INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
All About Jazz NOVEMBER 4, 2014 - by John Kelman
ROBERT FRIPP: ACROSS FOUR DECADES WITH BRIAN ENO AND THEO TRAVIS
In a professional career now approaching fifty years, guitarist Robert Fripp may be at his most visible when he's finding that "way of doing things" that necessitates the return of his flagship King Crimson - its recently revived and revitalised seven-piece, three-drummer lineup completing its twenty-date American debut tour in early October 2014, including two exhilarating nights at San Francisco's Warfield Theatre. It was so successful - and, perhaps most importantly, so enjoyable - for the sixty-eight year-old co-founder of the group that shook the world forty-five years ago with the release of In The Court Of The Crimson King (DGM Live, 1969) that talks are already underway on about the "seven-headed beast of Crim" continuing into 2015 and 2016.
Still, if it was the so-called "Crimson ProjeKct" of A Scarcity Of Miracles - initially a duo project with fellow guitarist and vocalist Jakko M. Jakszyk that ultimately grew into the nascent quintet with returning reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalist Mel Collins, longtime bassist Tony Levin and ex-Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison - that would evolve into KC 2014 with the addition of drummers Pat Mastelotto and Bill Rieflin, it's not as if Fripp has been relaxing quietly into retirement these past few years. Far from it, in fact.
Beyond overseeing the ongoing fortieth Anniversary Series of remixed King Crimson reissues - the most recent being the whopping twenty-seven-disc Starless: Live in Europe (Panegyric, 2014) box - and his ongoing Guitar Craft seminars, the only remaining original member of King Crimson has been busy with his own soundscapes projects, including the innovative orchestral project, The Wine of Silence (DGM Live, 2012); occasional reunions with Roxy Music co-founder, ambient music forefather and overall sonic innovator Brian Eno, most recently on Beyond Even (1992-2006), which collects work from over the course of fifteen years; and his ongoing partnership with woodwind/reed multi-instrumentalist Theo Travis, who has taken Fripp's Frippertronics and soundscapes concepts to create his own expansive system of Ambitronics, last heard on Follow (Panegyric, 2012), an album which broke mould from the duo's previous albums by introducing more angular and jagged material, in particular the appropriately titled closer, So There, which seemed send a joking, middle-finger salute to those who'd pegged the duo as "too soft."
With one of Fripp's most active years in recent memory, in addition to the Crimson tour, a two-CD tour box that was sold at the shows but will be made commercially available in late November, and the Starless: Live in Europe box, Fripp has two additional releases for 2014: a hard media version of the brief 1975 tour he did with Eno, previously released by DGM Live in download-only format; and Discretion, which reunites the guitarist with Travis for a recording culled from a series of 2010 European dates. In a way, the two albums are of a kind, and most certainly linked: the more technology-laden yet ever-musical Discretion, an album that could not have been were it not for Fripp's early collaborative experiments with Eno and a pair of Revox reel-to-reel tape recorders.
FRIPP & ENO: LIVE IN PARIS 28.05.1975
When Fripp dissolved King Crimson after two years of heavy touring, releasing what would become a vasty influential swan song, Red (DGM Live) in October, 1974, he'd already begun collaborating with Eno on what would ultimately become known as Frippertronics but, in its early stages - at least in performance with Eno, was called Enotronics because, as Al Okada's informative liner notes to Live In Paris relate, "Eno, not Fripp operated the tape machines." The groundbreaking No Pussyfooting (DGM Live) was already out and the side-long The Heavenly Music Corporation already in use as Walk On music for Crimson performances beginning around the time of the album's release in November, 1973. Its followup, the even more impressive Evening Star (DGM Live), was being prepped for release at the end of the year in which a Fripp with newfound freedom decided to hit the road to try out his revised "small, mobile, intelligent unit" philosophy to touring - a direct response to the difficult rigours of road work in the rock world that he has continued to challenge to this very day with Crimson's 2014 tour; more difficult, indeed, because of the number of people involved, it may not have been small, but it was most certainly intelligent.
In the late spring of 1975, however, despite the best of intentions and no doubt the most intelligent of planning, the short seven-date European tour that Fripp and Eno embarked upon was anything but a success. Beyond an audience that should have known what it was getting - no, no 21st Century Schizoid Man from the Crimson catalog, nor Baby's On Fire from Eno's successful leader debut after leaving Roxy Music, Here Come The Warm Jets (Island, 1974) - a variety of technical problems plagued the performances, ranging from PA problems to the duo's stage gear. Okada relates that "in Saint-Étienne, the audience went so far as booing the duo off the stage!" No surprise perhaps, given that only those who'd heard No Pussyfooting or the opening of Crimson live performances had any idea what to expect, and beyond a complete musical surprise of a then-most avant nature, there was no conventional stage lighting and, instead, the two shadowy figures onstage were merely lit by the rear-projected short film, Berlin Horse, an image of which adorns the cover of this beautifully designed, slipcased three-CD set.
Previously available at DGM Live as a digital download, Live In Paris 28.05.1975 captures the duo on one of its good nights... a very, very good night. With Alex R. Mundy's meticulous restoration and combination of audience bootlegs with the studio-recorded backing loops that were uncovered a few years back, it's now easy to understand why audiences looking for Roxy Music, Brian Eno solo and King Crimson were so gobsmacked by what they heard. This strange combination of pre-recorded music - much of it created using the duo's now seemingly naive but then innovative connecting of two Revox tape recorders so that Fripp's performances could be recorded and looped back in real time, creating an increasingly dense collection of foundational melodic fragments, further enhanced by Eno's to this day still mysterious sonic magic - became an ever-shifting context over which Fripp soloed with the rare combination of meticulous care and reckless abandon that has since defined his approach to improvisation.
Fripp positively soars - with infinite sustain and occasional leaps into harmonic feedback - on tracks like A Radical Representative Of Pinsnip, while demonstrating greater restraint on the pastoral Wind On Water, only to turn gentler still on the strummed guitar loop of A Near Find In Rip Pop before turning more dramatic on A Darn Psi Inferno, where Eno's injection of a strange, Oriental-sounding voice at the start gradually fades as Fripp's harmonically angular, sustaining notes lead, somehow inevitably, to the pastoral closing performance of the title track from Evening Star.
Even those who'd heard No Pussyfooting were, no doubt, taken aback by the duo's two sets of continuous music, as Eno directed the proceedings by introducing the various backing reels and Fripp soloed with a rare combination of the ethereal and the more ruggedly rough-hewn. Walk on and off pieces are surprisingly long; the actual closer to the second set, An Iron Frappe, is nearly eleven-minutes long, and with the duo reentering near its end for a final exploration, the most episodic of the evening, Softly Gun Poison. Beginning with a low, sustaining note that slowly dissolves to the sound of talking and laughter before gradually morphing into a warm cushion of layered guitars, Fripp - at perhaps his most expansive yet constructed - takes the piece out, morphing into Evening Star's nightmare-inducing An Index Of Metals, which acts as both the walk-off for the duo and the walkout for the audience.
The complete ninety-four-minute concert is spread across two CDs, while a third contains the pre-recorded loops used for the performances, so that it's possible to do what audiences at the time could not - discern what was live and what was Memorex. In addition to forty-five minutes of loops this hard media edition includes, for those who already have the download from DGM Live, a ten-minute, reversed version of the Wind On Water loop, as well as Later On, a "Collage of Extracts from Fripp/Eno's No Pussyfooting" that was the b-side to Eno's 1974 single, Seven Deadly Finns.
Given the problem-plagued nature of the tour, it's no surprise that Fripp soon after began an even smaller, mobile intelligent unit of one; touring solo as "Frippertronics," where he combined live performances - building loops from the ground up, and then improvising over them - and informative Q&A sessions with the his audience. It was the beginning of what would, as technology advanced, lead to his soundscape recordings of the mid-1990s and an even more expansive world of possibilities.
But it all began with Fripp & Eno, No Pussyfooting, Evening Star and this one exceptional live performance from a short tour so plagued with problems that two additional dates in France, prior to the duo returning to England for two shows the following month, were cancelled. That today's technology would eliminate such problems before they even began is irrelevant; in 1975, this was cutting edge stuff, and if Fripp & Eno had to deal with audiences disappointed by the experimental nature of their work together, Live In Paris 28.05.1975 remains as evidence that when everything worked correctly, this duo was capable of music that was transcendent, transportive... and yes, even heavenly.
TRAVIS & FRIPP: DISCRETION
While Frippertronics sounds positively primitive (albeit in a still very appealing way) compared to what Fripp is now doing with racks of gear to create soundscapes recordings like Love Cannot Bear (DGM Live, 2005), what's been perhaps the most fruitful outcome of his ongoing "guitar as orchestra" exploration has been a now six-year relationship with woodwind and reed multi-instrumentalist Theo Travis. Beginning with Thread (Panegyric, 2008), the two have been slowly building a distinct personal language to their collective approach to composition, improvisation and interpretation as yet another "way of doing things."
Travis' early days may have been spent more decidedly in the jazz world - his 2011 anthology, All I Know (33 Jazz) as good a place to start as any to sample his recordings as a leader - in recent years he's become the go-to guy for progressive groups ranging from Gong and Soft Machine Legacy to The Tangent and, most recently, his participation in Porcupine Tree founder Steven Wilson's solo band, whose growing discography represents some of the best progressive rock in recent years, including studio recordings like The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) (Kscope, 2013) and live recordings including Get All You Deserve (Kscope, 2012).
But if Wilson provides his bandmates with plenty of breathing space to interpret his music, it's still very much predicated on generally complex form. Travis' ongoing duo with Fripp, while occasionally performing through-composed music - or music inspired by extant King Crimson material - is far more open-ended. What's been most impressive about Travis & Fripp has been the pair's ability to pull form form the ether, even if there is some structural road-mapping involved. No meandering music, this; instead, every Travis & Fripp album, from Thread through to Follow, has felt very much a considered form of spontaneous creation. Even when reinterpreting a song like Moonchild, first heard on King Crimson's world-shaking 1969 debut, In The Court Of The Crimson King (DGM Live), the duo neither stays strictly to form nor turns it into something more amorphous; instead, as the duo on Live At Coventry Cathedral (Panegyric, 2010), Moonchild became a more cinematically rich piece for flute, guitar and electronics that mined the melody at the song's core and demonstrated just how far Fripp has come as an instinctive improvising partner in the ensuing years... as, both in the context of this duo and beyond, has Travis.
The duo similarly reinvents Crimson material on Discretion - a two-disc package with a stereo mix on CD and high resolution stereo on DVD-A - using the melodic titular theme from the Mark VII edition's final studio recording, The Power To Believe (Sanctuary, 2003), as bookends to a suite of six pieces that constitute the main program, culled - as are the two additional bonus tracks - from gigs in Newlyn, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, all recorded in high resolution. The tracks are, however, resequenced so that rather than documenting the specific flow of any of these four shows, Discretion assumes, thanks to producer Travis, a narrative all its own. Beyond the two looks at The Power To Believe, much of the main forty-eight-minute suite is culled from Follow and Live At Coventry Cathedral, but two additional compositions make their debut here for the first time, including the more avant-tinged Refract and Ambitronic flute-introduced A Careful Distance, which seems deceptively in character as it evolves over the course of eight minutes, though with Fripp bringing in everything from orchestral patches to the sounds of bells pattering across the landscape, there's clearly more here than first meets the ear.
The duo revisits Follow's Rotary Symmetrical but, despite only being a touch longer than the original, its more angular phrasing takes considerably more time get to what is here, rather than the original's lengthier aggressive excursion, simply a crunching coda from Fripp - its closer tonal allegiance to Crimson staples like VROOM than this duo's more typical atmospherics continuing to assert that this is, indeed, a pair of players looking to stretch beyond the anticipated into more surprising - shocking, even - terrain.
The set concludes with two bonus pieces after the main suite. Forgotten Days is a solo guitar piece built around Fripp's rapidly tremeloing notes and chords, evoking a gentle image of being deep underwater until the guitarist begins layering a silkily sustaining line - perhaps one of the few "minimal overdubs" (as identified in the credits) added in post-production - to bring it back to the surface. But perhaps the most wonderful surprise of Discretion is the closing Rhapsody On The Theme From Starless, which takes one of King Crimson's most famous pieces - Starless from Red (DGM Live, 1974) - and turns it into a haunting exploration that demonstrates just how malleable a good idea can be. Travis and Fripp only utilize the opening theme to the song but, over the course of nine minutes that build from gossamer to more sonically dense, Travis shifts between soprano saxophone and alto flute, contributing as much as Fripp to the piece's orchestral landscape.
As dramatic a closer as Starless is to Red, Rhapsody On The Theme From Starless ends Discretion on a softer but nevertheless equally conclusive note by referencing a melody to which most Crimson fans will be able to relate. But more than simply recognising the value of music long past, Discretion - like the recent Crimson tour - doesn't see drawing on this music from four decades ago as any kind of retro pursuit; instead, it sees it as the timeless music it truly is, using it as a context for music-making of a most modern kind.
Travis & Fripp could never have happened without Fripp & Eno, but by releasing recordings from both duos on the same day, Panegyric has made clear that what was once forward-looking and revolutionary has now become influential and inspirational; and that what is now absolutely current exists with clear perspective on things past, intentions unequivocally in the present... and minds thinking ahead toward what's yet to come.
TRACKS AND PERSONNEL
FRIPP & ENO: LIVE IN PARIS 28.05.1975
CD1: Water On Water / A Radical Representative Of Pinsnip / Swastika Girls / Wind On Wind / Announcement / CD2: Wind On Water / A New Find In Rip Pop / A Fearful Proper Din / A Darn Psi Inferno / Evening Star / An Iron Frappe / Softly Gun Poison / An Index of Metals / CD3: Test Loop I / Test Loop II / Loop Only: A Radical Representative of Pinsnip / Loop Only: Wind On Water / Loop Only: A Darn Psi Inferno / Loop Only: Softly Gun Poison / Loop Only: Wind On Water Reversed (Bonus Track) / Later On (Bonus Track: single B-side).
Robert Fripp: guitar / Brian Eno: loops, devices.
TRAVIS & FRIPP: DISCRETION
The Power To Believe/Pastorale / Soaring And Gliding / Rotary Symmetrical / A Careful Distance / Refract / Duet For The End Of Time/The Power To Believe / Forgotten Days (Bonus Track) / Rhapsody On The Theme from Starless (Bonus Track)
Robert Fripp: guitar / Theo Travis: alto flute, soprano saxophone.