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Live in Japan
Artist: 21st Century Schizoid Band
Label: Voiceprint
Time: 12Tracks / 80 mins
 
I’m not sure whether this is a King Crimson tribute band or the band itself. Virtually all tracks are King Crimson works, and most of the personnel have been in its ranks, but they cannot use the name, which is still owned by original member and artistic visionary, Robert Fripp. Crimson were an avant-garde prog band with strong jazz elements, whose line-ups changed regularly enough (apparently often due to character conflicts with Fripp) to make their repertoire lurch wildly from mellow to spiky. If it helps to reveal my personal preferences, I have always loved their In the Court of the Crimson King album, and briefly owned the breakaway McDonald-Giles album, but found most of the rest too impersonal or angular to get excited by. This release reflects virtually all of Court, plus an even sprinkling from various other discs, including McDonald-Giles.
 
Mel Collins, who was part of the second King Crimson line-up, has always been a highly sought-after soloist, whose fluid and emotional sax solos added some of the best touches to undervalued classic soft-prog bands like Camel. He has worked with top-flight musicians, such as The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner and Dire Straits, but his warm style has also graced discs by acts as musically distant as Bad Company, Clannad and The Amazing Blondel.
 
Here he joins founder members Ian McDonald, (who unusually also plays sax, flute and keyboards) and drummer Michael Giles. Michael’s brother Peter plays bass, and his son-on-law Jakko Jakszyk – of Level 42 fame – takes on lead vocals and occasional guitar. Jakszyk’s vocals are tonally so close to those of original singer Greg Lake that you might think he was hired for this likeness, rather than through family ties.
 
Looking down the track-list it is clear that McDonald – who later co-founded Foreigner – is the one who produced the mellow side of King Crimson’s material. He was the McCartney foil to Robert Fripp’s lennonesque abrasiveness. His influence shapes much of this collection, which – excluding the rockier pieces at each end and once in the middle – has plenty of lyrical space. A theme from the McDonald-Giles second-side track “Birdland” is one of the smoothest on this live disc. Some of the key songs from _Court of the Crimson King_, such as “Epitaph” and its title track, lean heavily of mellotron and flute, and are very faithfully replicated here. Both tracks are prog rock classics, completely original and like nothing that had gone before. The former is musically all the work of Ian McDonald, together with dark, evocative words by Pete Sinfield, their non-performing lyricist (who also wrote for ELP and Van der Graaf Generator).
 
The only Court of the Crimson King track not featured here is the lengthy “Moonchild,” which included a fair bit of free-form noodling. You could think of another extended, quiet track – the Red album piece “Formentera Lady” – as taking its place. This is another highlight, which starts melodically and gives way to a relaxed Mel Collins solo. At around nine minutes into the track, the drums fade in and the solo slowly picks up pace. It grows increasingly jazzy, with piano and punctuating stabs of second sax.
 
The band’s spikier tendencies are somewhat tied up with their more commonly found brand of jazz, where awkward time signatures tend to interfere with the drive of the tracks, rather than add to them (as in “Progress”). Yet there is also a rock edge to the louder sections, such as on the climactic “21st Century Schizoid Man,” from which the band takes its name, and the similar “A Man, A City,” an ELP-like piece, which is much shorter than the original live recording’s eleven-plus minutes.
 
Also on the disc is the wordplay and wit of “Catfood” – without the Keith Tippet piano of the original; a similarly innuendo-led “Ladies of the Road,” which has a strong jazz-rock riff and brief Beatles-sounding interludes; and the pleasant “Let There Be Light”.
 
This is a fine, brilliantly-played rendition of some of King Crimson’s most lyrical moments, all brought together with digital technology and some judicious pruning. It may still be a little too angular in places for more mainstream tastes, but is a great place to start on King Crimson and should interest many jazz-rock lovers. It will also be welcomed by those who enjoy In the Court of the Crimson King and want a concise pick of the rest of their catalogue.
 
Derek Walker

     
 
 

 
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