The last time King Crimson played in Paris was in July 2003, as part of their last European tour before reconvening this year with a new line-up. Since Robert Fripp at the time had an inexplicable aversion to playing in his home country (one which he has now happily overcome), I decided to travel to Paris for the concert. (I’ve always enjoyed going to Paris for shows, having gone there to see Swans in both 1992 and 1995.) Sadly, however, my mother died the week before the show, so I was unable to make it in the end, although I went to Paris anyway a few weeks later.
Twelve years later, and with my father now on his deathbed, it was finally time to make the journey to Paris to see King Crimson, although this time coming from the east rather than the west. Having been a fan for many years of the 1969-71 and 1973-74 incarnations of the group, but having little or no time for the various line-ups featuring Adrian Belew, it’s an unalloyed pleasure for me that the Belew period has effectively been written out of Crimson history with this tour. I still smile at Belew’s answer to the question of how he felt about not being invited to join the new Crimson: “Well, you know, I feel great about it.” Yeah, right Ade.
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Thanks to Joseph Stannard for his comprehensive King Crimson survey, although he showered a little too much love on the 1981-84 incarnation of the group for my liking. Where Stannard hears “a hive of small sounds in constant motion”, I just hear Adrian Belew needlessly emoting over pallid jackets-with-sleeves-pushed-up funk, all the while playing guitar to sound like an elephant – and not in a good way, either.
Crimson don’t need a second guitarist, as is amply demonstrated by the ProjeKcts albums (on which Belew played V-drums). Stannard could have said more about these releases, which showcase Fripp’s most satisfying and avant-garde work since the 70s. According to Fripp, the ProjeKcts were supposed to serve as “research & development” for Crimson, but given that so few of the resultant approaches made their way into later Crimson albums the validity of this statement must be in doubt. Fripp could easily have gone against the grain of his audience’s expectations by keeping up with the mix of volatile Improv and irresistible electronic dance beats that characterised the ProjeKcts sessions. What irks me is that he chose to play it safe the next time he went out as Crimson – discarding the innovations of the ProjeKcts and retreating instead into a greasy rehash of former glories.
Not-so-hot on the heels of their ’70s collaborations No Pussyfooting and Evening Star, these two titans of English art rock have reconvened to produce a third album of superior ambient fare. Of course, we have come to expect music of high quality from the originator of ambient music and the legendary guitarist with King Crimson. Yet what is pleasing about this disc is the way in which Brian Eno’s gossamer atmospherics and Robert Fripp’s understated virtuosity combine to form a perfectly balanced and coherent whole.
While his work with Crimson has tended to focus on fret-melting explorations of rock dynamics, Fripp in solo mode takes a gentler, more painterly approach. Beginning with the method he termed Frippertronics in the ’70s, and evolving into the soundscapes he performs today, Fripp coaxes liquid, weeping notes from his guitar and loops and wreathes them in a haze of delay and sustain. On the disc’s opening suite of “Meissa,” “Lyra,” and “Tarazed,” these gorgeous washes of sound reverberate over Eno’s twinkling sound fields and somber, cocooning drones. Taking its cue from the track titles (named after stars and constellations), this music perfectly evokes a sense of drifting endlessly through space.
Things pick up slightly on “Lupus,” wherein Fripp’s fuzz-heavy distortions are nudged along by a soft, glancing rhythm. On “Altair,” Fripp—incredibly—sounds almost funky, as his taut chord patterns skip and swing nimbly around an irresistible Eno groove. Between the two sits the imposing “Ankaa,” on which Fripp issues sublime, serpentine guitar lines while Eno’s unobtrusive atmospheres throb and pulsate all around. The disc closes with “Terebellum,” a return to the lambent textures of the opening suite and a soothing, tranquil conclusion. Proving that mastery of one’s instrument need not equate to flashy technical riffery, the disc is quietly yet continuously striking, the perfect soundtrack to an interstellar journey.