Friday, July 30, 2021

King Crimson 13: Frame By Frame

The years following the end of the ‘80s incarnation of King Crimson found Robert Fripp immersed in a music instruction-cum-philosophy retreat called Guitar Craft, the most notable result of which being the implementation of an alternate tuning he’d devised. (He would record and tour with some of the more proficient practitioners as The League of Crafty Guitarists.) But his old band would not be forgotten, and when the EG label began the process of reissuing the albums on compact disc, he was determined to be involved; hence, the ten studio albums were emblazoned with copy proclaiming each “THE DEFINITIVE EDITION”.
This is not the place to detail EG’s business difficulties, but before long the catalog had shifted to the Virgin label, and apparently the folks writing the checks felt the band deserved a box set. Using a programming method that would recur through the years and with advances in technology, Frame By Frame presented what Fripp and a subtitle deemed The Essential King Crimson, covering the three main periods of the band. The set is a good introduction for new comers, with packaging that garnered design awards and an exhaustively detailed booklet that updated the insert in A Young Person’s Guide To King Crimson, presenting a chronology of the band in all incarnations, including excerpts from reviews good and bad, plus the occasional rebuttal from Fripp.
The first disc covers the first four albums and three years, beginning with the entirety of In The Court Of The Crimson King, leaving out only the meandering portion of “Moonchild”, just as on Young Person’s Guide. As there, the single version of “Cat Food” is followed by the “Groon” B-side, while “Cadence And Cascade” now sports a lead vocal freshly recorded by Adrian Belew. Similarly, “Bolero” (the only track representing Lizard) has its bass part newly replaced by Tony Levin. Two tracks from Islands are supported by the coda from that album’s title track, as it had fallen off the previous year’s CD.
The second disc attempts to digest the three albums from the John Wetton/Bill Bruford era. Unfortunately, to accomplish this a few minutes were shaved from “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Part I)” and “Fracture”, while an abridgement of “Starless” fades the song just before the middle section in 13/4 and 13/8, and parks it before “Red”—a very jarring experience for those familiar with the album. The third disc samples the three ‘80s albums, mostly straight, but leaning heaviest on Discipline, its selections bookending the others. For an extra bonus, “The King Crimson Barber Shop”, created and performed a cappella by Tony Levin, closes the disc.
Boldly, the fourth disc is solely dedicated to live recordings through the years, split between the more popular lineups. Many of these recordings would be expanded upon and reissued via the King Crimson Collectors’ Club, which would begin towards the end of the century, but for now rarities like “Get Thy Bearings” and “Travel Weary Capricorn” showed off the power of the 1969 band. “The Talking Drum” and “21st Century Schizoid Man” were further samples from the show that begat part of Starless And Bible Black, while “Asbury Park” was the first time anything from USA appeared on CD. The ‘80s lineup gets the shortest shrift, and shortest tracks, and ends the set with something of a thud.
At the time, the set was extremely well received, given that it presented a smart mix of key tracks and rarities. As the catalog would continue to be tweaked as new technologies to improve sound appeared, and various anniversaries mined the evolution of each album, the set has since been surpassed by further excavations and presentations.

King Crimson Frame By Frame: The Essential King Crimson (1991)—

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