In 1973-74, King Crimson was not just a powerful progressive rock group capable of navigating guitarist Robert Fripp's most challenging writing to date. It was also a potent improvising unit, able to shift on a dime from elegant simplicity to visceral crunch. The expansive The Great Deceiver (Live 1973-1974) demonstrated how exciting this group was. The Collectable King Crimson Volume One allows those without deep pockets to hear the music for themselves, and it also offers something new to those who own the four-CD box.
Discipline Global Mobile's mail-order King Crimson Collector's Club has been releasing live shows of varying sound quality from all Crimson lineups for some time. This double-disc set is the first of a series intended to make some of the best KCCC shows more widely available. It collects a March, 1974 performance in Mainz, Germany where Crimson's at an improvising peak, and one of its last dates, recorded in Ashbury Park, New Jersey. Both are superb, but the latter is especially notable.
Some of the material from the June 28, 1974 show can be found on USA, released in 1975 and reissued in remastered and expanded form in 2006, but both versions had problems. First, technical problems rendered violinist David Cross' parts unusable. Cross was fired soon after the show, so Fripp brought in keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson to overdub parts after the fact. Second, both an extended "Easy Money" and free improv called "Ashbury Park" were cut nearly in half and faded out. Continuity was also compromised by altering the running sequence.
Thanks to modern technology, it has been possible to restore Cross' parts. The Collectable King Crimson makes this show available on CD for the first time, restored to its proper running order with complete versions of all the tracks. This set of material ranges from the symphonic "Exiles" to the jagged metal edge of "Lark's Tongues in Aspic: Part II" and the mind-numbing guitar pyrotechnics of the complex "Fracture." What's immediately obvious here is that Jobson may have been a better musician, but that's no substitute for the chemistry that evolves from having performed nearly two hundred shows together. USA is a good record, but the restored performance is a great one.
The Mainz set is incomplete, but it demonstrates that while Crimson may not have possessed the language of jazz, it certainly had the spirit. "Easy Money" evolves into an open-ended and dynamically shifting improv that neatly segues into a (sadly faded) "Fracture." Three other improvs, including two that bookend the idiosyncratic "Dr. Diamond" (never released on a Crimson studio album), find the group in even stronger synchronicity.
The sound source and quality are provided for both shows, with Mainz listed as "Very Fine" and Ashbury Park "Excellent," though it's hard to hear any significant difference. An auspicious beginning to a new series, The Collectable King Crimson Volume One will help keep the ever-evolving Crimson in the public eye while fans wait for a new album from the group's latest lineup.
Track Listing: CD1 (Ashbury Park): Walk On...No Pussyfooting; Lark's Tongues in Aspic: Part II; Lament; Exiles; Ashbury Park; Easy Money; Fracture; Starless; 21st Century Schizoid Man. CD2 (Mainz): Improv: The Savage; Dr. Diamond; Improv: Arabica; Exiles; Improv: Atria; The Night Watch; Starless; Lament; Improv: Trio; Easy Money.
Personnel: David Cross: violin, mellotron, electric piano; Robert Fripp: guitar, mellotron, electric piano; John Wetton: bass guitar, vocals; Bill Bruford: drums, percussion.