King Crimson - "The Talking Drums" (Recorded Live at Zoom Club, Frankfurt Germany 10/13/72, Double Bootleg CD, Unknown Origin, Purchased in Philadelphia July 2001)

From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)

Yes, this is the real stuff for me, my favorite version of KC in full-flight, first show of the first tour of the mid-seventies era of Fripp's music, and one of the most important Progressive Rock bootlegs offered to the interested music fan or student of the genre. THIS IS A BOOTLEG, so the sound quality is slightly noisy, but gets better as the show progresses. It sounds like it was mastered from cassette, but the source seems to have come from the soundboard Reel to Reel tape. And it was fuckin' expensive at $25.00 per disc, yet cheaper in Philadelphia than NYC.

A little background: after the spring 1972 US tour, Fripp faced the departure of the "Islands" band (Ian Wallace: Drums, Boz Burrell: BassGuitar/Vocals, Mel Collins: Saxophones/Flute). Deeply influenced by the groundbreaking sounds being produced by his former mate John McLaughlin's "Mahavishnu Orchestra", he spent the summer of 1972 recruiting a devastating grouping of ex-Yes Drummer Bill Bruford, Free Jazz Percussionist Jaime Muir, ex-Family Bassist John Wetton, and ex-Fat Grapple Violinist David Cross. I still have the MELODY MAKER (7/18/72) which has the new KC on the front cover, and a long interview with both Fripp and one in which Bruford declares his "boredom with the "pop music" of Yes, and expresses his desire to play more complex (?) material. After a summer of rehearsal, the new lineup hit the road for a series of concerts in Germany in October 1972. This was the first show of the tour, and a sheer display of innovation in Rock Music that this particular grouping represented.

The set opens with Jaime Muir's percussive styling on Bells introducing "Lark's Tongues In Aspic Part 1", which unfolds its unlikely combination of 70s Miles Funk, Olivier Messiaen and Indonesian Gamelan at breakneck speed and with great precision. The tune works through a number of motifs, featuring the chattering interplay of these two stellar percussionists. After Fripp's introduction to the audience, a very free Jam occurs, with a huge BassGuitar sound from Wetton, an extremely intense solo from Fripp and fire from Cross' violin. The exchanges between Bruford and Muir are quite amazing as they work the jam by providing a multi-hued rhythmic barrage.

After the fire, the jam segues into an early version of "Book of Saturdays", which is sung beautifully by Wetton, and gives Fripp a chance to play a heart-breaking solo. This version of the tune sports un-revised lyrics by David Palmer-James, but progresses right into yet another improvisation. Throughout the ensemble plays with great sensitivity, and maintains a very high degree of interaction.

As well, we get pure unadulterated (i.e. NO TALKING HEADS imitations, which ultimately destroyed 1980s Crimson) soloing from Fripp. Although he has often embarrassed himself with foolish statements (like the pan of Hendrix that appears in the 1974 Trouser Press interview) or silly pronouncements (the "Drive to 1984" press releases distributed during the '79 Frippertronics tour convict him as a pretentious asshole), the solos here confirm his importance as one of Progressive Rock's most accomplished musicians. Fripp's tone is diamond hard, and he attacks the tunes with relish and a great deal of innovative technique. And he is no slouch on Mellotron, and employs the EMS synthi AKS Synthesizer as an effective signal processor.

David Cross' work in the band stands out on this recording! His Violin solos display a wide ranging knowledge of string techniques drawn from folk music, with a large daub of a Free Jazz sensibility, and he seems to warm immediately to the Mellotron, producing rich sonorities from that most difficult of keyboards. By default, Cross was assigned both Electric Piano and Flute; fortunately he does not attempt to solo on either instrument, using them for textures and colors within the ensemble sound.

The major sonic coup of this band is the mixing of the drum styles of Muir and Bruford. Muir, an alumnus of the MUSIC IMPROVISATION COMPANY (which featured Guitar innovator Derek Bailey, Saxophone giant Evan Parker, and pioneering Electronic Music performer Hugh Davies) and Afro-Rock band ASSAGGI brings a sense of spontaneity and unpredictability into the music. Videos from the period show him performing on a wide array of homemade/junk percussion, and reveal a unique approach to playing Rock rhythms.

Bruford brings to the music a "Progressive Drumming" technique honed as a member of YES (who are innovators in their own right!) and seems liberated as a percussionist by not having to sublimate his playing to backing Jon Anderson's elaborate vocal constructions. It sounds as if Muir's percussive ideas had begun to rub off as well, and he attacks them with the glee of a child discovering a new toy!

John Wetton's BassGuitar work is the glue that holds the music together. He has a huge tone, and is extremely adept at playing off the shifting poly-rhythms and odd meters of the dual drummers. As a vocalist, his husky tenor has a limited range, but the emphasis here is on the musical statements the band makes rather than on "tunes" (it should be noted that whilst in Family, Wetton got no lead vocals, which should be expected when in the presence of a commanding vocalist the quality of Roger Chapman).

This version of Crimson lasted from 7/72 to 2/73, and many of the shows done were recorded by and distributed over the years within the Bootleg Cassette community and via the occasional vinyl Boot LPs. In more recent times these have appeared on Bootleg CDs, and Fripp has foolishly tried to head off the bootleggers by releasing the 10/17/72 Beat Club TV show on his Discipline Global recording label. (of course, Fripp has always been hostile to ANYONE making unauthorized recordings of his live work, but it hasn't stopped any of us from documenting the music, and sharing it with other students of the sounds!

Yet KC Bootlegs continue to show up in increasing numbers (nearly 150 are available) because music fans are hungry for the "live" sounds of the bands which pioneered the music; or to paraphrase ex-Patti Smith Guitarist Lenny Kaye: "Bootlegs take away the record Company's conception of the artist, as well as the artist's conception of the artist, leaving only the listener's conception of the artist in real time!"

Reviewed by Doug Walker

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