Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins – A Scarcity Of Miracles (2011)

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It was only a matter of time before Robert Fripp came out of hiding again.

Notoriously reclusive, the unusual guitarist seems to disappear just when things seem to get really interesting, such as a few years ago when a new incarnation of King Crimson began gelling on stage as the 1880s lineup of guitarist Adrian Belew, bassist/Stickist Tony Levin and 1990s/2000s drummer Pat Mastelotto being joined by Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison. As things go, that lineup came and went with only a very short tour and nothing more, and Fripp seemingly hinting that his days as a working guitarist may indeed be done. But then there’s this, this project with a King Crimson cover band, 21st Schizoid Band’s Jakko Jakszyk on guitar and vocals, and former King Crimson saxophonist Mel Collins. It’s not King Crimson, but as with the work he undertook in the late 1990s after Thrak, Fripp is hailing this an official “King Crimson ProjeKct.”

Hmm. That sets expectations high, an unusual thing from the man who likes to quote that “expectation is a prison.” King Crimson denotes a kind of intensity and studied complexity, something that is not present here. What JFC does sound like is something closer to the territory covered by Sylvian/Fripp, if not as harsh at times. It is the same poetic darkness that Sylvian brought to that particular endeavor which JFC seems to pick up on, if not the actual sound. Judging by the title track alone, you may wonder if maybe they studied the style of tracks like “Damage” and “The First Day” (from the Sylvian/Fripp Damage live album) for inspiration. It is brooding stuff, but often quite beautiful and dream-like.

It should come as no surprise to followers of Robert Fripp that he doesn’t take the front seat here. His MO, after all, tends to be as more of a supporting character rather than the lead. Here, he lays back much of the time to fill in with soundscapes, popping up occasionally with delicately aching solos, but always in just the right spot.

Jakszyk here plays the role of Adrian Belew, delivering lead guitar and vocals, the latter of which may take some getting used to for some listeners. There’s nothing bad about his voice, but there’s something ambiguous about it. He’s clearly of the Sylvian crooner school, but not as developed, and comes off a bit plain — which is a shame when the music is so good, if low-key. Jakszyk still makes his presence known on guitar as well, though he isn’t attempting the complex material Belew would in the same position: It’s not as wild or as inventive, nor does it need to be. The songs are more mainstream in nature, but that’s only with respect to the music these guys normally make. You won’t see this stuff storming the charts anytime soon, but it’s easier on the ears of those who aren’t so taken with the noisy detours bands of this pedigree often enjoy taking.

All that said, the spotlight is squarely on Mel Collins, whose trills and runs prove to be a delight every chance he is given to stand out — which is often. It makes his absence in King Crimson all this time feel sorely missed, and makes one wonder what could be if he were to rejoin the lineup — as Fripp’s crowning of this project as a “ProjeKct” hints could happen. Every moment of Collins’ playing is superb and sublime. Why he isn’t more of a legend is a shame.

Less noticeable, but equally thrilling, is the rhythm section of Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison, in a surprisingly subtle and nuanced performance. They prove the old less-is-more adage, another one of those elements found so often in King Crimson’s music, but not quite in the same way as it is here. It is more suggested in King Crimson than actually witnessed. Here, Levin and Harrison are a tight, supportive unit who fade to the back unless focused upon, when their contributions become as fascinating, if not as technical, as they had been in their other, more unrestrained projects.

Is it worthy of the “King Crimson ProjeKct” moniker Fripp hangs around its neck? That’s a heavy albatross, and an unfair one; the original ProjeKcts in the 1990s were raging, improv-based beasts. This is about as far from that as one could get, but Fripp senses King Crimson somewhere in here. If it’s anywhere, it’s in the staccato, intertwining “The Other Man,” where hints of Crimson begin to appear. If that’s so, and we’re seeing a new Crimson lineup appear, is this a new “kinder, gentler” King Crimson that may emerge? It’s impossible to tell at this point, but if A Scarcity Of Miracles is any indication, there may be something that won’t have most of the spouses of the fanbase running in terror at the thought of having to hear this music.

On a non-musical note, you have to give label DGM some extra points. They pack in some considerable bonuses into their “deluxe edition” here. Not exactly in packaging, which is a two-disc digipak inside of a slipcase, but the actual music itself. The audio CD itself is identical in either version, but the DVD included in the deluxe includes the album in high-resolution audio as well as surround sound (and that’s 24/96 MLP lossless 5.1 and stereo as well as 24/48 DTS 5.1 and LPCM stereo.) But not only that, they include almost the entire album in an alternate mix, in some cases significantly different than the “official” release, and two soundscapes from which parts of “This House” and “Secrets” were taken. It’s actually a shame these aren’t at least offered in a form that listeners who wish to hear them on a portable player can do so. If you are a fan of these musicians, this package is worth paying a bit more just to get these extra bits.

Buy directly from the band at DGM or Burning Shed.

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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