The Collectable King Crimson Volume 1
released for mere contractual obligations, Earthbound (1972) appeared to
close the door on King Crimson's glorious history in the worst possible
way: horrible sound (which made it impossible for the album to be released
in the United States), funky music, jam-sessions.
Soon, comforting news appeared: it appeared like Fripp was assembling
a brand-new line-up which promised to be equal - even surpass, maybe -
to the highest points reached during the group's past history.
names of the musicians didn't explain much. As crazy as it sounded, the
new drummer was Bill Bruford from Yes, a group that at the time was incredibly
famous on both sides of the Atlantic. On bass and vocals, John Wetton:
a musician not really that well-known, but who had greatly performed on
Family's Fearless. On viola, violin, and keyboards, the unknown David Cross;
not many people had ever heard of percussionist Jamie Muir.
quite difficult today to express the surprise, the doubts, the endless
listening sessions, the controlled enthusiasm, the debates originated by
the release of Larks' Tongues In Aspic (only the release of the debut album
by Henry Cow, Legend, later that year, would originate such heavy debates,
though on a somewhat more limited scale). While the songs managed to sound
fresh, the instrumental tracks were excellent: the instrumentation used
by the group was varied and quite unusual, with a definite "European" slant,
and a clarity in the ideas dept. that was simply stunning. It was still
possible, of course, to see some similar points from previous groups, such
as the violin/guitar duets of High Tide, or some rhythmic pulses from Mahavishnu
Orchestra. But Fripp had succeeded in something that - at least on paper
- appeared to be impossible: reinventing King Crimson, while at the same
time reinventing himself as a guitarist.
not much time passed, and already what at first had looked like the group's
most precious asset - the individual personalities of the musicians Fripp
had called - looked like the main reason for the group's implosion. After
Jamie Muir went away (for reasons destined to remain obscure for about
thirty years), David Cross's violin and keyboards could not be able to
compete with an unstoppable rhythmic section.
two fatal consequences: first, the group improvisations - the feature that
had appeared to make the new King Crimson so different from rock groups
of the time (though it's quite easy to imagine members of Henry Cow disagreeing)
- progressively changed in the direction of brutal, and quite
"cigar-like"-sounding jams; then, Fripp himself was not terribly
inclined to favour a sound that was increasingly becoming more
"American" and funky, quite the opposite of what had been the original
plan for the group.
market disagreed, giving increasing success to both the albums released
after Lark's Tongues In Aspic: Starless And Bible Black and Red, both from
'74. (It's funny to notice how the Dean of American Rock Critics, Robert
Christgau, who had never been very favourable towards the group, gave Red
an "A") And so, one more time, Fripp decided to pull the plug.
And once again, it was decided that a live album, U.S.A., (featuring piano
and violin overdubs by Eddie Jobson, and a mix that didn't really feature
Cross) should close the door on the whole thing.
release in 1992 of a four-CD Box Set, The Great Deceiver, made it possible
to revisit the complex history of King Crimson from '73-'74. There was
also a later release, The Night Watch (1997), recorded in Amsterdam in
November '73: a double CD set that - whether available - could perfectly
work as a summary.
the digital floodgates opened. So it was only logical for the group to
create DGMLive, where live concerts can be bought and downloaded by those
most interested, like previously done by groups such as Greatful Dead and
what about the rest of us? Well, there's the "tangible" existence
of this double CD set featuring two different concerts: the one held in
Mainz, in Germany, March 30, '74; and the very famous concert held in Asbury
Park, New Jersey, June 28, '74: it being very famous because it's the concert
from where most of the material from the U.S.A. album - without overdubs,
obviously - was taken.
it's widely known by those in the know with all things Crimson, songs and
instrumentals didn't vary that much from concert to concert (not talking
about the individual performances!), so it's obviously the improvisations
which made things different. Hence, the pragmatic question whether a double
CD with some overlapping material is really worth one's money. After arguing
that pragmatic considerations are not really the domain of a critic, I
can nonetheless declare that the concerts in question are not that similar
when it comes to material; and that they so differ in atmosphere as to
make a side-by-side listening a very interesting experience.
Main concert is quite relaxed (provided, of course, that the word can be
used when it comes to the music of King Crimson), with the various improvised
moments bridging the compositions; funny how the improvisation called Atria
presents a melody that sounds quite similar to that of The Sheltering Sky,
a track which appeared seven years later on the album Discipline. There
is the unreleased track Dr. Diamond, and the obvious classics from the
period: Exiles, The Night Watch, Starless, Lament, Trio, Easy Money. All
sound OK, the violin is featured to great effect, Wetton sings well, the
bass sound is round. The CD, off a 2-track tape off the mixer, sounds fantastic
(strange, on the cover it says "Very Fine", with "Excellent" reserved
for the US concert: I'd say the opposite to be true).
stated before, the tapes used on the U.S.A. album were overdubbed; though
he added two pieces, when the album was re-released on CD Fripp decided
to leave the overdubs and the cuts just as they were. What do we have here
on this CD? Larks' Tongues In Aspic: Part II, Lament, Exiles, the full
version of the improvisation titled Asbury Park, the full version of Easy
Money (so, no cut at the end of the very celebrated guitar solo: I'm not
certain it's a good move), Fracture, Starless and the obligatory 21st Century
Schizoid Man. The concert sounds quite hysterical, with the heavily fuzzed
bass which sooner or later will definitely weigh on one's nerves (readers
beware: this is a minority opinion); funny to hear how the well-known version
of Asbury Park had totally obliterated Cross's contribution on keyboards,
which are now on the left channel, in the spot where in the edited version
drums and bass appeared.
© Beppe Colli 2007
CloudsandClocks.net | Oct. 4, 2007