U.K.: U.K., Danger Money and Night After Night Reissues
With violinist and keyboardist Eddie Jobson out of a self-imposed retirement that lasted over two decades, he's been wasting no time getting his name back out to progressive rock fans. 2008 saw the formation of UKZ, a new group following in the footsteps of late 1970s progressive rock supergroup U.K., which he formed alongside ex-King Crimson bassist and vocalist John Wetton, ex-Crimson and Yes drummer and percussionist Bill Bruford and guitar icon-in-the-making Allan Holdsworth, but with an entirely new and younger line-up.
The group, which features more recent Crimson alumnus Trey Gunn on touch guitar, another up-and-coming guitar legend, Alex Machacek, singer Aaron Lippert and powerhouse drummer Marco Minneman, garnered considerable attention and praise for its CD-EP Radiation (Globe Music, 2009) and single performance to date in New York City on January 24, 2009, dubbed the "One City World Tour."
With attention still focused on this nascent group, Jobson will also be on the road in August, 2009 with his U-Z Project (featuring a different line-up), performing in six US cities for his "Ultimate Zero Tour." A master of momentum, he's also reissued U.K.'s three albumsU.K. (1978), Danger Money (1979) and Night After Night (1979)all of which have been available on CD in the past, but never sounding this good, thanks to Jobson's personal attention to remastering.
Jobson, not yet 55, leapt onto the scene in the early 1970s at the age of 18, first with Curved Air and then as Brian Eno's replacement in glam-rock progenitor Roxy Music. By the time U.K. came together in early 1977, he'd not only racked up some high profile record dates with Roxy Music and solo projects by a number of its members, but also with The Who's John Entwistle. He'd overdubbed violin parts on King Crimson's 1970s swan song, USA (DGM Live, 1975) and was a member of Frank Zappa's group alongside drummer Terry Bozzio, who would turn out to be an important future connection.
U.K. emerged out of the dust of Crimson. It was initiated, in fact, by Bruford and Wetton, who approached the group's founding father, guitarist Robert Fripp, with an offer to reform the band using Jobson in place of the group's previous violinist, David Cross. When Fripp declined the offer after several months, Bruford suggested recruiting Holdsworth, who'd already been making waves with Soft Machine and Tempest. Holdsworth was recording with Bruford for the drummer's first album as a leader, Feels Good to Me (Winterfold, 1978), and it seemed like the perfect fit. And so, U.K. was bornone of the decade's last real progressive rock groups and certainly one of its few and final supergroups.
It was a powerful combination: Bruford's mathematical precision and mindboggling polyrhythmic invention; Wetton's massive bass sound and appealing voice; Holdsworth's already distinctive harmonic vernacular and trend-setting legato approach to the guitar; and Jobson's equally virtuosic talents on both violin and keyboards. U.K. is rightfully considered a progressive rock classic, one that fused elements of jazz with irregular meters, occasional symphonic tendencies and masterful soloing. Following some touring in 1978 to support the albumby which time Holdsworth had already been recruited for fusion groups by violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and, perhaps most importantly, drum icon Tony Williamsan artistic rift developed, polarizing Bruford and Holdsworth on one side, Jobson and Wetton on the other.
With Bruford and Holdsworth gone in pursuit of more jazz-centric interests, Jobson and Wetton pushed ahead with a progressive rock direction, now pared down to a trio with new recruit, Terry Bozzio. Somewhat more direct than the original group, and presaging the emergence of 1980s album-oriented rock groups like Asia and GTR but with greater harmonic sophistication, the trio incarnation of U.K. would release two more albums that have been overshadowed by the classic status of U.K. and, perhaps, unfairly so. While the trio lacked the additional distinctive voice that Holdsworth brought, Jobson's considerable skills as both a performer and writer didn't exactly replace the absent guitarist, but on their own merits made Danger Money and Night After Night still powerful and inventive releases.
If U.K. had released nothing but its debutin fact, if it had released nothing more than U.K.'s 13-minute "In the Dead of Night" suiteit would have been assured a place in progressive rock history. Wetton's bass playing, a massive juggernaut of 1972-1974 King Crimson, is a little less so, but just as driving in the suite's powerful opening 7/4 riff. Bruford's kit always sounded like no other, and while the music here is more firmly structured than where his personal pursuits were leading, he imbues U.K. with ideas that can still surprise, even 30 years later and after many, many listens.
Holdsworth's tone, while moving towards the smooth, almost attack-less sound that he would favor in later years, still has a bit of edge, and his solo on the first part, "In The Dead of Night," remains a highlight of the genre, his wammy bar creating near-vocal expression as he works inside and outside the song's melodic framework. Jobson's role is more an accompanist in the first part, but when the final movement, "Presto Vivace and Reprise," takes off, his eminent virtuosity is in sharp focus, a knotty, high velocity piece of writing and playing that's one of the album's most viscerally exciting, especially when it resolves climactically back to the main theme.
While Bruford and Holdsworth differentiate U.K. from the trio records that followed, Jobson and Wetton were always the group's primary writers, making clear just how much performances can alter a group sound, even when it's writing this structured and complex. "Thirty Years" begins in a symphonic wash of string synths and Holdsworth on acoustic guitar, with Wetton's voice riding over Bruford's textural work. But when the group enters in time it's with inventive counterpoint, as Jobson's synth rides over a lithely strong bass/guitar foundation. Jobson's solo demonstrates the same kind of harmonic invention as Holdsworththey may be living in the rock world, but their language speaks of other interestswith a similar vocal tendency made all the clearer when Holdsworth's solo follows; differentiable, but coming from a very similar space.
Jobson's live show starter "Alaska" follows; a dramatic synth intro that's in the same memorable league as Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks' enduring mellotron intro to "Watcher of the Skies" from Foxtrot (Atlantic, 1972). But, unlike Genesis, when the group enters there's a near-fusion attack that differentiates this version from its later incarnation. Still, jazz tendencies aside, Jobson's organ hints more at Keith Emerson, as the group navigates many changes but is still instantly memorablesingable, even. Segueing into the up-tempo "Time to Kill," Jobson takes his first lengthy violin solo of the disc; flexibly roaming over another time-challenged bass/guitar riff, he builds inexorably, inevitably, to another climactic conclusion as Wetton's layered voices return to the chorus.
Compositionally, Holdsworth's contributions don't surface until the last two songs, both collaborative efforts with Jobson and either Wetton or Bruford. Overdubbing an undeniably jazz-centric solo over acoustic guitar voicings that, even at this relatively early stage in his career, displayed the distinctive and unmistakable harmonic vernacular that would influence more than one generation of guitarists, the episodic "Nevermore" ultimately finds its way to a more electric direction. Holdsworth solos beautifully in a call-and-response with Jobson that not only shows how well-matched they were, but how inventive a synth texturalist Jobson was (and continues to be).
"Mental Medication" closes the disc, another example of how jazz harmonies and progressive rock attitude can peacefully coexist. Shifting bar lines and oddly placed voicings aside, what's also remarkable is how lyrical its various themes are. With a solo from Holdsworth that's a remarkable testimony to his ability to play at lightening speed yet nevertheless create profoundly memorable ideas, it's a skill again matched by Jobson, who gets the final solo of the disc.
If a group can be assessed by its ability to create music that remains in the mind long after it's over, U.K. remains a resounding success; an album with nary a weak spot to be found. Jobson, Holdsworth, Wetton and Bruford came out of the gate with a strength and maturity that most groups take multiple albums to find. True, all of them were seasoned players by this point, but it's still rare to debut with an album that, 30 years later, remains this fresh and completely relevant.
With its powerful, organ-driven opening title track, Jobson and Wettonnow with Bozzi in towmade it clear that the face of the group may have changed, but U.K. still had plenty to say. Still, it's a more direct sound, with a greater attention to song form. Even with its thundering, dirge-like intro and fuzz bass-driven middle section, there's still a clear verse and chorus to be found in "Danger Money." It's an approach that foreshadowed similar tendencies in progressive rock-turned-album oriented rock groups of the 1980s, and a Top 50 position on the Billboard Top 100 spoke volumes since, despite greater critical acclaim, a similar chart position eluded the group's debut.
Bozzio didn't possess the immediately recognizable sound that Bruford didthat would come laterbut despite an ability to navigate Jobson and Wetton's sometimes challenging and idiosyncratic charts, his more simplified approach helped define the group's increasingly straightforward, rock-centric focus. Fans who'd seen the Bruford/Holdsworth incarnation of U.K. on tour were already familiar with three of Danger Money's six tunes: the Emerson, Lake and Palmer-tinged "The Only Thing She Needs," violin-driven "Caesar's Palace Blues" (not a blues) and expansively episodic "Carrying No Cross"the latter a rare instance where the studio version is actually longer than the live one, as heard on the unauthorized (and now out of print) Live in America (Abstract Sounds, 2008). Here, with Holdsworth gone and Bozzio in place of Bruford, all three songs took on a life of their own alongside the three additional Jobson/Wetton compositions.
As much as the more radio-friendly title track, softer "Rendezvous 6:02" and driving, anthemic "Nothing To Lose" focused on singable choruses amidst still virtuosic musicianshipand despite a less overtly jazzy harmonic coreU.K. remained unequivocally a progressive rock band. The lengthy instrumental middle section of "Carrying No Cross" is as impressive as anything on the group's debut, but this time the solo spot is Jobson's alone, as he combines a stronger penchant for organ with atmospheric synths and even a solo acoustic piano spot that's one of the album's high points. With Emerson, Lake and Palmer by now imploded by its massive egos, U.K. in many respects took its place as the keyboard-based progressive power trio on the strength of "Carrying No Cross" alone. It's an epic that makes even the poppier confections of half the album work in the larger context of a follow-up that will always be compared to its predecessor, but deserves to stand on its own merits.
Night After Night
Sadly, however, the group's continued existence was not to be. Breaking up after nearly a year of touring worldwide, Jobson joined Jethro Tull for A (Chrysalis, 1980) before deciding to leave the world of performing for more than 20 years. Night After Night could be considered the stereotypical contractual obligation album, but it's far better than that.
Despite the loud applause inserted at the end of the opening title track, it's clearly a studio recording used to kick the album off with a radio-friendly single. It's also the most dispensable track on an album that proves U.K. remained a hot live act, even as a trio. The language was different, yes, but Jobson, Wetton and Bozzio were still capable of breathing another kind of life into some of U.K.'s best tracks, including an energetic "Alaska" and fiery "Time to Kill."
The only other new material on the album is "As Long as You Want Me Here," another sign that had U.K. continued on it would have gone down the road that led to Asia and GTR. But Jobson still kept a firm progressive edge to the trio's live version of "Presto Vivace" and "In the Dead of Night," a live reversal of order in the "In the Dead of Night" suite that opened U.K.. Holdsworth played only a small roll in "Presto Vivace" anyway, but Jobson manages to build a synth solo on "In the Dead of Night" that's not exactly a replacement for the departed guitarist, but asserts that, with the keyboardist at the group's helm, it still had plenty of oomph.
A fiery "Caesar's Palace Blues" closes the disc, a feature for Jobson on violin that demonstrates the trio's strengths and weaknesses. Jobson was unequivocally the driving instrumental forceas capable as Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman or Patrick Moraz at building a towering wall of keyboard sonicsand Bozzio may not have possessed Bruford's personality, but equally he was a fine replacement. Wetton was a strong bass anchor and dense co-conspirator for some of U.K.'s high drama moments, but lacked the elegance and finesse of the emerging Tony Levinat this point, playing with both Peter Gabriel and Robert Fripp, and soon destined to join Fripp in the 1980s incarnation of King Crimson. Wetton's voice was always hit-and-miss live, however, something heard on live recordings with King Crimson and equally a problem here, as he often loses his upper range and struggles to hit some of the high notes.
Wetton may have been U.K.'s weak link in performance but he was far from inadequate, making Night After Night a compelling live document of U.K.'s second incarnation, played with great commitment and energy.
With rumors flying of a possible Wetton/Jobson reunion, the truth is that Aaron Lippert of UKZ is a far stronger singer. And with a contemporary, metallic edge to it, UKZ is a semi-U.K. reformation that actually has greater potential, capable of playing the old material with complete credibility while approaching Jobson's new musical direction with a fresh face and more committed energy. With only the EP out at the moment, anticipation is high for a full UKZ release. In the meantime, these three remastered reissues bring some fine music back into printspotlighting, in particular, Bruford and Holdsworth in their progressive primeand nicely position Jobson for wherever he plans to take UKZ.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: In the Dead of Night (In The Dead of Night, By The Light of Day, Presto Vivace and Reprise); Thirty Years; Alaska; Time To Kill; Nevermore; Mental Medication.
Personnel: Eddie Jobson: electric violin, keyboards, electronics; Allan Holdsworth: guitars; John Wetton: voice, bass; Bill Bruford: drums, percussion.
Tracks: Danger Money; Rendezvous 6:02; The Only Thing She Needs; Caesar's Palace Blues; Nothing To Lose; Carrying No Cross.
Personnel: Eddie Jobson: keyboards, electric violin; John Wetton: lead voice, bass; Terry Bozzio: drums, percussion.
Night After Night
Tracks: Night After Night; Rendezvous 6:02; Nothing to Lose; As Long as You Want Me Here; Alaska; Time to Kill; Presto Vivace; In the Dead of Night; Caesar's Palace Blues.
Personnel: Eddie Jobson: keyboards, electric violin; John Wetton: lead voice, bass; Terry Bozzio: drums, percussion.