Archives for posts with tag: David Cross

In this review, I look at the 40th Anniversary editions of two King Crimson live albums. I’ve been a fan of the USA album since before I knew where it stood in the KC canon. Earthbound, however, was never high on my listening list. Having launched into this adventure of rambling through the King Crimson discography, however, I was inclined to give it another go, especially as the notoriously lo-fi recordings are accompanied by an (expectedly cleaner) radio session, Live at Summit Studios, in this release. More on Summit later.

My favourite thing about Earthbound, recorded on the Islands tour in early 1972, is Boz Burrell’s voice. Being a fan of the classic mid-70s lineup that produced USA, Red, Starless and Bible Black, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, the limitations of Wetton’s voice always grated on me. With this in mind, however, these recordings also reveal in stark relief why leader Robert Fripp gave the Islands lineup the boot. Fripp himself had already moved on before they went on the road to meet contractual obligations. The other three members, Mel Collins on flutes and saxophones, Burrell on bass/vocals, and Ian Wallace on drums, are very loose in their playing and seem to want to be more of a boogie band than a progressive rock outfit. The original release consisted of 21st Century Schizoid Man, two improvs, a particularly sloppy Sailor’s Tale, and an extended jam on Groon, the instrumental b-side of the very jazzy Cat Food from 1970. The initial release of Groon was only about four minutes (four different takes can be found on the 40th Anniversary Edition of In the Wake of Poseidon), but on this tour, it was regularly extended past fifteen.

The CD portion of this release extends the initial album with Pictures of a City, Formentera Lady, and Cirkus. The DVD portion extends it further with Ladies of the Road, The Letters, and full versions of The Sailor’s Tale and Groon.

kc-eb-usa-back-smThe opening Schizoid man pushes the needle to the red in terms of both saturation and energy. While the structure remains the same, the improvisations in the middle exceed what is expected. Mel Collins’ sax work is intense, and marred somewhat by drumming that seems to be, possibly, part of a different song. Fripp ropes everyone back in with some searing runs. Boz’s treated vocals are more menacing that we hear in later versions, which is somehow appropriate.

Peoria lets us in with some bass/horn/drum interplay, but if Fripp’s guitar is in there, it’s very low in the mix. Sailor’s Tale fades in and closes out side 1. It’s the only song on Earthbound’s original release that also appears on the album they were touring, Islands. It’s a bit sloppy – and perhaps it’s this tendency to sloppiness that frustrated Fripp, but on its own terms it works.

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Island / Atlantic Records, 1974

Released just six months after Starless and Bible Black and right on the heels of Fripp dissolving the group (again), Red has been identified as King Crimson’s apotheosis. It is indeed damn fine stuff. Violinist David Cross was expelled from the band during sessions for basically not being able to keep up with the hardness of the sound they were creating, and indeed he’s only evident on two tracks. Former members Ian MacDonald and Mel Collins were brought in to round things out.

Side 1 consists of the instrumental title track; the album’s ballad, Fallen Angel; and the aptly named proto-metal One More Red Nightmare. Side 2 consists of the the improvisation Providence, recorded on the previous tour, and the album’s closing epic, Starless.

Red is, interestingly, the only song from this album that later incarnations of band continued to play into the 80s and 90s (and still). This is possibly because the album as a whole relies on a lot of overdubbing. With its multiple time signatures and sections, and its relative brevity, this one track sums up everything the band had been working on up to that point.

Fallen Angel, which recounts the death of the narrator’s brother in a knife fight, is strangely beautiful. I love how John Wetton holds the vocals together, never letting his range falter. The cornet and oboe (contributed by session musicians, not Collins and MacDonald who both contribute to Starless and MacDonald to One More Red Nightmare) give the track a special poignancy. (In terms of theme, location, and arrangement, it wouldn’t have been out of place somewhere on Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, released the same year.)

The beauty of Fallen Angel leads to the the oddness of One More Red Nightmare in which the narrator recounts the horror of being aboard a falling airplane (Pan American nightmare / Ten thousand feet funfair) only in the last lines to awaken ‘safe and sound / Asleep on the Greyhound’. Last weekend my wife and I visited New York and from the Empire State Building’s observation deck could see the Met Life building which was still the Pan Am building the last time I was on that deck in about 1984.

Side two mirrors the second side of Starless and Bible Black, consisting of an instrumental improvisation and an epic. Providence (named for the city in which it was recorded, much like Asbury Park on USA) is a weird interweaving of noises that I’m mostly unsure what to make of. At times it doesn’t sound as though the band were playing in the same room, but then it pulls together before breaking apart again. I’m sure in these write-ups I’ve used variations of that same sentence. That sort of thing is very much in the nature of KCs improvisational experience. I find it more intriguing than many of the band’s other live improvs and it seems to make sense in context.

Finally, there’s the album’s longest track, Starless. What started as a Wetton composition rejected for the previous album ended up as this stupendous beast with parts written by each member (including Cross), contributions from Collins and MacDonald and words composed by Palmer-James. Like some of the best pieces of the Pete Sinfield era, this track combines relatively depressing lyrics (Cruel twisted smile / And the smile signals emptiness for me) with music that is by turns mad and manic.

Robert Fripp, commenting on both the size of the current KC lineup and amount of studio complexity that went into Red suggested that the band could now play all of this album without extra trickery. I don’t have the quote to hand, but KC Mark VIII have indeed performed all of the tracks save for Providence on recent tours. For many of the dates the last couple of years, the dgmlive website offers one track for free (with registration, natch). So:

  1. Red –
  2. Fallen Angel –
  3. One More Red Nightmare –
  4. Starless –



Island Records/Atlantic Records 1974
This is a really strange offering in the KC canon – much of it was recorded live or derived from live recordings made on the Larks’ Tongues In Aspic tour, and some aspects feel too fast. This is especially true of some of the vocals on side 1. It’s not as though everything is too fast, just that speed sometimes overtakes dynamics.
Richard Palmer-James is back for another go in the writer’s seat. As with LTIA, there’s no overarching theme that ropes the lyrics together. (An argument can be made that the only other Crimson album that has some kind of thematic bonding is 1982’s Beat.) The album is divided equally between four instrumentals and four tracks with words, though side 2 only has two long instrumentals, so the division is not quite equal.
The Great Deceiver starts the album off with a bang, though it’s opening line (‘Health food faggot with a bartered bride’) rubs this listener the wrong way. It’s not common to hear something so derogatory in KC lyrics, though it’s not out of place in a song about the Devil. (ETA: The Elephant Talk FAQ notes that Palmer-James had in mind a meatball, not a derogatory gay reference.) There’s a nice slow bit in the middle of this track that helps it work as not just a rush from point A to point Z. The opening of Lament helps slow the proceedings down a bit. Lyrically it’s odd to hear a first-person, rather mundane song about being in a rock band from Crimson (though one could argue, Easy Money is also about being in a rock band, but from a different perspective). It has some of those nice changes that we’ve come to expect from KC and dives from the languorous opening into something more in keeping with the subject matter.
Next up is a strange little improv called We’ll Let You Know. As he did in Lament as well, Bill Bruford steps a bit into the odd percussive territory that Jamie Muir held on LTIA. It features a really nice interplay with Fripp and Wetton. I’m not sure Cross participates, though he might be on keyboards here. I’m pretty sure it was edited from a longer improv and messed with in the studio – it makes the piece a little less interesting as a base, I’m guessing, to build into a live staple.
The Night Watch (along with side 2’s tour de force Fracture), is one of my favourite songs on the album. The combination of instrumentation, subject matter, and setting is beautifully executed. The verses, telling the story of Rembrandt’s painting of the same name, fit as if joints in a picture frame. It was recorded at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, which is about half a mile from the Rijksmuseum where the painting is housed. The painting takes up a large dedicated wall – visitors make their way past hundreds of other pieces to find and then stare at it – if they can get close enough. Unlike the Mona Lisa, which plays a similar role at the Louvre, has one subject, and is about the size of a piece of notebook paper, The Night Watch is about twelve feet by fourteen and features almost two dozen characters and might be the museum’s star attraction.
The song is lyrically straightforward in its telling of the lives of Dutch burgers in the age after the Spanish occupation. There’s a line about the painting being dark (The city fathers frozen there/On the canvas dark with age). It had been displayed over its owners fireplace for several decades and in the 80s or 90s underwent repair and is much brighter now. (I am exceedingly lucky to have very good seats for the Crims’ return to this venue in July and I have hopes that they’ll add this to the set list. When they last played the Netherlands, they came to Utrecht which is very nice, but nearly so close to the subject of one of their songs.)
Trio, another instrumental, famously credits all four band members. Bruford’s credit, if I recall rightly, is ‘Admirable restraint’ as he never identified a place to come in so sat still with drumsticks in hand. Cross’ plaintive violin plays with (or against) Fripp’s Mellotron and guitar weaving in and out, bringing them together and then floating away. Wetton seems to join about three minutes in, gently, before Bruford’s bass drum and cymbals bring us into The Mincer. This one is a menacing vocal track that closes side 1 with effects-laden guitar work that seems to have some of the free jazz influence of earlier albums. The lyrics are oblique at best, but hint at the same feeling as Peter Gabriel’s Intruder who knew ‘something about windows and doors’. With lines like ‘Fingers reaching / linger shrieking…You’re all done baby / breathing, the menace behind the song builds, but the vocal style doesn’t really match.
As noted, side 2 comprises two long instrumentals, the title track and Fracture. In the last week, I’ve listened to this album more than a dozen times and at one point listened to the title track three times in a row. It resists entry. I honestly don’t know know what to make of it. It ebbs and flows between the instruments and sometimes seems to have a purpose and is sometimes just noodling between blasts of interplay before fading back out. The piece lacks a continued sense of itself while easing in and out of a sense of impending menace (yeah, there’s that word again). Eventually it feels like it’s going somewhere, that there’s some kind of synchrony between the musicians. Bruford, about half way through seems to take the reins of the piece and then it slips away again. The whole thing comes to an almost cohesive conclusion in its last minute or so.
And then Fracture comes on. Those opening notes introduce something that works and every section of the piece works together. As a representative of this lineup’s key pieces, it stands with the title track of Red and LTIA‘s bookend pieces as a statement of purpose. At about the eight-minute mark, someone (Wetton, probably, as he usually had a mic in front of him) lets out a ‘Whoo!’ because, I think, they are all in such a groove. It feels composed with room for each member to stretch. This is especially apparent in the version found on the anniversary reissue of the live album USA, recorded on the Starless tour.
There are songs on the album that were composed and arranged as pieces or evolved cogently out of improvisation, and others that are improvs cut to wax. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but in the context of this album, it distinguishes pieces on the album that work for me from others that don’t. As a whole, this album has pieces that absolutely shine and others that don’t succeed nearly as well. I still give it 3 1/2 stars.

Next up: Red.

Island Records, 1973

Recorded over a year after Islands and with a completely new lineup, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic takes King Crimson in an entirely new direction. Not only had Robert Fripp dismissed Collins, Burrell, and Ian Wallace, he also parted company with lyricist Pete Sinfield who had provided the words for all four previous Crimson albums.

The new lineup, mad percussionist Jamie Muir, drummer Bill Bruford nicked from an unsatisfying stint in Yes (here he is with Yes in ‘71), violinist David Cross and bassist/vocalist John Wetton (longtime friend of Fripp’s who had declined an invitation to join KC in two years before). Violin? Those strings on Islands and their possibilities possibly sent the band in an interesting new direction with the choice of Cross. And taking over lyrics, poet Richard Palmer-James who would continue to provide words for the next two albums as well. The album consists of three instrumentals, the first part of the title track opens the album followed by three songs with words, Book of Saturdays, Exiles, and Easy Money and closes with Talking Drum and Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part II. Palmer-James’ lyrics don’t seem to be thematically linked the way Sinfield’s were, especially on the first three albums. One should also note that there’s no embarrassment listening or quoting the words from this album. They’re penetrable or impenetrable as good poetry most of the time.

I got into this album in the 90s when it was recommended by my wife’s violin teacher. KC had a fiddler? Who knew? (At the time, I probably had Red, Court, Discipline, and Beat, but I wasn’t a collector.) Since then, it’s been my go-to perfect King Crimson album. It didn’t hurt that live recordings from the early Adrian Belew period also feature LTIA Part II, which along with Red and occasionally Talking Drum are the only Wetton-era songs that made it into the set lists when he fronted the band. One of the joys of the current line-up is that they’re not only playing LTIA Part II, but also Easy Money and LTIA Part I. (Not to mention several goodies from the first four albums which benefit from Mel Collins’ return to the fold.)

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part I announces that a new KC is in town. On the one hand, it’s a multi-part epic of uncompromising, unrelenting noise, but midway through, Cross steps up with no accompaniment at all to deliver an elegy in four strings to which Muir adds bells and some noise and then the song turns again into something else entirely before the opening theme reasserts itself. Fripp and company continue to play with jazz structures, but it’s not jazz that’s found anywhere else. (Yeah, I know, save for in the Crimson Jazz Trio.) There’s something spoken in the back of the song near the end, but for the life of me I can’t make it out.

Following the crashing conclusion of the opening track, Book of Saturdays pulls the mood into almost love song territory. The instrumentation starts with some mellotron which blend really nicely with the violin, and Wetton uses his voice to very good effect. The vocal harmonies at the end of the song are oddly the only musical accents that place this album in its time. The music for the first time in the KC journey is only KC and not folk or prog or jazz. It’s like few other albums in that regard. Wish You Were Here, maybe? Bitches Brew?

Exiles starts with what sound like notes played from underwater and the sound of a distant whale (to my ears). A low drone from Cross introduces the theme. Wetton’s voice is more distinct than those of previous KC vocalists, though I feel an outside producer, especially on this song, would have kept his singing more focused. (Of course an outside producer, in my opinion, would have ruined everything else that makes this such a brilliant album.) There are places that he almost hits the note, but doesn’t quite. It’s a little frustrating. The violin work is essential to the success of the song – one could probably argue that it’s essential to the success of the whole album. David Cross still has it as a centerpiece of his live shows. (The guy on the horns in this video is David Jackson from Van Der Graaf Generator. I was at this gig and absolutely baffled that there were only about 150 people in the audience. Two absolute legends and the Netherlands says ‘meh’.)

Side 2 opens with Easy Money – it’s got the heavy guitar lines we’ve come to expect from the rockier pieces on previous albums, but the song features greater dynamics. This is another track where the violin is key to the whole tune.

After Easy Money, The Talking Drum’s quiet introduction marks it as the odd song out on the album. It only really picks up about two minutes into the action. Along with the other instrumentals on the album, it really marks what become the King Crimson style – the odd time signatures, the intertwining repetitions. The thing is, there’s nowhere else to put it on the album because its conclusion leads right into the opening notes of Larks’ Tongues Part II. It’s one of the great song pairings in rock and roll.

There’s still no describing LTIA Part II – I’ve heard versions by multiple King Crimson lineups and several versions by Stick Men and Crimson ProjeKct as well.Yeah, I know, those other two are just variations on KC, but the song always has a surprise to offer. For me it perfectly rounds out an almost perfect album. 5 stars? Pretty much.

ETA: 23 March 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the release of this album and there’s a great article on its creation over at dgmlive. Check it out.

Next? Starless and Bible Blackkclt


David Cross and David Jackson

So I saw this gig announced a few months ago after I’d spent several weeks listening to almost the entire Van Der Graaf Generator catalogue. David Cross played violin on Starless and Bible Black and Larks’ Tongues In Aspic by King Crimson. Jackson played horns with VDGG for most of their run. So, yeah, two incredible musicians who had each been in the game for more than 45 years. It was a gig I didn’t want to miss. Especially given the recent resurgence of King Crimson, I was quite surprised that the gig was far from sold out. Fine, I’ll take middle front at this relatively small club. (When packed, Boerderij can hold an audience of 750 or so and my guess is there were about 300 there.) To open, Cross and Jackson came out alone and traded a little humour before taking on Starless Loops from the recent Cross/Robert Fripp album of improvisations on the Starless theme, Starless Starlight. After a few more pieces, they played another from Starless Starlight. There’s one ripple of chords from Starless that always gives me the shivers and did again when Cross played it Friday night. My friend Corniel, who joined me for the gig complained that it would have been better for him if they’d just played and not joked around so much. There’s some merit to that argument, as the joking detracted from their sheer expertise. Their duo work owed more to improvisational jazz than to the progressive rock they’re best known for. After a 30-minute set, they took a break before coming back with the full David Cross Band.

In the main set, the band played several numbers from the new (very good) album, The Sign of the Crow including Starfall, the title track, Rain Rain and The Pool. Current vocalist Jin Wilde has a very interesting voice (having come out of a dance music background, it seems) handles the new stuff quite well. His tenor is well suited to the music, generally. The band’s set includes (and if the 2008 live album I bought at the merch counter is anything to go by, has included for a long time) three King Crimson songs: Exiles (from Larks‘), Starless (from Red), and the encore 21st Century Schizoid Man (from In The Court of the Crimson King). The last of these featured Greg Lake on vocals, and the other two John Wetton. On these songs, Wilde doesn’t seem to take ownership. He seems to be trying to sing like Wetton, but his voice is too different. The band, however, quite made up for it. After Exiles, the band left the stage to drummer Craig Blundell who did an appropriately hair-raising solo. (Blundell has played with numerous folks including Steve Wilson.) The band returned playing George Martin’s Theme One (recorded in ’72 by Van Der Graaf Generator) before a slightly ragged Starless. Paul Clark and his Gibson Flying V are very very good and he doesn’t try to be Robert Fripp. After a quick moment back stage they closed with an appropriately wild Schizoid Man. I wasn’t expecting it and was well impressed. (Someone commented on Blundell’s facebook page that Crimson currently has three drummers and was impressed with how well he did his part solo.)

Overall a great evening with a couple of bona fide legends.