Enthusiasts expecting to hear a continuation of the type of material that Jack Bruce (bass) had been responsible for during his tenure(s) with Cream or the Graham Bond Organisation might be in for quite a shock when spinning Things We Like (1970) for the first time. Instead of an album's worth of blues-based rockers, the seven instrumentals feature Bruce with other former Graham Bond stablemates John McLaughlin (guitar), Jon Hiseman (drums), and Dick Heckstall-Smith (sax) performing post-bop and free jazz. A majority of the compositions were penned by Bruce in his preteen days of formal scholarship at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, where he also mastered the cello and composed a string quartet at the age of 11. After having gained significant clout from Cream, Bruce assembled what was initially a trio. However, after a chance meeting with McLaughlin -- who was so broke he had to refuse an offer to fly stateside to join the newly formed Tony Williams Lifetime -- Bruce incorporated the guitarist into the fold in order to help him finance his journey, which was ultimately successful. The entire effort was recorded and mixed in less than a week during August of 1968 -- less than three months prior to the infamous Farewell Concert of Cream at the Royal Albert Hall on November 26, 1968.
As a testament to Bruce's expansive musical tastes, capabilities, and horizons, this disc sounds more like a collection of Rahsaan Roland Kirk sides than anything even remotely connected with Cream. This is especially true of the frenetic pacing of the brief opener, "Over the Cliff." Heckstall-Smith's ability to perform alto and soprano saxophone simultaneously likewise lends itself to Kirk's distinct reed polyphony. "Statues" is an interesting exercise, again with Heckstall-Smith providing some excellent extemporaneous blows during the darkly toned introduction working well against the nimble melody. While Hiseman's style is decidedly less aggressive than that of Ginger Baker, his drumming helps to amalgamate the song's various sections. McLaughlin's unmistakably sinuous leads are commanding throughout the "Sam Enchanted Dick" medley, with a cover of Milt Jackson's "Sam's Sack" and a Heckstall-Smith original titled "Rills Thrills." The tempo is slowed on the smoky cover of Mel Tormé's "Born to Be Blue." This interpretation is part West Coast cool and part Chicago-style blues. McLaughlin's contributions to "HCKHH Blues" is similar to that of Robert Fripp's jazzy fretwork throughout the Islands (1971) era King Crimson. While it was the first of Bruce's solo records to be recorded, he chose to issue the more rock-oriented Songs for a Tailor (1969) prior to Things We Like, which was perhaps considered an indulgent side project rather than a permanent musical diversion. [The 2003 CD reissue contains the previously unissued track "Ageing, Jack Bruce, Three, from Scotland, England," which is another brilliant Heckstall-Smith piece with all four musicians in top form -- especially McLaughlin, who provokes a variety of sonic imagery, ranging from intense fingerpicking to chiming notes and chord augmentations.]