King Crimson Plays “In The Court Of The Crimson King”

King Crimson In The Court of the Crimson KingListen to this track by primo-prog pioneers and art rock template setters King Crimson. It’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, the title track from their 1969 debut record In The Court of the Crimson King. That record set the standard of approach to expansive musical ambition when it came to making rock records, later to be recognized as one of the primary albums that “built prog rock”.

Indeed, this band established the idea of creating artistic statements in the rock vein while avoiding established American R&B influences, and turning to classical and other European ingredients instead. Rather than coming from the gospel churches of the American south, this music is more aligned with the liturgical grandness of the Church of England. This record is where it all began where prog rock is concerned.

This was the first incarnation of the band; Robert Fripp on guitar, Greg Lake singing and playing bass, Michael Giles on drums and percussion, and Ian McDonald on multiple instruments, including the mellotron. It’s this last texture which is so important on this song, giving it an eerily orchestral, and portentous atmosphere.

I think it serves not only as an aural element that would go on to define a genre. But, it also serves the narrative as written by lyricist Pete Sinfield, which is one that matches the mythical with the political.

In the light of that, who is the Crimson King anyway?

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Andy Summers and Robert Fripp Play ‘I Advance Masked’

Here’s a clip of cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow guitarists Andy Summers (the Police) and Robert Fripp (King Crimson) with the title track off of their 1982 collaboration, the instrumental I Advance Masked. This would be the first of two albums the two musicians would make together, following up in 1984 with Bewitched.  And, just as an aside, it’s Andy Summers’ birthday today!

It may seem to many that these two players were hoeing different rows of the pop music pumpkin patch. By 1981-82 when this track was recorded at Fripp’s Dorset England home studio,  Summers was a part of the biggest band in the world with several hit singles behind him and many in front.  Fripp was a part of rock’s intelligentsia, having founded progressive rock’s first tier band King Crimson while also serving as something of a technical wunderkind to other artists like David Bowie, Brian Eno, and Peter Gabriel.

Yet, the two men shared something of a passion for exploration in the field of instrumental music, and the nature of avante-garde  improvisation.  Yet, they were not interested in what had gone before as far as guitar albums went.  They wanted to present the guitar as a textural instrument, an instrument that can allow for an atmosphere,  rather than just to lay down a bunch of flashy rock  solos.  As a result, the record wasn’t what a lot of rock fans expected, of course.  Yet, it sets out what it’s designed to do, which is to set up each piece as something of a mood, and the suggestion of a landscape or locale, with ambient sounds being as important to the whole as the melody lines are.

After recording I Advance Masked, and its follow-up, Summers and Fripp would stick to their instrumental paths, even if their respective bands would be sidetracked.  Both the Police  and King Crimson would dissolve by the mid-80s, in Fripp’s case because he was the primary mover of his band, with the King Crimson name being more about his own vision for an approach to music, rather than a stable group.  Outside of the Police, Summers would make a career out of instrumental albums, bringing in rock, jazz, and ambient sounds, which he plays with here.  And Fripp would continue collaborations with other artists such as David Sylvian, Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree, The Orb,  and with musicians in temporary groups like the League of Gentlemen and  the League of Crafty Guitarists.

When I bought the album, I was surprised by how few reference points I had for it.   I wasn’t sure about it.  But, then a lot of the subtleties began to come through for me.  There are a lot of jarring moments on this album.  They were experimenting, after all. But, there are also moments of absolute, crystalline beauty which makes me wish they’d made a few more albums together.

For more information about Andy Summers, check out Andysummers.com.

And for information about Robert Fripp, check out this interview with him that among other things discusses his meticulous (to say the least!) approach to collaboration.

Enjoy!