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King Crimson at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier / Massey Hall

John Kelman By

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But back to the music. Toronto's performance may have been a slightly hotter date than in Montréal—Levin playing even more liberally than usual throughout the set but, in particular, during songs like "Cirkus," "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two," where he strayed from being an anchor to improvise more freely as he played the song with his "Funk Fingers" (two drum sticks, cut to shorter lengths and with rings that attach to his index and middle fingers), and during the middle section of "Starless," where he moved away from the signature riff while others kept it going. Collins was also even more impressive than during past tours, whether on alto, tenor or baritone saxophones or concert, alto or bass flutes; jazz man that he is, it's hard to know how many in the Toronto audience caught his quoting Duke Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train" during his solo in "21st Century Schizoid Man," but his baritone solos during both evenings' versions of "The Letters" managed to both adhere somehow to form while, at the same time, extending into even greater freedom and frenzy.

Jakszyk, too, took greater liberties as a guitarist throughout both sets—demonstrating, more than on previous tours, just how impressive an axe-slinger he is, such as managing to sing and combine both chordal accompaniment and some of Fripp's most mind-boggling acoustic phrases during "Cirkus," where the co-founding guitarist was busy on keys. His singing was, both evenings, quite simply, the best it's ever been since he became a band member with the 2014 lineup. On "Dawn Song," he was challenged to dig down into registers far lower than he'd ever reached before, and managed to do so with accuracy and, when required, strength. His voice was a thing of beauty on "Islands." And elsewhere, with songs like Bowie's "Heroes" (included on the Panegyric Heroes (Live in Europe) EP, released in May of this year), his delivery of both melodies and vocal improvisations during solo sections during Larks' Tongues in Aspic's "Easy Money," and his dramatic performance of "The Letters," with its now totally a cappella final verse, Jakszyk demonstrated both greater comfort and greater power at the upper end of his range.

But the biggest surprise of the evening, when it came to Jakszyk's vocals, came with his interpretations of "Indiscipline" and "Neurotica"—the latter, between Levin's stick playing and Stacey's potent kit work, actually swinging in a way it never did before. As Jakszyk briefly recounted after one of the shows, when Fripp suggested bringing these tunes into the current group's repertoire, he knew it would have been wrong to attempt replicating Belew's spoken word approach to much of these pieces. And so, with "Indiscipline," he created an oblique melody line, doubled on guitar and also featuring Levin on harmony vocals—and, rather than with the by-now somewhat iconic scream "I like it!," ending with a loud "J'aime ça!" (French for "I like it!") instead. The only time he sang during "Neurotica," on the other hand, was during its more melodic, groove-driven section. Ardent Belew fans may balk at this lineup's significant (blasphemous?) revisions to not just the vocals but the overall arrangements; but hasn't that always been the Crimson way? To revise, reinvent, reinvigorate...or, as John Cleese said, in an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, to "adopt, adapt and improve"?

And speaking of swing, there were a surprising number of moments where it was an element of the overall rhythmic fabric. Crimson may not be a jazz band by anyone's standard definition; but between its improvisational approach to even firmly structured pieces through individual interpretation and more open- ended pieces, including the two vocal tracks from the '80s, "The Letters" and the middle section of "Pictures of a City," King Crimson represents, perhaps more than any other group collected (and without ever considering itself as one) under the increasingly fixed rubric of 21st century progressive rock, a group with jazz attitude.


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