One autumn evening we were sitting on the roof of an old factory building, overlooking the river Spree while a thunderstorm was approaching in the distance. The girls from the motorbike repair were blasting music in the backyard below us, and coming up was a driving jazz beat with a mellotron melody and a crazy saxophone – what WAS this? Then the tempo slowed down and a crazy guitar solo took over which sounded like something from outer space, blistering, squeeling, but CONTROLLED. Amazing to hear where it was going… while distant lightning flashes illuminated our faces as if someone was taking mugshots for further investigation.
The thunderstorm never came, though, and months later I found out that the music was “Sailor’s Tale” by King Crimson.
Now we have “Sailors’ Tales”, a new box set in King Crimson’s ongoing series of their (more or less) collected works. This focuses on their transitional period from 1970-1971 and it includes the albums “In The Wake Of Poseidon”, “Lizard”, “Islands” and “Earthbound”. The first three – the studio albums – are presented in those fascinating 40th Anniversary Steven Wilson remixes, with lots of added outtakes, singles and instrumental mixes. The “bootleg” live album is expanded by a couple of additional tracks plus the complete, 90-minute Summit Studios performance which sounds magnificent. And then there are the live concerts, mostly from soundboard cassettes (the “Earthbound” album was compiled from some of these), and while they sometimes sound quite raw, they surely are very listenable and on further inspection provide fascinating insights. The early 1971 gigs show the band with a traditional approach: a rock band playing tracks from their albums. By late ’71 and in 1972 this begins to change: King Crimson has arrived in the present and presents the music like a jazz combo, with tracks from the current album(s) serving as starting points for exploration and improvisation. The Marquee gig is especially interesting as it features a mighty half-hour improv with some of the themes of forthcoming albums, and an early arrangement of “Formentera Lady” with sections that were discarded later for the studio recording.
This is all presented with the (by now) usual care and enthusiasm (and a keen eye for details): there’s a big book with liner notes by Sid Smith, anecdotes from people who attended the gigs, and lots of concert pictures. Also included are full size reproductions of the “Poseidon” and “Lizard” album covers, a poster, tour books, press materials and memorabilia. All very interesting and sure to keep one busy for a couple of weeks, but there’s something missing: no cover reproductions of “Island” and “Earthbound”, so the “Island” lyrics are nowhere to be found. And the players on these albums and the release dates are not listed anywhere in this big box (unless you find out by inspecting various mentions in the liner notes…). Still however, they found space for a whole page (!) dedicated to explaining how to operate a bluRay player. Nice. (And did the original cover of “Lizard” in 1970 really list an internet address for King Crimson…?)
These minor quibbles aside this is an impressive project and a perfectly-executed box, presenting the Crimso music of this era in a new light.