened way of life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

From the Vaults of Streaming Hell: Heidi 4 Paws

You want Lynchian resonance in the talking-dog adaptation of a beloved children’s book? Ha…