After three years spent extensively focusing on its 1972-'74 lineupdocumented over a massive 66 CDs, DVDs and Blu Rays (plus some additional downloads) on Larks' Tongues in Aspic (40th Anniversary Series Box)
(Panegyric, 2012); The Road to Red
(Panegyric, 2013); and Starless
(Panegyric, 2014)King Crimson turns the clock ahead 20 years to an almost completely different lineup, a radically different sound and a far more unwieldy six-piece incarnation dubbed "the double trio" on THRAK BOX: King Crimson Live and Studio Recordings 1994-1997
. Like its predecessors, the box is part of the group's ongoing 40th Anniversary Series
, which began in 2009 with the release of new stereo and surround sound mixes of the progressive rock progenitor's earth-shattering 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King
, its highly influential 1975 studio swan song for the '72-'74 group, Red
and the divisive album that series remixer (until now) Steven Wilson
dubbed "the album that stereo couldn't contain," 1970's now more recognized classic, Lizard
. As usual, alongside the box sets come CD/DVD-a sets with the new mixes, original mixes, and a smaller collection of bonus material.
Unlike the three boxes from the past three years, however, THRAK BOX
was constructed with a different purpose in mind. Those previous boxeswhile each containing the studio (or more accurately, in the case of Road to Red
, studio/live conglomeration) or live album that was its core raison d'être
focused more heavily on live recordings: largely audio only and ranging from low to high fidelity, and sourced from audience bootleg cassettes, soundboard recordings and full, professional multi-track tapes.
Recording technology had come a long way, in terms of portability, ease and cost in the two decades separating the '72-'74 lineup from the double trio that expanded the '80s Crimson lineup of guitarist Robert Fripp
, guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew
, bassist/Stick player Tony Levin
and electro-acoustic drummer/percussionist Bill Bruford
with two younger newcomers: Stick/Warr guitarist Trey Gunn
and another electro-acoustic drummer/percussionist, Pat Mastelotto
. Both newcomers came to the group through associations with Fripp: his Guitar Craft classes and/or the King Crimson co-founder's collaboration with singer/songwriter David Sylvian
on 1993's The First Day
and/or its live follow-up, '94's Damage
. Every note the group made was recorded...and in high fidelity. Releasing a box like the Larks' Tongues
boxwhich included every known note played by the band (more to the point: every known note recorded
by the group, which was far from all-inclusive)would not just be an absurdly oversized box that would dwarf those that came before, it would have served no real purpose.
The double trio represented a more decided return to being an improvisational band after King Crimson's largely form-focused '80s incarnation, of which only one of its three studio recordings has, thus far, received the 40th Anniversary
treatment: 1981's groundbreaking Discipline
, which introduced an entirely different Crimson, featuring the group's sole remaining founding member (Fripp) and the only holdover from the '72-'74 group, (Bruford). But the double trio was still heavily predicated on structurewhether it was blistering instrumentals or some of the most radio-friendly songs Crimson had released to dateand so a box containing a large number of live recordings would simply have been overkill.
And so, instead, THRAK BOX
is a set of 12 CDs, two DVDs (one audio, one video) and two Blu Rays (also one audio, one video) that tells as complete a story of the 1994-1997 King Crimson as any pathological Crimhead would need, ranging from the early early studio recordings that resulted in, as Fripp called it, the 1994 calling card VROOOM
EP, which also suggested that this new incarnation was going to be, quite possibly, the densest, most angular and most flat-out aggressive Crimson yet, to (in addition to the 2002 remaster of the double trio's only full-length studio recording) new stereo and surround sound mixes of 1995's THRAK
this time done by current Crimson guitarist/vocalist/flautist Jakko M. Jakszyk
, with input and approval from/by Fripp.
Three audio live performances on CDall complete versions of live sets previously only released in part and/or as soundboard recordings, this time mixed from original multi-track tapesare augmented by a high resolution edition of B'Boom
, the 1995 album culled from the group's 10-day, Fall 1994 live performance debut in Argentina. That live album, released four months after THRAK
in August 1995, came after the rehearsal/recording of VROOOM
in June 1994 and a week of rehearsals in Belgrano four months later to tighten up the new material, add some more new music and adapt earlier repertoire to the larger lineup. Most significant, however, is the inclusion of a complete, never-before-seen concert video (on both DVD and Blu Ray) from the group's 1995 show at San Francisco's Warfield Theatre (a nice coincidence, coming, as it did, 19 years prior to the current Crimson's lineup's enthusiastically received two nights at the same venue
in October, 2014) and, on Blu Ray only, the 1996 VHS release, Live in Japan
, reissued on DVD in 1999 as Déjá VROOOM
Another THRAK BOX
CD, JurassiKc THRAK
, is a collage of recordings akin to the Larks' Tongues
box's "Keep That One, Nick"
, providing insight into the recording process as well as including some material that never made it onto any commercial recordings. Maximum VROOOM
collects the VROOOM
EP together with some of the better material from the King Crimson Collector's Club-only VROOOM Sessions
, culled from the EP's rehearsals; along with JurassiKc THRAK
, it provides even more insight into this group's recording process: a combination of pre-written material, generally expanded further by group input; and in-studio jams that often provided the seed for ideas that would ultimately lead to formal new material...and ways of working together as a six-piece. Byte-Size THRAK
brings material together from a variety of CD singles issued around the release of THRAK
, including live material and single edits, as well as material from the KCCC-only Nashville Rehearsals
, which signalled the formal end of the double trio as Crimson hit some unresolvable conflicts and "FraKctalised" into a series of smaller groups (trios and quartets) that hit the road as various-numbered ProjeKcts, releasing material through the latter half of the 1990s until a proper (and, once again, quartet-sized) King Crimson resurfaced in 2000 with The ConstruKction of Light
Finally, ATTAKcATHRAK (The Vicar's THRAK)
provides longtime Crimson engineer/producer David Singleton the chance to make his own sequel to THRaKaTTaK
, the 1996 studio concoction that took "THRAK" improvs from a multiplicity of shows recorded on tour in 1995 as inspiration for full album composedother than the initial and closing themes of THRAK
's title trackentirely of improvised material. Like-minded but an entirely different experience, ATTAKcATHRAK (The Vicar's THRAK)
provides its own alternate window into Crimson's return to improvisation, as well as shining a strong spotlight on the technology that made this six-headed Crimson capable of sounds well beyond those anticipated from what was essentially a two-guitar, two-bass and two-drums lineup.
Beyond this bounty of material that truly tells the full story of a band from inception to dissolution, THRAK BOX
comes with additional goodies including a compilation of Tony's Road Movies
, video cam recordings made by Tony Levin throughout the band's three-year run; the THRAK
Electronic Press Kit (EPK); a full 12"x12" replica of the album cover and interior; a tour booklet from the 1994 shows in Argentina; two tour posters; a replica of the cover of one of the THRAK
recording reel tapes; a hard copy King Crimson press kit; and copies of settings and itineraries. All this supplemented by a 12"x12" booklet that, as always, contains a thoroughly detailed accounting of the group's activitiesin this case, one of his best yetby longtime Crimson scribe, Sid Smith; "The Tale of the Tapes," a one-page narrative from David Singleton that, in addition to explaining the process of selecting the material for this box, also discusses how this project made compiling ATTAKcATHRAK (The Vicar's THRAK)
an unavoidable inevitability; and a bevy of images, cover artwork and more. THRAK BOX
as would be expected from a group that, each time it reconvenes, makes use of bleeding edge technology to expand its sonic, improvisational and compositional potentialtakes the absolute fullest advantage of Blu Ray technology, such as making it possible for the Warfield show to be either a video or
audio-only experience, automatically playing without having to make menu selections from a TV screen, but providing far more options if the menu system is used. Not only does it include the best-sounding audio available, it also features the absolute best that could be done to clean up the audio and/or video from standard definition recordings made in the mid-1990s, and there's also a full page in the booklet, explaining how best to set up and optimize Blu Ray players to best take advantage of the discs' many features.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of THRAK BOX
, however, is Jakko Jakszyk's more radical reinterpretation of both the surround and new stereo mixes. If purists rankled at Steven Wilson's stereo remixeswhich largely respected the overall placement of the instruments, but created greater clarity between the layers so that the music was clearer, more delineated and discerniblethey may find themselves up in arms at Jakzsyk's more invasive approach. He creates far more significant distance between the instruments, in addition to adding parts that were either not on the original recording or are heard here, for the first time, with far greater clarity. The additions range from the relatively minor, such as Fripp's brief line as the band returns to the opening theme near the conclusion of "VROOOM," to the more extensive, like the guitarist's signature sustaining-toned guitar fills heard on "Dinosaur" for the first time.
However, when considering the intrinsic density of the double trio, and the sampling technologies that often made it difficult to tell who was doing what, Jakszyk's new mix is an absolute revelation and, rather than being considered a travesty for changing what some will think was already a perfect mix simply because it's the one with which they are familiar, should be considered more as an alternate view of the album. In its greater unraveling of who's playing what, subtle additions and more delineated positioning, it absolutely stands on its own merits as the mix that, like Wilson's remix of Lizard
, is amongst the most revealing of the 40th Anniversary Series
and, for many, may well become their preferred mix.
It's clear that Fripp supports the new mix, radical though it may be. For those who use the argument that the original mix is what the artist intended, aside from that not always being the case (the demands of record labels looking for an artist to get a finished album submitted, for example, by a certain date so that they could slot it into their release schedule), it must be considered that none of the new mixes found on Crimson's 40th Anniversary Series
have been without the guitarist and true keeper of the Crimson legacy's full involvement...and ultimate approval.
"In the world of King Crimson, I defer to Robert [Fripp]," says Jakszyk, in a brief interview conducted about his new mixes. "When he arrives, what he says goes. Occasionally he'll ask my opinion, and I'll tell him...and he may even accept it. But I would never argue a point. Frankly, it's all subjective. Robert knows what Crimson is, and what he's after.
"I normally start with the stereo mix," Jakszyk continues, describing the approach he has used to remixing classic albums by Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and others. "I use the original as a kind of template. Certainly there can be edits that appear on the final original mix that don't exist in the multitrack, as usually the original edits occur post-mix on 1/4" or 1/2." So, I need to reinstate these as a place to start. I want, wherever possible, to evoke the spirit of the original, if not a copy, and I tend to move out from there.
"In the end, most of these [King Crimson 40th Anniversary Series
] releases contain a 'cleaned up' master of the original version of the mix. As a consequence, recreating that mix exactly seems rather pointless. I like to use it as a starting point, however," continues Jakszyk.
"If I'm familiar with the material (and I often am), I might have a long-held desire to hear something more clearly...or even change the odd thing. It's not a liberty I take as much as, I think, Steven [Wilson] does sometimes, but there have been moments where I've corrected a mistakeor tuned a note, even. I have also, on occasion, decided not to go with the original edit, as there are times when I think it's interesting to revert to how it was played on the original take," Jakszyk concludes.
But with THRAK
, Jakszyk was faced with a completely different situation when compared to his other work. "THRAK
was the exception to any of my rules," he says. "As a fan of the originalas good as I thought it wasit was apparent that there was an awful lot of sonic and musical information crammed into stereo that was not helped by a lot of processing...some doubtlessly added at the mastering stage.
"So, if ever there was an album made for 5.1 it was this," Jakszyk continues. "I didn't start with stereo on this; it was straight to surround. We'd deal with the stereo later, rather than the usual and opposite approach I take. Consequently, the very first decision I made was to separate the drums: one kit up front and one at the back (though this moves, on occasion, when one drummer is largely the percussionist).
"This being the early '90s, there was a lot of digital processing going onthe guitars, electronic percussion and Trey's touch guitar, all of which were in stereo," Jakszyk explains. "This all added to the mush and lack of clarity in the original stereo, so in surround I made these either very narrow or used just one side. That way I could place things, along with their own mono reverb, say, in their own unique spot in the surround picture.
"I start all this on my own, and when I have a mix I think is worth listening to, I get Robert to come by," Jakszyk continues. "We usually have a few short but intense days tweaking things from my starting point. Robert's very specific about placement and ambience that suits instruments and creating a mono place for both, and still has very sharp ears in this regard. As someone whose studio learning experience was largely in the '80s, everything was stereo. So I've learned a great deal from Robert's alternative perspective...and, of course, it makes perfect sense. Anyway, the fact is that the 5.1 mix was done relatively quickly and was finished and mastered sometime ago.
"It was the stereo mix that took the time. I think we must have done it over at least three times over the past couple of years. Each time we came back to it, Robert wasn't happy. I think he was so pleased with the surround mix that he wanted it reflected in the stereo. And somehow it just wasn't cutting it and we encountered the same sonic space of the original.
"In the end we took a much more radical approach. The drum kits are now, in effect, in mono left and right. We then applied the same approach to all of itlike an old Tamla/Motown record, where you have drums and bass hard right and tambourine on the left. We followed that idea through, along with the mono reverbs again. This cleared loads of space to hear the music and the individual parts rather than the stereo mush off it all fighting together.
"I remember the assistant engineer of the mastering suite calling me the day before the session, asking me if there was a mistake on the master. 'Why?' I asked him. 'Because the bass guitar on this track appears to be panned hard right.' Once I told him it was not a mistake and that it was meant to sound like that, he didn't call again."
Amongst the most obvious additions to Jakszyk's mix is the complete, upfront reading, by Fripp and Gunn, of the sequence of numbers during The Beatles
-esque "Coda: Marine 475," which segues from THRAK
's opening track, "VROOOM." On the original mix, they emerge mid-way, but are deeply buried in the mix
"The voices on 'Coda: Marine' are Robert and Trey reading out a list of numbers that relate to the Lloyd's crash of the early '90s, Jakszyk explains ['and whose members include,' writes Smith in the liners, 'Sam Alder and Mark Fenwick of E.G. Management, Fripp and Crimson's former management,' with whom Fripp ultimately engaged in a legal battle to regain the rights to his catalog; after nearly seven years and no shortage of expenditures, the guitarist was triumphant]. "On the original, they are both miked up using one microphone and Robert's contribution is too quiet; so here I was able to edit the two sections so we could hear Robert more clearly.
"There are a number of edits on THRAK
," Jakszyk continues. "Some we kept, some we removed. This area was Robert's call on this particular album. I don't recall many 'outtakes' or abandoned takes on this album. What we had was what there was. They did, of course, make an EP with some of the same material at Apple Head in Woodstock, so I guess they honed some of that stuff before the Real World sessions [where THRAK
"So, relatively little sifting to be done, unlike the ELP multi-tracks. There were forty of the damn things [for the two ELP albums Jakszyk remixed]. No track sheets, but photographs of tape boxes, and some of those boxes had no information on them at alland, indeed, some were not the original boxes. And in spite of all this, there was still stuff missing, including the final multi-track of Welcome Back My Friends [to the Show That Never Ends
, ELP's 1974 live album], which I eventually found hiding in a spread sheet pertaining to a whole other set of ELP recordings. Now that was a nightmare.
"But not this," Jakszyk concludes.
While there is some joking about on JurassiKc THRAK
Belew singing, for example, "I am Dinah Shore" in a run-through of "Dinosaur" (one of THRAK
's most memorable and, despite that, challenging songs)there is far less of it, far less a sense of camaraderie compared to Larks' Tongues
' "Keep That One, Nick"
studio montage disc. The double trio lineup was, it seems, a more difficult group, both in terms of the music and, reading Smith's liner notes, the personalities and sheer logistics of being a larger groupa sense very much reflected in the more "down to business" feel of the disc. Even less, perhaps, than desirable but absolutely necessary tasks such as taking band photos for the press kit were sources of conflict and tension.
There was one point, very early in the complete lineup's existence (after Mastelotto replaced original drummer Jerry Marotta) when, during rehearsals for the VROOOM
EP in Woodstock, NY's Applehead Studios, Belew called a meeting, asking to "step out of the band." From equipment damaged by airlines to an intense touring schedule that precluded his own projects, along with some tensions from the '80s incarnation that Belew had apparently chosen to ignore, despite rearing their heads again, it was just the first of a number of stressors that made the double trio even more challenging than its mere size and configuration inherently imposed upon the music. And it was, in fact, a longstanding conflict between Fripp and Bruford that ultimately led to the "FraKctalising" of King Crimson into ProjeKcts and an end to Bruford's quarter-century relationship with Crimson. Still, despite the variety of problems, one of the recurrent themes of THRAK BOX
is just how well this group ultimately worked together, based simply on that most important of results: the music.
Beyond Bruford (and, of course, Fripp), only Belew has lasted longer; 32 years, until the group's reformation in 2013, when he was not included and, instead, King Crimson became the "seven-headed beast of Crim" that, alongside Fripp, Jakszyk, Levin and Mastelotto, brought in drummers Gavin Harrison (best known as a member of Porcupine Tree) and Bill Rieflin (Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M.), as well as signalling the return of saxophonist/flautist Mel Collins, back into the fold for the first time since his guest appearance on Red
and his first full band membership since the incarnation responsible for 1971's Islands
folded in 1972 after finishing its touring commitments, despite having already broken up in acrimony the previous year over Fripp's refusal to include his band mates' compositions in the Crimson repertoire.
What will likely come as a surprise to manyand is, perhaps, the most revealing aspect of Smith's liner notes (and they're filled with revelations) is the influence of a younger Gavin Harrison on the double trio. As Smith quotes Bruford, "I was highly influenced by the magnificent Gavin Harrison, who I have been proposing as the country's hidden national treasure for several years. Gavin, at the time, was a real specialist in drumming and had released a variety of drum books, manuals and pedagogical stuff that I found to be highly influential, about beat displacement and all sorts of metrical tricks of one sort or another." According to Smith, "The future member of the eighth incarnation of King Crimson had sent Bruford a manuscript copy of Rhythmic Illusions
to Real World during the recording."
That this book became, as Bruford describes, "a bit of a bible for me and Pat to work with" was but one solution to the challenge of working in a band with two drummers (and trying to avoid any comparisons to bands like the Allman Brothers Band
) and two bassists. Listening to Jakszyk's stereo mix of THRAK
especially in high resolution on Blu Ray, where the soundstage opens up even furtherreveals two drummers assuming basic roles (Mastelotto the timekeeper and Bruford the colorist), though these roles were far from cast in concrete, adopting all kinds of collaborative rhythmic tricks and sleights of hand, from playing the same pattern a sixteenth note apart to creating a positively thundering eight-limbed single organism on "B'Boom," which segues into the album's improv-heavy title track. That the two worked so well together was no coincidence; it was the result of hard work and a great deal of consideration and rehearsal. Now, however, with the two drummers so clearly delineated in the mix, it's possible to hear just how
they managed to achieve just one of this Crimson incarnation's defining features.
Jakszyk's mix also sheds more light on Gunn's contributions, which were often overlooked simply because it was difficult to discern what he was doing. During the "fairy fingers" section of "VROOOM"where Fripp's processed guitar arpeggios assume a gossamer levity in sharp contrast with his more ear-shattering tone elsewhere in the trackit's now possible to clearly hear Levin's lyrical bass line and Gunn's supportive stick work. Getting the opportunity to watch the group in action on the second Blu Ray (on both the Warfield and Japan performances), it's also possible, by sight, to see Gunn's contributions, as he sometimes strums his stick like a rhythm guitar (rather than the one or two-handed tapping usually employed).
It's also possible, with Jakszyk's mix, to more clearly hear the individual roles in "Dinosaur," a song whose chorus is based on the same minor third pattern that made Lizard
's "Cirkus" so nightmare-inducing, and which Fripp presented, in germinal form, to Belew with the hopes that it could become a Crimson counterpart to the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus." During the song's middle section, immediately before Fripp's searing solo, the band pares down to a chamber trio of Belew (playing, in addition to guitar, string and bassoon samples), Levin (on electric upright bass) and Gunn (doubling Belew's lines on Stick).
Beyond the revelation of Jakszyk's mix, THRAK
one of the group's most widely marketed records, with its own symbol presaging avatars in 21st century social mediais Crimson's most, well, schizoid album. There are thundering instrumentals that redefine the meaning of heavy riffing ("VROOOM," "VROOOM VROOOM"); extensions of Fripp's soundscaping but with other members of the group involved ("Radio I," "Radio II"); songs that may sound accessible but reveal the kind of complexity rarely heard in a pop song but is just another day from Crimson ("Dinosaur" and the outrageously funky "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream," with a middle section where, the drummers each playing in a completely different time signature, turns nearly anarchistic yet miraculously manages to meet up and continue); haunting, ethereal balladry that, in some way, harkens back to early Crimson's dark-hues and open spaces ("Inner Garden I," "Inner Garden II"); and the closest the group has come to pure pop since the '80s incarnation's "Heartbeat" and "Model Man" (the Latinesque "One Time," softly balladic "Walking on Air" and more propulsive "People," with its almost sing-along chorus).
The selection of live shows, other than the early B'Boom
set and the two video shows, includes full sets of performances featured previously, but only in part, on 1996's two-disc VROOOM VROOOM
here titled New YorKc THRAK
and, recorded in Mexico City, AzteKc THRAK
. Along with Kcsensington THRAK
recorded during the group's 1995 London showsthey provide, cumulatively, a collection of all the songs the double trio played live, including a strong showing of '80s material ("Three of a Perfect Pair," "Indiscipline," "Sleepless," "Heartbeat," "Matte Kudesai," "Frame by Frame," "Waiting Man," "Neurotica"), a few '70s nuggets ("The Talking Drum," "Larks' Tongues in Aspic: Part Two," "Red").
There are also a few surprises: "Prism," a drum piece written by Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre
and first heard on his 1984 ECM album, Singing Drums
; "Conundrum," a piece never appearing on a Crimson studio recording, written by the entire band; a couple of group improvs ("Improv: Biker Babes of the Rio Grande," "Circular Improv"); an unexpected encore of the Beatles' posthumous "Free as a Bird" that's not so unexpected, considering the Beatles' influence on Belewan influence clearer on THRAK
than on any other Crimson record; and, perhaps, the biggest surprise from a band that swore, in the '80s, that it would never play it again, a single, scorching version of "21st Century Schizoid Man," the opening track of In the Court of the Crimson King
There are completists who collect every show this band has ever released, from all incarnationsand there is no doubt, based on the live shows collected here in the THRAK BOX
, to the veracity of Fripp's claim that KC albums are "love letters," its live shows "hot dates"but while the '72-'74 lineup was so improv-heavy that every show was truly worth hearing, it's less imperative with the more song-based '80s and '90s bands, despite more committed improvisation making a welcome return with the double trio.
Still, for those wanting as complete a picture as is really necessary for the double trio responsible for THRAK
, THRAK BOX
really does have it all, even if it doesn't actually have every note recorded by the band...and despite virtually every note by the band actually being
recorded. Instead, THRAK BOX: King Crimson Live and Studio Recordings 1994-1997
tells the story with a combination of rehearsal tracks, session reel excerpts, EP and CD single material, a strong sampling of all the material played live by the group and a sequel to THRaKaTTaK
that opens another window into interpreting the improvising Crim, along with both the original and new mixes of THRAK
that should satisfy both committed Crimheads and purists. More than any other 40th Anniversary Series
release, THRAK BOX
, with the possible exception of Lizard
, allows those more open to the potential of reinterpretation the opportunity to experience an alternate mix that makes clearer than ever the importance and inimitable contributions of every member of King Crimson's one time-only double trio.