KING CRIMSON – ” Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind “

Posted: February 2, 2018 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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King Crimson czar Robert Fripp has long treated his music as a crown jewel something so precious, it can only be sold in its original form, as a physical product. Until a few years ago, Fripp wouldn’t allow any of King Crimson’s recordings to be bought on iTunes and, even then, he made only a limited number of their albums available. He had an even stricter attitude towards streaming. He wouldn’t let a single song be experienced in that form.

But now, his policy has changed—or at least amended. in June, the latest King Crimson releases showed up on the major streaming services, in the process easing what had been one of the longest hold-outs by a major artist in the most popular current form of music consumption. Fripp only granted permission for two releases to stream, and both are live works released in the last year. Luckily, nearly every song on them comes from deep within Crimson’s canon, including many of the band’s most desired pieces. The music features dazzling fidelity, as well as smart interpretations from Fripp’s latest erudite incarnation of the band. The band’s line-up includes early Crimson member Mel Collins (sax/flute), longtime ally Tony Levin (bass), plus second guitarist/singer Jakko Jakszyk, augmented by three , Yes three drummers. Together, they deliver over three hours of music, contained in sets titled  and . No fewer than 14 of the streamable songs come from Crimson’s prime era—’69-’74—plucked from the seven impeccable albums released during that period.

The song, which kicked off the band’s debut album, In The Court Of the Crimson King  gave fans a shudder, and a thrill, when it appeared in October of 1969. The full ‘Court’ album is considered by some to be the most influential prog-rock work ever released, but that’s too confining, and loaded, a tag for such a set. “Schizoid” alone combines heavy metal, proto-industrial music, classical influences, jazz, and sheer noise to create something that still sounds startlingly new nearly half a century after its release.

The new take on “Schizoid,” recorded live in Japan, has its own tough textures and alarming dynamics. They’re informed by the use of two guitars, manned by Jakszyk and Fripp, who interlock seamlessly on the serrated riff that slashes through the vocal, and the burning solos that whip out of the chorus. Jakszyk also sings the song and, while his voice lacks the authority of the original recording of frontman Greg Lake, he channels more than enough of the cut’s essential menace. “Schizoid,” the sole piece that has never left Crimson’s live set, finds fresh appeal in this version through two elements. First: a long sax extension from Collins that runs from cool jazz to hot dissonance. Secondly a nearly three minute solo break from the drum trio. Instead of simply pounding away, the players use crystalline cymbals, tribal tom-toms and a wide range of percussion devices to give the rhythm an orchestral richness. The cataclysmic result not only sounds like the end of the world but also like the start of a new one.

The title track from Crimson’s debut hinges on what could be the best-known mellotron riff in modern music. Certainly, it’s the loveliest. In contrast to the hell of “Schizoid,”  has a hallowed elegance. The version here, more terse than the original, retains the unique drum patterns created by original stick man Mike Giles, but given a newly holistic reach through the percussion trio. An elegant flute solo from Collins greatly extends the original filigrees Ian McDonald forged in ’69. It’s echoed by Tony Levin’s bass line, which lends the song a new sensitivity amid the dystopian overtones.

One of the most beautiful tunes Fripp ever penned provides a respite amid this often harrowing set. Then again, the song’s lyrics couldn’t be more discouraging. The live version draws special empathy from the sax, shading the mournful mellotron.

In the wake of their well-received debut, Crimson suffered a potentially lethal blow. Three of its four members left, including Greg Lake (who ran away with Keith Emerson to form ELP) and McDonald and Giles (who departed to record a lovely joint album). Luckily for leader Fripp, two key players—Lake and Giles—agreed to appear as guests on the second Crimson album, “In the Wake Of Poseidon”, released in May of 1970. Meanwhile, Collins stepped in to replace McDonald, adding a jazzy new energy. Unsurprisingly, the album often sounds like a retread of ‘Court’, though it does boast its own distinctions. The tranquil interlude  appears in three different guises on the album, providing the disc’s connective tissue. In the new version, Jakszyk sings the first verse in Japanese, both to acknowledge the setting of the concert and to embody the theme of cooperation in the lyrics. The delicate new take offers a serene set-up for the severity that follows.

In many ways Pictures functions as a sequel to “Schizoid.” Both tracks boast a similarly snaking riff, a ruthless, stop-start mid-section, as well an overall dedication to darkness. This time, however, the riff has more sleazy swagger. While Levin’s harrowing bass envelops the bottom of the song, there’s a free jazz play to Collin’s mid-section solo. Better, the two guitars ricochet off each other, intensifying the song’s harsh resonance.

Sadly, the new set features no material from Crimson’s third album, Lizard, which appeared at the tail end of 1970. Happily, two pieces appear from the band’s inventive follow-up, Islands, issued one year later. Much took place in Crimson-land between the two albums. Each featured a different line-up, excepting Collins and Fripp. While ‘Lizard’ stands as the most avant-garde, and amorphous, of the band’s early works, ‘Islands’ hardly lacked for daring or variety. “The Letter”, which appeared on ‘Islands’, infuses a hushed ballad with two metal-jazz freak-outs. Pete Sinfield’s lyric tells the morbid tale of a woman who has a relationship with a married man, which she reveals to the wife in a letter. The live version lets Collins expand on his original sax break-down, enabled by more-frantic-than-ever guitar stabs from Fripp and Jakszyk. The violent sections in the music mirror the reaction of the wife who, in the end, sends back a letter of her own: a suicide note.

One of Crimson’s most energetic jazz forays opens with a fierce bass line and tantalizing cymbal work. Together, they spur a meeting between Fripp’s quavering guitar and Collins‘ glistening sax. The mid-section centers on an eruptive fusion solo from Collins. Later, Levin’s walking bass line sets-up a Fripp riff that sounds like a buzz saw cutting through your skull, culminating in mellotron work that suggests the remains of a city after it’s been carpet bombed. They did another total tear-down on their sound, surrounding main member Fripp with entirely different musicians. Only this album featured the eccentric percussionist Jamie Muir, who played gamely off the band’s brilliant new drummer, Bill Bruford, whom Fripp had just poached from Yes. The swishes and clicks created by Muir, which open the song, provide an ideal showcase for the new album’s drum trio. Together, they set-up a guitar assault that sounds like a swarm of bees darkening the sky with murderous intent. The double guitar attack in the new version amplifies the threat, exploding with charging riffs and soaring solos. It’s incredible how many parts make up this piece. The guitars keep morphing, as does the beat, along the way embracing music from Africa, Eastern Europe and Britain, with injections from the world of musique concrete along the way. Levin’s bass plays a thrillingly disruptive role, while Collins subs his fluid flute for the violin parts provided in the original by David Cross. However chilling sections of Larks Tongue may be, the piece resolves in a melody that shimmers.

Despite its title, The Talking Drum anchors on the bass. Levin’s instrument seems to stalk the song, repeating a maddening line that gallops under a grinding sax solo. It’s a similar dynamic to the one that fired “Sailor’s Tale,” but with its own sense of urgency. Levin’s bass has the focus of funk but the feel of threat.

The second part of “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic (Part II)” contained on the 1973 album of the same name, hits even harder than the first. Bass lines scurry, beats brutalize, while a heavy-ass guitar slashes and burns. It’s a scourge as much as a song, a brutalist symphony in hell.

On Easy Money Jakszyk does an incredible job of mimicking the timbre of the song’s original singer, John Wetton. But the herky-jerky guitars that surround him in the new take have their own sense of disquiet, and the newly added sound effects convey an original whimsey. Fripp’s lunar guitar finds yet another fresh texture while the mellotron lurks in the background like a predator circling its prey.

While the new set lacks any tracks from the band’s tumultuous 1974 album, “Starless and bible Black”, it does feature a run at a like-named track which first appeared on the “Red” album, released six months later. The song’s first half boasts one of Crimson’s most beautiful melodies, which Collins extends through his ruminative sax lines. The second half of the track uses Levin’s anticipatory bass, the percussionists’ pithy asides and metronomic guitar notes to capture Crimson’s favorite state: panic.

“Red”  The final album from King Crimson’s classic phase hardened the sound more than ever, suggesting a whole new form of art-metal. ‘Red’ focused on the core threesome of guitar-bass-drum, though Collins‘ colorful sax adds a brighter contrast to the new take. As many leavening as the sax provides, ultimately the track loses nothing in energy or punch.

“One More Red Nightmare” The percussionists sprawl all around Fripp’s architectural guitar in a third track included from ‘Red’. There’s a surprising catchiness to the melody. Even the song’s fierce instrumental section has a rapturous quality, aided by Collins‘ painterly sax. The ‘Red’ album so perfected Crimson’s mission that Fripp wound up putting the brand on ice afterwards, not to revive it for another seven years.

Along with the 14 tracks the new set includes from the classic era, it adds eight re-thought pieces covering material from incarnations of the band that popped up in the early ’80s, the mid-’90s and the early aughts. Highlights include “The Hell Hounds Of Krim” , and “Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row”  , which each give free reign to the percussion, and “The Construkction Of Light”  , which finds Levin’s bass creepy-crawling around like a black widow spider. As the title suggests, the ‘Heroes’ EP features areverant take on the Bowie Classic, which includes one of Fripp’s most indelible leads. Best, though, is the title track of ‘Radical Action’, a new, 10 minute opus that proves the guys still have it.

The Band:

Mel Collins: Saxes & flute, Robert Fripp: Guitar & keyboards, Gavin Harrison: Drums, Jakko Jakszyk: Guitar & voice, Tony Levin: Basses & stick, Pat Mastelotto: Drums, Bill Rieflin: Drums & keyboards.


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