If one indication of a musician's mettle is creating a distinctive voice, than King Crimson co-founder/erstwhile leader Robert Fripp has done enough to distinguish a multitude of artists. With each successive incarnation of Crimson (documented on The 21st Century Guide to King Crimson Volume One: 1969-1974 and Volume Two: 1981-2003), he's not only created a wealth of recognizable tones, but a diversity of harmonic approaches that remain extraordinarily cohesive, despite rather significant stylistic shifts.
It would be fair to say that Fripp has recognized the guitar's limitless potential more than most, stretching it so far as to be virtually unrecognizable at times. When he and Brian Eno first connected two Revox tape recorders in 1973 for the landmark recording No Pussyfooting, the innovative looping process called Frippertronics would signal the beginning of a life's work that would allow him to create a virtual orchestra of sound, all in real time.
With the advent of guitar synthesizers and more sophisticated digital processing, Frippertronics evolved into Soundscapes, an even more innovative process that allowed Fripp to layer even more diverse sonics. A series of albums in the 1990s took the concept of the solo performance to new and unexpected places. Soundscapes can be dark and brooding, jagged and dissonant, or lush and beautiful. In their transcendent ability to evoke a remarkable range of emotions, they may well represent Fripp's most intensely personal work.
Of those 1990s recordings, A Blessing of Tears (Discipline Global Mobile, 1995)a loving tribute to Fripp's recently-deceased motherwas perhaps the most immediate and poignant. Those who accuse Fripp of being coldly analytical need only listen to that recording to realize that beneath the calm exterior lives a spiritual man who clearly views music as the deepest of emotional expressions. Love Cannot Bear, his first Soundscapes recording in nearly a decade, is an even richer experience. The most accessible Soundscapes recording he's ever made, it's also the most rewarding.
While Eno's ambient music aims to fit unobtrusively into a listener's fabric of aural experience, Fripp's Soundscapes are more inherently demanding of attention. The lush strings that drive the languid and laconic "Acceptance - Affirming and "Affirmation: New York create a wash of sound and gently developing thematic ideas that build to dramatic peaks without ever resorting to melodrama. The equally string-driven "On My Mother's Birthday is darker and more oblique, yet Fripp's harp-like melody retains an inner beauty. "Easter Sunday features an introductory improvisation on acoustic guitar that's a surprisingly new texture in the Soundscapes universe, with his signature heavily sustained electric then taking over, harkening back to his Frippertronics days. A heavily processed vocoder on the title track suggest that "silence is a friend amidst vivid orchestral swells, segueing into the more brooding closer, "Requiem - Affirming.
For those unfamiliar with Soundscapes, Love Cannot Bear is the perfect entry point, an album that may be eminently approachable, but is also provocative and filled with an understated sound of surprise that defines the best improvised music.
Personnel: Robert Fripp: acoustic and electric guitars, soundscapes.