Archives for posts with tag: Pat Mastelotto

2003 Sanctuary Records

First of all, The Power To Believe, released in 2003, contains, hands down, my least favorite King Crimson song. Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With is noise without relief and lyrical silliness unmatched in the entire catalogue. And the more I listen to this album, the less I like this song. In the absence of everything else, it’s simply annoying. Belew’s just messing around with words in a way that’s less successful than other such messes. It was okay when it was new, with Elephant Talk. Less so, twenty years on. Another reason Happy rubs me raw is that most of the rest of this album is really intriguing. Eyes Wide Open is one of KC’s most beautiful songs, up there with Matte Kudesai and Cadence and Cascade.

The instrumentals Level V (aka Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part V), Dangerous Curves, and Elektrik see Crimson addressing the tour de force they specialize in with some of their greatest vigor. Elektrik takes several turns through the quiet-loud arpeggiation cycle that the KC classic sound relies on, with bits of keyboard thrown in.

Dangerous Curves has this building crescendo, starting with a quiet keyboard line that pulls in first drums and then bass and guitar, the drum fills increasing in volume, almost like a bolero. Like the best Crimson pieces, you want to think it’s one thing and then it hypnotically turns into something else, before returning and showing you that it was never the thing you thought at all.

kc-tptbThe Belew lyric Facts of Life, which closed out side A is another false start on this album.  (Does one even know if this album was sequenced for LP release? Not I.) It’s musically interesting, but lyrically weak. The foolish aphorisms that don’t lead anywhere lead us to believe that Belew was just noodling some more, while giving the illusion of some kind of profundity. ‘Like Abraham and Ishmael fighting over sand/Doesn’t mean you should, just because you can/That is a fact of life…Nobody knows what happens when you die/Believe what you want, it doesn’t mean you’re right/That is a fact of life.’ I think the conclusion the lyrics draw in each verse isn’t supported by the arguments – at a poetic level, it would be more satisfying if he’d left the title phrase out of the sung lyric.

The title track, shared out in four parts, is the most intriguing thing on the album. Part I introduces the album with Belew reciting the text through a vocoder with no accompaniment:

She carries me through days of apathy
She washes over me
She saved my life in a manner of speaking
When she gave me back the power to believe.

Part II opens side 2 as a light percussion/keyboard wash to which bass and guitar later join. The lyrics are the same, still treated, but handled almost as a mantra, a meditation guided by the instrumentation.

Parts III and IV follow Happy and close the album. In part III, the melody and lyrics are pulled apart and given an almost industrial texture, which is interrupted by the classic Robert Fripp lead guitar. Subtitled ‘The Deception of the Thrush’ (a title which shows up on the Level Five EP which preceded this album’s release), those two or three minutes of Fripp taking over might be the most satisfying thing on the album, especially for fans of the classic mid-70s sound.

So, yeah, it’s a whole lot of really good dragged down by two not very interesting songs. And, listen, King Crimson is my favorite band. Those two songs, if they showed up on a Belew Power Trio album, or just about anywhere else, would probably have me hopping gleefully up and down. In the context of an otherwise serious and intellectually engaging album, they get on my nerves. This is still a four-star album, which may give some idea of how the rest of it grabs me. (Note: There’s a tasty new reissue of this one too and it’s on the wishlist in my head.)

I’ve been challenged to review the catalogue of Gentle Giant, a band I’ve only recently been introduced to and about which I know very little. Watch this space.

 

2000 Virgin Records

After several years of noodling, with different combinations of players in the six-person lineup performing and releasing under the collective name of ProjeKcts, a new quartet recorded the next King Crimson album in 2000. Losing long-time members drummer Bill Bruford and Tony Levin to other responsibilities, Fripp, Belew, Mastelotto, and Gunn released The ConstruKction of Light in 2000. TCOL retains the intense heaviness of songs like Red, Sleepless, and Thrak in the new songs, but in the main, the light touch that balanced those songs in context is lost. Musically, don’t get me wrong, they’re at the top of their game. The arrangements of the title track and FraKctured are especially tasty. Lyrically, I’ll be blunt, Belew’s taken them off the deep end.

There’s a reason that the current lineup performs the title track as an instrumental. ‘What am I? A speck of dust on the penis of an alien?’ I dunno, Adrian, are you?

Another issue that plagues this album, and to a lesser extend its follow-up, The Power to Believe, is the reliance on older KC tropes. FraKctured reworks the complexity of Fractured from 1973’s Starless and Bible Black, while Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part IV continues the saga begun on 1974’s LTIA and continued on 1984’s Three of a Perfect Pair.

The fact that it is so musically self-referential doesn’t need to be a detractor from its musical brilliance, but I still find it annoying. The opener, ProzaKc Blues, even contains the line ‘Son, you’ve been reading too much Elephant Talk.’ With that said, I’m still rather amused at the idea of Crimson performing a blues (something they hadn’t done since the days of Islands, when Boz Burrell wailed on Pharaoh Sanders’ The Creator Has a Master Plan). With its treated vocals (deepening Belew’s voice into a growl, much like we hear on the original 21st Century Schizoid Man – another throwback) and the musical interplay are interesting, but the lyrics…  It’s a weird one, because they’re also playing with blues tropes and structures, from the opening line ‘Woke up this morning in cloud of despair’ to the way it thumps along, you could almost replace the lyrics with lyrics by Willie Dixon or Blind Lemon Jefferson. ‘You have to see the world for what it is / A circus full of freaks and clowns’, however, feels as though the writer hasn’t thought things through. And the doctor’s advice, ‘I recommend a fifth of Jack and a bottle of Prozac’ doesn’t help the listener any either. My feeling is that it might have been funny at the time, but as I’ve aged, I find it less so.

Into the Frying Pan is another song that’s musically gripping, but lyrically lazy.

And how life unwinds
Around and around and up and down
You think you’re fine but then
You’re back in the frying pan
Into the frying pan

And The World’s My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum, while amusing for its word play, gets old. It might be that Adrian specializes in that sort of thing and always has. (Early in his career, Belew played with Frank Zappa, another gent who was musically brilliant, but used humor to relieve the complexity of his compositions. He even titled one album Does Humor Belong In Music?)

In King Crimson, the complexity has often been the point. Or perhaps just Robert Fripp’s point. So, I find the silliness the lyrics bring to the songs on this album off-putting. Is there a difference between Belew uttering the phrase ‘Get jiggy with it’ in the context of 2000-era King Crimson and John Wetton singing ‘Got no truck with the la-di-da / Keep my bread in an old fruit jar’ in 1973? Still not sure.

With this in mind, however, I’ve been hearing more in Belew’s vocalese  – the arrangements place the words in counterpoint to the instrumentation in such a way that the vocals are almost a fifth instrument in a way they never were in earlier incarnations of the band.

While I may find the lyrics lazy or silly, and the references don’t indicate to the listener that the band is moving towards anything new, but musically, they are moving out and around both the classic sound and what was influencing them in those years after Thrak.

Another issue I have with TCOL as an album is that there are almost no let up – the album is just kind of loud. Into The Frying Pan, FraKctured, and Heaven and Earth play a little bit with the the fluid dynamics that make the best KC albums intriguing, it’s mostly about loud complexity. (Recently I started listening to Tool with whom KC toured around this time – I didn’t get at the time why they made up a double bill, but Tool is all about examining the complexity to be found in loud, which one definitely hears here.)

tcolWhile half the album’s running time is spent exploring themes they addressed in the mid-1970s – FraKctured and LTIA IV, this makes an odd kind of sense. Fripp and company are holding on and expanding the original genius KC brought to the musical landscape. Those things that are in a sense at the heart of KC from the start. Listening more closely to FraKctured, it has in its arpeggios some almost Mike Rutherford-like passages before delving back into the noise. It’s a very curious mix of things.

And while the melodic flow and patterns of those two tracks harken back, they are also musically timeless in a way. Play LTIA II or IV for someone who is totally unfamiliar – they won’t be able to identify a time period. (The same is not necessarily true for LTIA III – those early 80s albums are much more of their time period, I think, in terms of sound and production values.)

The original CD release of TCOL divided the title track into two parts, an instrumental and the shorter nonsensical vocal. I very much appreciate that the recent Spotify mix of the album pulls these into single tracks. The improv and the live version of the title track tacked on at the end of the Spotify version are nice, but neither are essential.

Note: I’ve got the reissue, The ReconstruKction of Light with reworked drum tracks and all sorts of extra goodies, on my wish list. I may revisit this review in light of enjoying that one.

Next up: The final studio release, The Power To Believe.

 

1994 Virgin

Just over ten years after the conclusion of the Three of a Perfect Pair tour, a new King Crimson release, featuring a six-man lineup, hit the streets, to much rejoicing. But back up. In 1993, Robert Fripp recorded and toured an excellent album with David Sylvian. Sylvian fronted new wave act Japan, after the demise of which he created some very cool, hard-to-classify downtempo solo albums. A Japan reunion in 1990, under the moniker Rain Tree Crow, did not fly. Robert Fripp had played on an earlier Sylvian solo album (Gone to Earth from 1986) and the new collaboration was successful. The band for the album featured bassist Trey Gunn and drummer Jerry Marotta. (Marotta and Fripp previously worked together on Peter Gabriel’s second solo album and Fripp’s Exposure.) Marotta, however, wasn’t able to tour the album. Enter session percussionist (an ex-Mr. Mister drummer) Pat Mastelotto. Check out this article in which Pat recounts flying to England from California on his own dime to audition for the gig.

At the conclusion of the Sylvian/Fripp tour, Fripp regrouped the King Crimson, augmenting the early 80s quartet of himself, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford, and Tony Levin with Gunn and Mastelotto. The expanded lineup creates a more interesting sound for certain, though still most definitely Crimson. The first release of this line-up, the Vrooom EP introduces the new four-man rhythm section, an intriguing platform for the interplay of Belew’s and Fripp’s guitars.

Four of the six tracks would be reworked for the full LP release, Thrak. Cage and When I Say Stop, Continue only appear on Vrooom.

Despite the 10-year gap, there’s no grand departure from the earlier sound, save for a greater emphasis, I think, on the intense instrumentals. The 1981-84 quartet didn’t record anything new that had the sheer intensity of the songs Red, Fracture, or Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Pt II. Fripp made a return to this style in the songs Vrooom and Thrak, the latter forming the basis for many of the Thrak tour’s live improvisations. These sonic onslaughts are balanced with the ballad One Time and the funky Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream which can be seen as descendants of songs like Two Hands and Sleepless respectively.

The Thrak album expands on this balance of the noisy and the quiet. It also features two of KC’s most beautiful tracks, Walking On Air and the aforementioned One Time.

Vrooom opens the album, the arrangement from the EP now divided into two parts, the second bearing the unwieldy title Coda Marine 475. I’ve always been confused that the second song of an hour-long cycle has the word Coda in the title, but there you are. Dinosaur is something of a pop-metal hybrid, like Sleepless or Thela Hun Gingeet, I suppose. Straightforward(ish) lyrics from Belew, ‘I’m a dinosaur, somebody is digging my bones’ might be an attempt to head off judgement of what the band are doing 10 years after their last album, and 25 after their first. (Noting that this is the 50th year of KC, this might be premature.) The song has the sort of soft-loud dynamic that Kurt Cobain (just a few years before) said Nirvana nicked from the Pixies, but it’s also a microcosm of the album as a whole.

Next is the ballad Walking On Air. Belew’s plaintive alto weaves what might be a love song. It’s Crimson, so you can never tell, but it’s one of the two or three most beautiful songs in their catalogue.

The instrumental B’Boom follows. After a short introduction, percussionists Bruford and Mastelotto go head to head. This is the first time KC had had two percussionists since that brief period around the recording of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic and this kind of interplay in Crimson got lost again after this album until Fripp regrouped with three drummers in the front line. The song, at least in its title, brings us back to a long improv performed on the LTIA Tour at the Zoom Club called Z’Zoom. (Note that the Zoom Club gig also included two more improvisations: Zoom and Zoom Zoom which together run for over an hour. The band might be referring back to them in the tracks Vrooom and Vrooom Vrooom. I might have to delve back into that recording.)

The title track, an intense and difficult metal epic follows, oddly reflecting the progression on LTIA from The Talking Drum into Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part II. On the tour for this album, Thrak formed the basis for many extended improvisations. I’m not sure if I’ll delve into the Thrakattak album, which is comprised of several of these live improvs. I’ve tried before, but it’s an endurance test, sort of like listening to all four sides of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music without a break.

Thrak concluded side 1 on the cassette release which makes sense. The second half of the album is balanced as a suite between the two parts of Inner Garden, Radio I and Radio II, three pop songs, and the concluding iterations of Vrooom (Vrooom Vrooom and Vrooom Vrooom: Coda).

Inner Garden I and II, are short, nearly a cappella, vocals from Belew. The first leads into the very funky People, in which Trey and Tony battle out the bass line under a lyric that’s not too far removed from Foreigner’s Women. (‘People bowl, people rock, people pay to see two people box’ vs. ‘Women behind bars, women in fast cars, women in distress, see that woman with no dress.’ You be the judge)

Unlike Walking On Air, One Time is a little harder to grasp lyrically, but Adrian’s vocal is lovely and he doesn’t reach for anything beyond what the song calls for. It’s bookended by Radio I and Radio II which a reminiscent of the dissonant Ligeti pieces used in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The vocal portion of the album concludes with Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream, another slice of funk. Listen, what I’m calling funk is probably unfair to both the funk genre and to KC’s progressive metal leanings. This song and People may simply be funky because the bottom end of the songs is emphasised whereas in other pieces on the album, the guitars take precedence. Lyrically, it’s a bit of a word salad, but it’s prog, so that too is okay.

The album concludes with Vrooom Vrooom, a restatement of the Vrooom theme, and Vrooom Vrooom Coda which takes the high end of Coda Marine 475 and turns it inside out. It’s a really odd piece to conclude the album on, but it’s as musically intriguing as just about anything else here.

As I often do when writing these reviews, I’ve listened to the album pretty constantly for the last several days and have become more and more impressed with both the compositions and with the composition of the album as balanced halves. As a CD listener, the balance of things was lost on me when the album came out. I can appreciate what the band were after, even though in the decade since Three of a Perfect Pair, the LP format had slipped away.

I give it four stars.

Next up: The ConstruKction of Light.

Setlist:
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Pictures of a City
Meltdown
Hell Hounds of Krim
The ConstruKction of Light
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
Easy Money
Level Five
Epitaph
The Talking Drum
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two
Starless
E: In the Court of the Crimson King
E: 21st Century Schizoid Man

As with most previous incarnations of King Crimson, the latest is a lineup of insanely talented musicians. In this case, the band is trying to take on the aspects of its entire history. Noting that Crimson is whatever guitarist and bandleader Robert Fripp says it is, it’s impressive to see and hear them incorporate several tracks from the band’s 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King. The title track, added on this tour hadn’t been performed by the band since 1971; 21st Century Schizoid Man wasn’t played by the 80s incarnation, but has been a mainstay since the Thrak tour in 1996. (I saw them on that tour in Berkeley and Adrian Belew introduced it saying ‘I don’t think we’ve played this here before.’) Epitaph was added to the set last month, having not been performed since the initial tour for the album in 1969.

At the other end of the timeline are tracks from the final studio albums of the Adrian Belew-fronted editions of the band, an instrumental version of the title track of 2000’s ConstuKction of Light and Level Five from 2003’s The Power to Believe (between 2003 and 2010, there were a couple of tours with Belew and line-up changes, but no albums), and new pieces Hell Hounds of Krim and Meltdown.

While the renditions of Epitaph and Crimson King were both faithful, and sound very much of their time, Schizoid Man, with its combination of improvisation, treated vocals, and heavy guitar has always been the earliest example of jazz metal. Pictures of a City dates from 1969 as well, though it didn’t appear on record until the following year’s In the Wake of Poseidon. This is the only other track from King Crimson’s early progressive period in the set. The three albums that followed Crimson King all featured Mel Collins on saxophones and flutes, and the current tour is the first Collins has played with the band since 1972. (Not that he hasn’t been busy enough – his CV includes work with Camel, Roger Waters, and some Crimson-related acts including 21st Century Schizoid Band.)

The heart of the set, for me, were the pieces from the ’72-’74 golden age. Following the tour for 1972’s Islands, Fripp disbanded the group (one could cite ‘creative differences’), only to reform it a few months later with two percussionists, Bill Bruford from Yes and an absolutely insane bloke named Jamie Muir; John Wetton (bass/vocals); and David Cross (violin/mellotron). The three albums recorded by variations on this lineup, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red are classics, recently reissued in 15+ CD sets that include as much related live material as the band have in their archives. Following Red, there was no tour as Fripp disbanded the crew again. (This time it had a lot to do with an absolutely lousy record contract – lousy even by the standards of the time, from what I’ve read.)

Between ’74 and about 1980, Fripp appeared on a number of projects – producing Peter Gabriel’s second solo album, his own solo album Exposure, projects with Brian Eno, David Bowie’s Heroes album, Talking Heads’ Fear of Music, and a crew called The League of Gentlemen (with Sarah Lee who would join Gang of Four and Barry Andrews who was between XTC and Shriekback). LoG recorded one album in the runout groove of which was etched ‘The Next Step is Discipline’. Discipline was to be the name of Fripp’s next band which consisted of Fripp, Bruford, Tony Levin (bass, about whom more below), and Adrian Belew (guitar/vocals). When it came down to it, Fripp decided this was the next incarnation of King Crimson and retained the name Discipline only in the title of that lineup’s first album.

Belew is a gregarious character whose had already worked with Zappa, Bowie (the Heroes tour and Lodger album), and Talking Heads among others. He fronted the various lineups of KC between 1981 and 2008. These included the three different lineups that recorded Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair between ’81 and ’84, Vrooom and Thrak in the mid-90s and The ConstruKtion of Light and The Power to Believe between 2000 and 2003. Fripp decided he was after something else with the new group and did not invite Belew along. Oddly, Belew has fronted The Crimson ProjeKct with all six members of the Stick Men (Levin, Mastelotto [about whom more below as well], and guitarist Markus Reuter) and The Adrian Belew Power Trio. These shows leaned heavily on the 81-84 material as well.

The title track of Red, another piece of proto-heavy metal, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part 2 were mainstays of KC sets from the 1981 reformation onward, but Starless (also from Red, but containing the refrain ‘Starless and bible black’) hadn’t been performed until this tour since the tours that led up to Red’s recording in ’74. The Talking Drum was a mainstay of the double-trio lineup of the mid-90s and briefly in 2008.

The current incarnation of King Crimson is an interesting bunch. Fripp as always seated upper right on guitar. Next is Jakko Jakszyk on guitar and vocal. Jakko has worked on an large number of projects since the early 80s including stints with Level 42 and Tom Robinson and work with a pre-Porcupine Tree Gavin Harrison. In 2001 he joined with members of the earliest KC incarnations to form 21st Century Schizoid Band. In 2010 he worked with Fripp on an album that, with contributions from Collins, Harrison, and Tony Levin became A Scarcity of Miracles, which is very much in the KC vein.

Tony Levin on bass and Chapman stick has been in most KC lineups since 1981. He first worked with Fripp on Peter Gabriel’s second solo album (which Fripp produced), and played on Fripp’s 1978 solo album Exposure. Next to Levin on the top row of the stage stood Mel Collins surrounded an array of horns.

 The front row of the stage on this tour is populated by three drummers. On the left is Pat Mastelotto who has recorded since the early 80s (including as a founding member of Mr. Mister who had two #1s that you might recall). He and Harrison both recorded with Barbara Gaskin in the early 80s. He’s been with Crimson since the mid-90s. Front and centre is one who might be the oddest member, Bill Rieflin. Rieflin is best known in some circles for his participation in a number of 90s era industrial acts including Ministry, Pigface, and KMFDM. However, he was also in The Minus Five with REM’s Peter Buck and took to the drumkit for REM’s last couple of albums/tours. His short-lived Slow Music Project featured Buck and Fripp. And finally, in front of Fripp, Gavin Harrison. At 52, Harrison is the youngest member of the current lineup, and is possibly best known for his membership in Porcupine Tree since 2002. He’s been a professional musician since the early 80s as well and has been in KC since 2008.

Mastelotto is the most physical and almost manic, while Harrison is the most fluid of the drummers. In the opening piece  of the set, Mastelotto took on the crazy percussion work originally done by Jamie Muir. (See this version from 1973 – Muir’s the one with the Van Dyke; Bruford is the one in overalls.) Watching Harrison’s playing is almost like watching water flow. While none of the three is an imprecise player, Rieflin is the most precise in terms of stature and attention. Sitting bolt upright most of the time, he looked almost uncomfortable, but worked with great synergy with the other two drummers and with the rest of the band. The band requested that the audience make no recordings or photos during the show and for the most part this was respected. Alas, the band has been vigilant about taking down videos posted from the tour. Early on, there was a medium-quality clip of 21st Century Schizoid Man that featured Harrison’s gorgeous drum solo. I have high hopes that a professional video or audio recording of this tour will be released sometime in the not too distant future.