Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fred Frith and Skeleton Crew

I have just recently picked up the remastered 2CD set of Skeleton Crew’s two studio albums. Skeleton Crew were a multi-instrumental duo of Fred Frith and the late Tom Cora, augmented by Zeena Parkins for their second album. The music is typically Frith at the time, a bit of composition here, a bit of avant noise there in a rock/folk/jazz style, but all held together by great playing and arrangements. Everything including the kitchen sink were used by these guys, making for very complex arrangements. But the skills of all concerned were such that it all sounds so effortless.

This is a really nice package. Both CD’s, like all of Frith’s recently re-released back catalogue, housed in a digi-pack with new artwork. Shame there are no detailed notes or lyrics, which were included in the previous RecDec release. However, that is more than made up with the sound. The remastering on this is very, very good. A really nice full sound, detailing all the instruments employed. The extra tracks are worth the money as well.

I also recommend the 2CD album of his other major live outfit, Keep the Dog. Excellent live sound and the performances are wild and fun!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Art of King Crimson

I have just posted a review of “Pictures Of A City” by 21st Schizoid Band on This has been a very surprising and hugely enjoyable listen. What a band. I am hence looking forward to Jakko’s solo album, “The Bruised Romantic Glee Club” which should be out end of August. A 2 CD affair, with the second CD covers of tracks by the likes of Crimson and Henry Cow. He has produced a version of “Islands” which has the legendary Dave Stewart (Hatfield and the North, National Health) playing on it.

Thinking about early Crimson brings me to a recurring idea I have had. Why hasn’t anyone produced a book around Crimson’s album cover artwork? Their albums have always featured stunning artwork, some by well renowned artists. The stories of these sleeves, how they came about and the artists involved would be something worth telling. We are talking about the likes of Barry Godber, Tom Phillips, Fergus Hall, P J Crook, Gini Barris. My personal favourite Crimson covers have been “Larks Tongues In Aspic” and “Lizard”.

Coincidently in a recent entry on Sid Smiths blog (, he mentions that Fergus Hall is now at the same Tibetan monastery in Scotland in which Jamie Muir fled to after leaving Crimson. What is it about that band?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sensitive To Light ~ Almost Human

Sensitive To Light is the latest project from French musician and composer Vynce Leff whose other band was Saens. I said was as it looks like Saens are, for the present anyway, inactive. Though on the evidence of this album, the sound lives on in Sensitive To Light. What I enjoyed about Saens two albums for Cyclops; “Escaping from the Hands of God” and “Prophet in a Statistical World” was their complex musical themes and arrangements all developed within a very symphonic, prog setting. The same approach has been adopted for this latest band project. This time though the lead vocal duties are handled by excellent Scottish female vocalist Jenny Lewis which adds a completely new dimension to Leff’s compositions in comparison to what he did in Saens, though the same complex arrangements are present. That can make for a difficult few listens as it did with the Saens albums, but the effort is very worthwhile.

Predominant is Leff’s excellent guitar playing which is reminiscent of Mike Oldfield in places. Comparions to similar female fronted, symphonic prog acts like Glass Hammer and Magenta could easily be made, but I think Leff’s knack for weaving complex, yet melodically rich musical patterns is very much his own. As with Saens there is a feeling of pushing everything; the concept, compositions, arrangements, playing to their absolute limits without anything overreaching itself. This is really bold, audacious prog. Very well done Cyclops for bringing us this.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Henry Cow ~ Concerts (remastered)

ReR are planning to re-issue Henry Cow’sConcerts” album in September. This has been remastered by Bob Drake and is effectively the first domestic (UK) release for this on CD. The only other version I am aware of was on the US East Side Digital label a number of years back.

Concerts” was the first Henry Cow album I had heard and is possibly the best showcase for what the band were about. Combining structured and improvisional material, this was uncompromising stuff. Originally a double album, the first side was a BBC session and is some of the best studio performances the bad ever did. A superb medley of material from their earlier albums plus an excellent cover of Bill McCormick’sGloria Gloom”.

For me the highlight of the album will always be the live version of “Ruins”. This knocks spots off the studio version and the guitar solo by Fred Frith is absolutely incredible. This is not what is expected from a rock guitar solo, no flashy technique or super fast playing. Instead Frith delivers a solo which is brilliantly intuitive, controlled and thoroughly original, inventive and thrilling. Never been bettered.

There are also some very good live tracks with Robert Wyatt including “Bad Alchemy” (originally from “Desperate Straights” another great recent Bob Drake remaster) and “Little Red Riding Hood Hits the Road from Wyatt’s classic “Rock Bottom”.

The other pieces on the album are very good improvisational pieces, though the side long piece “Oslo” does require “patience” or is that tests ones “patience”!

Check out Bob Drake’s diary entry for 4th April ( for the low down on how 30 seconds of the only master tape in existence got skrunched! Ouch!!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Best Of Year ~ So Far!

Half way through the year. So here are my pick of the best of the new and re-releases/compilations of the year so far.

New Albums
The Tangent ~ A Place In The Queue
Pure Reason Revolution ~ The Dark Third
Magenta ~ Home
Secret Machines ~ Ten Silver Drops
Tool ~ 10,000 Days
Proto-Kaw ~ The Wait Of Glory
Jadis ~ Photoplay
Paatos ~ Silence Of Another Kind
The Flower Kings ~
Paradox Hotel

Brian Eno and David Byrne ~ My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
No-Man ~ All The Blue Changes
Refugee ~ Refugee
Gentle Giant ~ Acquiring The Taste
Robert Fripp ~ Exposure
21st Century Schizoid Band ~ Pictures Of A City

On reflection, it has been a very quiet year so far on the prog front with not that many outstanding new releases. The best from the established artists are by The Tangent and Magenta which are major achievements. But it is good to see young bands like Pure Reason Revolution and Secret Machines producing adventurous and fresh sounding albums.

On the re-release front, labels are still heavily into remastering and re-packaging their back catalogues. The best as been the just released “Exposure” by Robert Fripp. This is an outstanding re-release. Not only an excellent musical statement in its own right, but a pertinent document of the place and times in which it was recorded. Superbly remastered by Simon Heyworth and 2 CD’s chock full of material form the era. The booklet is as usual from Fripp, stuffed full of detailed notes and photos. Thoroughly recommended indeed. Lets hope he does the same for the other albums from that period before he reactivated Crimson in the 80’s.
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