John Wetton and Richard Palmer-James – Jack-Knife/Monkey Business (2014)

Friends since childhood, John Wetton and Richard Palmer-Jones most famously collaborated on a trio of King Crimson’s best-loved early 1970s recordings beginning with Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. Leftover items from that era make this collection, which includes a total of 24 rarely heard songs over two reissue discs via Cherry Red/Primary Purpose, of enduring interested for Crimson completists.

Monkey Business, populated with demos and live recordings, hasn’t been reissued in nearly a decade. Jack-Knife, the results of late-1970s sessions by Wetton and Palmer-James, hasn’t been reissued in nearly 20 years. The bulk of the Crimson-focused material can be found, however, on Monkey Business — highlighted by a number of appearances by the now-retired Bill Bruford, who’d just left Yes for King Crimson in 1972.

“Easy Money,” for instance, is presented as a far-too-brief, but already-intriguing duo sketch recorded at the drummer’s home in advance of its official appearance on 1973’s Larks. Bruford also sits on the satisfyingly spooky “Good Ship Enterprise,” culled from a session apparently meant to provide content for a never-completed follow up to 1974’s Red. (King Crimson instead abruptly split up, remaining dormant until Robert Fripp reconfigured the lineup ahead of 1981’s Discipline.) “Magazines,” here presented in a lo-fi recording by Wetton and Palmer-James alone, was similarly earmarked but ultimately didn’t appear until 1998 — as a bonus track on Wetton’s solo album Arkangel. The touching “Woman,” a writing demo featuring only Wetton, appears to be a rough draft of “Fallen Angel,” from Red. Elsewhere, there’s even studio chatter featuring Fripp.

“Confessions,” written by Palmer-James and performed with Bruford in 1976, may be the best of the early drafts. It’s a coiled moment of danger, perfectly conveyed by two figures at the peak of their considerable powers. Also included is a studio update, from 1979’s Jack-Knife project, though it is a touch too overcooked. Thankfully, however, that doesn’t prove true with all of the other newer versions included on this newly remastered set.

For instance, we hear both a demo of the Larks track “Book of Saturday,” recorded again at Bruford’s home, as well as a live take from a 1994 set in Japan — giving new insight into the way the song was re-shaped over time. “The Night Watch,” co-written with Fripp for 1974’s Starless and Bible Black, is presented via a darkly touching in-concert Wetton performance at Rio in 1991.

Of course, invariably, the definitive versions have already been heard. Take “Starless 1” and “Starless 2,” both credited to Fripp and Wetton. They arrive first in sketch form — Wetton performs the first at the piano in his parents’ home — and then during studio sessions more than two decades later with Palmer-James in Germany. Wetton’s vocal approach is as committed as ever, but this version lacks the fuller complexities of the band’s already-released take. Still, we also get “Doctor Diamond,” a track credited to each of the early-1970s members of King Crimson but unreleased in its time. It’s reimagined in an electronics-heavy take from 1997-98, opening the door for a fun parlor-game discussion on where this track might have fit within the catalog.

In that way, Jack-Knife/Monkey Business works as a fascinating curio. As with the deluxe-box monstrosities that are all the rage these days, this is in no way essential. Still, it remains a notable companion piece for anyone who simply can’t get enough of the Larks/Starless and Bible Black/Red-era of King Crimson.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso