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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 247 - 10/16/16

King Crimson
Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind
Discipline Global Mobile

Christmas came early this year. The new small King Crimson box arrived well before the rise of the September full moon. And the band followed suit less than three weeks later. This new line-up of the yet again re-awakened band is quite unique. In the mid-1990s King Crimson reformed with a double trio line-up, i.e. two drummers, two bassists and two guitarists. In the heydays of 1972-73 the band included one drummer and one percussionist. Now there are no less than three drummers and percussionist fronting the band, literally. American Pat Mastelotto has been aboard since the above mentioned double line-up from 1994. Gavin Harrison (ex-Porcupine Tree and lots more) signed on the Crimson vessel in 2008 whereas Jeremy Stacey (ex-Noöl Gallagher's High Flying Birds and lots more, even more than Gavin) is the newcomer of this year. He is the substitute for Bill Rieflin who is very much present on the Radical Action box. In addition to drums and percussion, they both are/were in charge of the main keyboard duties. The rest of the band consists of Jakko Jakszyk (guitar and main vocals, joined in 2013), Tony Levin (basses, stick and a bit of backing vocals, present on and off since 1981), Mel Collins (saxes and flutes, who re-joined in 2013 after a 41 years long hiatus) and the Crimson King himself Robert Fripp (chief guitar and a bit of keyboards).

There are two versions of this box. They both include the music on two CDs accompanied by a Blue-ray disc where the septet is filmed while performing the same songs, in 5.1 surround sound. The most luxurious box has two DVDs in addition with the audio songs in 5.1 surround sound. It was recorded and filmed on Crimson's tours in Britain, Canada and Japan in 2015. One of the gigs in Canada was released as the double CD/18 tracks album Live In Toronto six moonths ago. There's also a single seven tracks album called Live At The Orpheum from the septet's tour in 2014. So, do we really need more live recordings by this band? Well, all the tracks from the two previous live recordings except the instrumental intros are included in the new set comprising 27 tracks. So I guess the average interested listener might be satisfied with either the Toronto or the Radical Action album. The fanatics, of course, know all three albums by heart by now...

On to the music. It's a nice mix of old and new. The seven strong line-up is the first in the Crimson history to dig deep into the band's back catalogue. Three of the classics from the 1969 debut album In The Court Of The Crimson and several from the classic 1970s albums are represented here. There are none from the three studio albums by the 1980s quartet included here, which suits me fine. It's the only period of the band I can do without. I find the 1990s incarnation and beyond more interesting, and the powerful math guitar post rock of that period is represented with the three instrumentals "VROOM" (from the mini album of the same name and the 1995 album Thrack), "the ConstruKction of Light" (the title track from the album released in 2000) and "Level Five" (from the mini album of the same name and the 2003 album The Power To Believe. Interesting stuff all of it, especially the former that changes between the rough and to some extent distorted to the mellow, careful and organic sounding with a very lyrical bass. The two tracks from the 00s with roughness (especially "Level Five") combined with more strict, clinical and mathematical twin guitar exercises (especially "the ConstruKction of Light") are also fascinating, though.

The two tracks from the Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins 2011 album A Scarcity Of Miracles (that also involved Harrison and Levin and lead to the last resurrection of King Crimson two years later) along with the new song "Suitable Grounds For The Blues" are among the weakest of the album. "The Light Of Day" and the title track from A Scarcity Of Miracles include some interesting soundscapes, but all in all they are a bit too laid-back and dull for my liking. "Suitable Grounds For The Blues" is premiered here, a bit cliché'ed from a band that used to be famous for being among the very first in rock history not to incorporate any overt blues elements in their music. On the other hand, the remaining newbies including the title track in a medley with "Meltdown" and "Radical Action II" are goodies that can match the old classic tracks. Especially the two "Radical Action" offerings; quite short, fluctuating, heavy and grooving instrumental monsters. "Meltdown" takes it down and bears some similarities with the A Scarcity Of Miracles tracks, but with a stronger melody and goose bumping Mellotron alike keyboards, even a sparkling jazzy sax solo for the initiated. The remaining four tracks that are new from this seven headed line-up (some of the newbies are also available on Live In Toronto) are mainly short drum and percussion solos/duos/trios or interludes. Here's also a short partly improvised instrumental called just that, "Interlude".

The majority of tracks, though, stems from the late 1960s and the first half of the 1970s. Luckily they are not blueprints of the original recordings. This is not the convenient way to cash in some easy money, so to speak, based on the achievements that stem 42-47 years back. Robert Fripp is far too stubborn, proud and ambitious for that. He calls the new line-up for King Crimson re-invented, and that surely goes for the performances of the old songs, too. Two guitarists and three drummers/percussionists of course give more possibilities for changes and twists than when these songs and instrumentals were performed live in the old days. And the possibilities have been utilized. Due to the drums and percussion, the performances naturally sound more powerful - and dynamic - than their original studio counterparts. Even "Pictures Of A City" from the second LP In The Wake Of Poseidon (1970) that always has worked as a pale variation over "21st Century Schizoid Man" from the debut for me, stands on its own firm feet 45 years on. At first I didn't recognise "The Talking Drum" off Lark's Tongues In Aspic (1973). The two tracks from the fourth studio album Islands (from 1972 when Mel Collins was a member of the band), "The Letters" and "Sailor's Tale", sound more cohesive and well-rehearsed now than ever. On the other hand they still seem spontaneous and fresh to some extent. And the former includes some great entwined guitar playing of both the careful and powerful kind.

Other even greater classics follow suit: "Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part One" and "Part Two", "Epitaph", "Red", "One More Red Nightmare", "Court Of The Crimson King" and, of course, the two greatest Crimson classics of them all "Starless" and "21st Century Schizoid Man". They still sound fresh and especially the former gives space for some improvisation, it seems. At the gig I attended in Oslo, the first of three consecutive sold out nights, most of the tracks from the box were performed. I missed "VROOM" and the "Radical Action" numbers. Instead we were offered "Circus" and "Lizard (Dawn Song)" from Lizard (1971) and "Fracture" from Starless And Bible Black (1973). This meant they played something from all albums of the 1969-74 era, which suited the enthusiastic grey-haired and mature male dominated audience fine, yours truly included.

When first listening to the non-video discs of the box, I wasn't too convinced about the somewhat standard jazzy sax solos from Mel Collins. I preferred his mellower flute playing. Witnessing him live in action was something different. The solos were only a small part of his heroic efforts. His sax playing along with the guitars contributed a lot to that organic King Crimson sound of the earliest albums. I was quite pleased when Jakko joined the band. I have followed some of his whereabouts on the British left-field music scene since the early 1980s when he collaborated with ex-members from Hatfield & The North, Henry Cow, Slapp Happy and other interesting musicians. He was also the front man of The 21st Century Schizoid Band in the early 2000s with various former Crimson members, including Mel Collins, that performed songs from the Crimson songbook of the first era. He is far more capable to sing the old songs than American Adrian Belew, that joined the Crimson quartet of 1981 and took care of the vocals onwards until 2009. Jakko has a voice not dissimilar to Greg Lake's and John Wetton's from the 1969 and 1972-74 line-ups respectively. Tony Levin is still the cool American bass guy who joined along with Belew and plays the ordinary rock bass, augmented by an upright electric one and the stick. The three drummers can bang away together on their respective kits when needed, but not all the time. Not at all. Mainly there are one lead drummer with the two others filling in exquisite percussive details. And Jeremy Stacey/Bill Rieflin are/were busy with their keyboard duties quite a lot of the time, too, mainly of the characteristically Mellotron sounding kind. Though not the real analogue vintage thing. Robert Fripp plays a bit keyboards, too, when needed. He nowadays looks like the old dusty clerk in the office at the rear end of the corridor that's been with the company forever. That is until he picks up his guitar and produces those stunning heavy guitar riffs, sustained notes etc. etc.

The highlight of the Crimson concert I witnessed was during the end and climax of the instrumental second half of "Starless", when the stage was completely flooded in red light. The second best version I've ever heard of my favourite King Crimson song. Only surpassed by the studio version of Red that I've raved about in an earlier Luna Kafé menu. In Copenhagen they'd played Bowie's "Heroes" as one of the encores, with Fripp's feed-backed guitar as a leading element. It wasn't performed on any of the evenings in Oslo. Apart from that, a next to perfect evening with a great mixture of old and new, re-inventions and radical action. If I should recommend one of the three live albums by the magnificent seven, I'd go for the new package. The bigger, the better. Though I guess the average listener can do without the two 5.1 surround mix DVDs of the luxurious version of the box.

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You may also want to check out our King Crimson articles/reviews: ConstruKction of Light, In The Court Of The Crimson King, Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Power To Believe Tour Book, Red.

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