During one of King Crimson leader Robert Fripp's several lineup-shifting hiatuses in Bruford's 1972-1997 tenure, the drummer formed his self-titled Earthworks band in 1986. On the group's 1987 Earthworks debut album, Bruford often used electric Simmons drums to contrast acoustic horn players Iain Ballamy and Django Bates and upright bassist Mick Hutton, achieving the opposite of the standard lineup where drums are the only acoustic instrument. Subsequent releases like 1989's Dig? and 1991's All Heaven Broke Loose continued this forward-thinking trend, blending acoustic and electric instrumentation and jazz ideology with classical undertones. But by 1993's live Stamping Ground, Bruford had replaced Hutton with electric/acoustic bassist Tim Harries and was using keyboard-pitched electric chordal drums, the combined result being a more muscular and fuller sound.
Bruford continued recording and touring with King Crimson through 1997, releasing the Earthworks compilation Heavenly Bodies just as he quit the venerable rock band with which he'd had his longest tenure. It would prove to be a transitional year, as Bruford recorded a jazz chamber trio solo CD called If Summer Had Its Ghosts with legendary jazz figures Ralph Towner (guitar/piano) and Eddie Gomez (acoustic bass). Between explorative electric recordings with bassist and fellow King Crimson alum Tony Levin, Bruford kept Earthworks closer to the chamber jazz mode on the 1999 CD A Part, and Yet Apart. Likewise, the lineup of Bruford, saxophonist Patrick Clahar, pianist Steve Hamilton, and bassist Mark Hodgson started the new millennium with the 2001 CD The Sound of Surprise, an outstanding blend of jazz tradition and forward-thinking transition. This lineup was also responsible for the 2002 live album Footloose and Fancy Free and Footloose in New York City, a live DVD released the following year.
Reedman Tim Garland later replaced Clahar, and the band went on to release the live album Random Acts of Happiness in 2004. Recorded at New York City's Iridium jazz club, 2006's Earthworks Underground Orchestra was not an album by the Earthworks band per se, but rather an exploration of Earthworks repertoire performed by Bruford along with Garland and a New York version of the latter's Underground Orchestra (and including appearances by trombonist Robin Eubanks on two tracks). During Earthworks' last several years, the group underwent additional personnel changes and toured in the U.K., Europe, and Asia, and also appeared in New York City. Earthworks' final show took place in the summer of 2008 at Ronnie Scott's in London, and at the start of the following year Bruford announced a formal end to the group -- as well as his own retirement from public performances. ~ Bill Meredith & Dave Lynch, Rovi