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King Crimson: The Great Deceiver (Live 1973-1974)

By Published: October 12, 2006
King Crimson
The Great Deceiver (Live 1973-1974)
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Despite bassist/stick player Tony Levin stepping in to replace departing touch guitarist Trey Gunn, the incarnation of King Crimson that released The ConstruKction Of Light (Virgin, 2000) and considerably stronger The Power To Believe (Sanctuary, 2003) seems to be, at the very least, on hiatus.

While Crimson's only remaining original member, guitarist Robert Fripp, has reconvened with 26-year Crimson veteran guitarist/drummer Adrian Belew for ProjKct Six, the future of Crimson proper is uncertain. This is, consequently, as good an opportunity as any to take a look back at The Great Deceiver (Live 1973-1974). A four-CD box set that brings together excerpts and complete shows from six dates beginning in October, 1973 and ending in June, 1974, it demonstrates just how much of an improvising band this incarnation of King Crimson was—perhaps the greatest improvising line-up in the group's long career.

The version of King Crimson that released Larks' Tongues In Aspic (DGM, 1973) was by far the heaviest and most guitar-centric version of Crimson to date. The previous band, featuring recently-deceased bassist/singer Boz Burrell, reedman/mellotronist Mel Collins and drummer Ian Wallace, had fallen apart on tour, with everyone except Fripp hell-bent on moving towards a more rock and blues-centric approach. Fripp's new version of Crimson would bring together a group of players from diverse backgrounds, but who demonstrated almost instantaneous chemistry.

Drummer Bill Bruford had departed from progressive rockers Yes as the group edged towards superstardom on the heels of Close To The Edge (Atlantic, 1972). While it seemed a curious choice at the time, anyone familiar with Bruford's subsequent career knows that in many ways he's a perpetual student, making the majority of his career choices based on art rather than commerce. Bassist/vocalist John Wetton was a member of Family, a curious but distinctive group that never achieved the success it deserved. Violinist David Cross was the new name, but lent the group a new texture and classicism combined with an edgy approach to soloing. Those familiar with the free improv community would have found the inclusion of percussionist Jamie Muir—who left shortly after recording Larks' Tongues In Aspic—an odd choice. But, interestingly enough, Muir would prove to be the most extroverted showman the group ever had; leaping around the stage with chains, dressed in an animal skin and spewing fake blood.

But those familiar with Fripp also know that he had links with the British free jazz community of the late-1960s/early-1970s. After all, he'd enlisted players like pianist Keith Tippett as early as In The Wake Of Poseidon (DGM, 1970), along with cornetist Marc Charig, trombonist Nick Evans, bassist Harry Miller and singer Paulina Lucas on Lizard (DGM, 1970) and Islands (DGM, 1971). With Muir's rapid departure Fripp's new quintet quickly became a touring quartet, proving to be the most loosely improvisational of all incarnations to come before—or after.

While even the earliest Crimson from 1969 would include improvisations that went well-beyond mere extended soloing, the 1973-1974 edition of the group would allow composed tunes to break down into lengthy free pieces that might magically find their way into the next structured song. Or, perhaps, not. While a four-CD set of material culled from performances of songs from only three studio albums is bound to have some repetition, does anyone really need to hear four versions of "Easy Money"?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Even twenty-four hours represent a significant difference in how this group approached form-based material. The June 29, 1974 version of "Easy Money" breaks down from its aggressive edge into a softer solo section that, unlike the studio version, never returns to a final verse. Instead, it gradually evolves into a vamp that pairs warm chordal work from Fripp and a mellotron flute solo from Cross. The following night—Crimson's second-to-last show of its final tour before Fripp would dissolve the band (something nobody was aware of that point)—manages to find its way back to the final verse, but not before some frenzied high-octane soloing from Fripp threatens to completely unhinge the proceedings. The group was clearly in high spirits, and Fripp—considered by most at the time to be a serious, reserved type—manages to break Wetton up during the first verse by responding to the bassist's vocal line with one of the most extreme note bends in guitar history.

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