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In the Court of King Crimson: An Observation Over 50 Years: Level Five, VIII

Sid Smith By

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On November 15, 2019, as part of King Crimson's 50th Anniversary Celebration, Panegryic will be releasing Sid Smith's significant revision and expansion of his critically acclaimed bio, In the Court of King Crimson (Helter Skelter Publishing, 2001). More than merely adding what has gone on in the nearly 20 years since the original book was published, at nearly double its size, the 2019 edition of In the Court of King Crimson: An Observation Over 50 Years is a major revision to the original book, with Smith not only revising its structure, but reshaping its entire narrative. Fans of the original will find plenty more in-depth information about King Crimson, from its early pre-KC days as Giles, Giles & Fripp right up to its current 50th Anniversary activities.

This excerpt from In the Court of King Crimson documents the recording and release of A Scarcity of Miracles (Panegyric, 2011), an album attributed to Jakszyk, Fripp & Collins but, with the participation of bassist Tony Levin and drummer Gavin Harrison, foreshadows the reformation of King Crimson in 2013 (with its first tour in six years taking place in the fall of 2014), the seven-headed "Beast of Krim" that, in addition to guitarist/vocalist {Jakko M. Jakszyk}}, Crimson co-founder/guitarist Robert Fripp and saxophonist/flautist Mel Collins, Levin and Harrison, also included drummers Pat Mastelotto and Bill Rieflin but, currently, has Jeremy Stacey in place of Rieflin—who turned from third drummer to the band's first full-time keyboardist in 2017, before taking a second sabbatical from the band last year.

Level Five: VIII

In January 2010, Jakko Jakszyk (pronounced Jack-Chick) found himself sitting opposite the guitarist who had inspired him so much back in 1971 at Watford Town Hall. That 13-year old boy would never have believed anyone who told him that 39 years later he'd be improvising in a studio with Robert Fripp. The pair spent a day at DGM's sound studio trading ideas. Jakszyk confesses he felt a degree of trepidation at Fripp's invitation. "When I drove down to Broad Chalke that afternoon I had no idea what Robert had in mind, I had no idea what he was going to play or what he'd want me to play, but we sat there, hit record and we improvised. At the end of our day together, we'd improvised four or five pieces and Robert suggested I take the hard drive away and do something with them, though he didn't tell me what to do."

When Jakszyk was growing up in Croxley Green, near Rickmansworth, he could have had no inkling that stumbling upon his first King Crimson album, In The Wake Of Poseidon, in 1970 would change his life. Hearing it immediately made him want to pick up and play the guitar, something he did professionally upon leaving school. "When I first heard Crimson I didn't have many reference points, but even at that age I could tell it was coming at things from a completely different point of view. It wasn't coming at it from the same place as everyone else, you know, the blues and pentatonic scales. It was coming from a whole other place."

In an incredibly varied career—which includes a period in the late '70s signed as a solo artist to Jake Riviera's Stiff label and to Chiswick Records—Jakszyk has collaborated with a diverse array of artists including Mick Karn, Richard Barbieri, Tom Robinson and Slapp Happy's Peter Blegvad, as well stints in bands such as Rapid Eye Movement (along with ex-Hatfield stalwarts Dave Stewart and Pip Pyle), The Lodge with ex-Henry Cow bassist John Greaves and Golden Palominos' Anton Fier and, in the '90s, Level 42, where he replaced Allan Holdsworth.

Jakko's presence at Broad Chalke hadn't come out of the blue. Fripp made contact when the guitarist and singer was fronting the 21st Century Schizoid Band, which featured Ian McDonald, Peter Giles, Mel Collins and Jakszyk's father-in-law Michael Giles. Fripp recognised that handling such a diverse group of players, not to mention taking a tour on the road—all tasks which had fallen to Jakszyk—was no easy feat. Nor had the fact that Jakszyk was playing fiendishly complex guitar parts and singing, often at the same time, gone unnoticed by Fripp. He'd occasionally ring Jakszyk to find out how things were going. "Now someone else understands what I went through in Crimson," Fripp would laugh upon hearing about some of the tensions that had surfaced in the Schizoid Band.

In 2002, in a bizarre case of history repeating itself, Michael Giles unexpectedly quit after the band's final performance on a Japanese tour. But this time Ian McDonald was in no hurry to join him. Instead Ian Wallace joined the group and in some ways the band was better for it. "It meant people could stop treading on eggshells," says Jakszyk.

Away from the band, in 2005 Jakszyk invited Fripp to guest on his fourth solo album, The Bruised Romantic Glee Club (2006). Back with the Schizoid Band, the addition of Wallace gave the band a greater fluency and the drummer's unalloyed enthusiasm at being reunited with the music was palpable. Released in 2006, Pictures Of A City—Live In New York is the definitive account of the group's ability to carry the tunes with an astonishing authority. Record Collector was just one of a number of publications to be surprised and delighted.

"This album's title track is often dismissed as a poor man's "Schizoid Man" ... by the same token, it's probably legitimate to enquire whether 21CSB can ever amount to anything more than a glorified King Crimson tribute. Happily, they're very much more than that. Robert Fripp's recent incarnations of KC left this repertoire behind, but there are still plenty of us who appreciate hearing it ... drummer Ian Wallace, bassist Peter Giles, horns and keys men Ian McDonald and Mel Collins, are all evidently qualified to play it, and frontman Jakko Jakszyk makes light work of filling in simultaneously for Fripp on guitar and Lake (or Wetton) on vocals. Nor is this the KC legacy set in aspic featuring as it does one new composition ("Catleys Ashes") and an item from McDonald's solo career ("Let There Be Light"), plus re-workings of the classics. "Epitaph" sounds more pertinent than ever as a piece of social commentary, though on this form, it's way too early to be writing one for 21CSB."

Mel Collins was especially satisfied with the results. "I think with this live album we got somewhere close to playing with the same amount of passion and ability that I was hoping for when we put the band together in 2002."

Whatever the differences or circumstances that had led each member of the group to leave King Crimson, by playing parts that in some cases they hadn't touched in over 30 years they were at least reconciled with the music. The acrimony of the split with Fripp meant that for many years Collins, for example, turned his back on his time with Crimson. Back in August 2002, Mel was at home in Germany transcribing music for 21CSB when, in a moment of extraordinary synchronicity, his telephone rang. It was Robert Fripp calling from Nashville where he was in the middle of preparing material for The Power To Believe.

"We were offering each other congratulations on the various things we'd done since playing together," says Mel. "I told him how good I thought what we were doing back then was, and in the course of this he apologised for the hurtful things he'd said to me 30 years ago. He felt he could have put it all in a different way and that he wished he had. I'm glad we made our peace."

At the time, Fripp mentioned to Collins that they would perhaps work together in the future but the saxophonist hadn't truly expected it to happen. However, the call did come, albeit several years later when Jakszyk was working on the improvisations he and Fripp had produced in January 2010.

Sifting through several hours of material was a daunting but exciting task for Jakko. "I approached it like a sculptor, really. The obvious thing to do would have been to have gone through it and found sections that had a cohesiveness and then chop them up and create compositions in a cut-and-paste fashion. I decided against that and to follow the improvisations we'd done wherever they went. I divided them into sections and worked on them bit by bit creating a kind of musical Consequences. After spending a week working on each little section, it was only when I played it all back that it revealed itself. I wasn't using it as source material to chop up into an arrangement. I decided that what was already there was the arrangement and I'd follow where it goes."

As each piece came into clearer focus, Jakszyk then improvised vocal melodies, scat-singing words and phrases in free association then listening back and surprising himself by the unexpected themes that emerged from his subconscious. Some titles came from those vocal improvisations and others were supplied after the fact by Fripp.

Mel Collins, playing with Fripp for the first time since 1974's Red, delivered a series of takes of breathtaking lyricism, delving deep into the scales within the chords to tease out new melodies. While the young Collins had channelled John Coltrane's spiritual howl in his early '70s work in Crimson, several decades later he sought his way to the heart of the music, focusing on concise but telling commentaries rather than obvious soloing. Playing back the tracks, Jakszyk's ears picked up on a descending line Collins improvised on "The Price We Pay." Struck by the way it inadvertently provided a new transitional bridge, he doubled the melody on guitar and had Collins return to play what was now a fixed part adding alto harmonies to the original soprano. The use of the soprano sax was largely determined not by Collins or Jakszyk but Fripp, who was especially keen on the sonic space and frequencies the instrument occupied in relation to the Soundscaping, echoing his approach when working with Theo Travis.

Across the rumbling grooves of "Secrets," Collins turns in mocking soliloquies and some spectacular soaring choruses. The sombre mood of the album is matched by a restraint which only breaks cover for the explosive paranoia of "The Other Man" and the discursive atonalities of "The Light Of Day," on which an especially bleak Fripp/Jakszyk improvisation is adorned by multi-tracked voices and gouging scrawls of acidic sax. It's dark and powerful stuff.

The addition of Tony Levin, who flew his parts in via the internet, and Gavin Harrison, working on the pieces in his own studio on a vintage jazz kit, gave the tracks a substance and presence that hadn't been planned or anticipated. A precedent might be found in the song "Forgiving" from Bruised Romantic Glee Club which features Fripp and Harrison and, in some respects, foreshadows the brooding quality of this album—which was eventually credited to Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins with Levin and Harrison and dubbed "A King Crimson ProjeKct."
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