Monday, November 5, 2012

King Crimson 12: Epitaph and The Nightwatch

Robert Fripp is easily King Crimson’s biggest fan. Long insistent that they’re not “his” band, he has consistently championed the contributions of every player who traveled under that name, and, in the wake of years of mismanagement and exploitation by the record industry, he has spent much of his spare time preserving, archiving and sharing every document of the band (and his own history) that he can find.
Fripp was the first major artist to set up a Web-based distribution system for his product, a move that has been both welcomed and criticized by rabid fans (a term, he will happily remind you, is short for “fanatic”, and he’s nothing if not precise). Several compilations and box sets had already appeared, which we may get to soon enough, but the first major release in the era of the Bootleg Series and Dick’s Picks was Epitaph, which served to document the live adventures of the unit that recorded the first King Crimson album.
Most Crimheads give high praise to In The Court Of The Crimson King; however, that band splintered at the conclusion of their first American tour, and the follow-up suffered as a result. Epitaph documents their concerts, from their earliest BBC radio recordings to performances at Fillmores East and West. The performances are presented as is yet show the band at its best, between faithful reproductions of songs from the album and extended improvisations, two of which would be recorded for In The Wake Of Poseidon. Other experiments would inspire KC songs even further down the line, though we note that parts of “Mantra”, otherwise unfinished, are reminiscent of one of the pieces from Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert. Throughout, they sound less prog than jazz.
A two-disc version of Epitaph was sold in stores, while the most rabid fans could send away for two further discs for the set, both taken from bootlegs and described by the compilers as “wretched”, thus explaining the existence of the two-disc version. Since the set’s release further recordings have come to light, and have been made available as CDs and/or downloads from the official site.

Another important archival piece arrived in the form of The Nightwatch. This two-disc set presents the bulk of the Amsterdam concert that provided the bulk of the Starless And Bible Black album. While this period had already been mined somewhat for the four-CD box set The Great Deceiver a few years earlier, the copious liner notes explain the conditions under which this particular show came to be, and how miserable the band members were at this point of the tour. The result is a portrait of a band pulling excellence out of despair.
These albums are mostly designed to those seeking a wider picture than those offered by the band’s studio discography, and are not designed to act as replacements. Along with the moments of musical superiority, each are heavily annotated by the participants, and exhaustively by Mr. Fripp, who uses the forum to put forth various of his learned aphorisms, including “The history of the music industry is a history of exploitation and theft” and “Tuning a Mellotron doesn’t.”

King Crimson Epitaph (1997)—3
King Crimson The Nightwatch (1997)—

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