CRAK-ing open the THRAK BOX

John Kelman writes regular reviews at my favorite jazz site,–and he appears to have probably forgotten more about King Crimson than most of us know about the legendary (and still very active) prog band. Here is the opening of his detailed and excellent review of King Crimson’s THRAK BOX: Live and Studio Recordings 1994-1997:

King Crimson: King Crimson: THRAK BOX - Live and Studio Recordings 1994-1997

After three years spent extensively focusing on its 1972-’74 lineup—documented 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 boxes—while 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 box—which 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 structure—whether it was blistering instrumentals or some of the most radio-friendly songs Crimson had released to date—and 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/flautistJakko M. Jakszyk, with input and approval from/by Fripp.


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