Like the live-action adventures of all their other eras, King Crimson has well documented the byte / septet incarnation which, at age eight, ranks as the oldest formation in the bunch. Music is our friend is Crimson’s eighth live album since the band hit the road in 2013, and frankly, it’s such a daring and ambitious portrayal of the band that we really can’t get too many.
Key, of course, is the frontline of three drummers exploring advanced percussive orchestrations that bring new aspects of power and nuance to the material. This is presented in abundance on Music is our friend, a 19-track set featuring the entire closing date of this year’s Washington, DC tour (apparently the last in North America for this troupe) as well as four more songs from a previous stop in Albany. Crimson, as you’d expect, sounds great in both contexts, with musicians locked in with each other and repertoire, and playing like, well, we might never see them again.
Strong points? How much time do you have? Suffice it to say, the entirety of this two-hour, 16-minute set is simply fabulous, hitting and sometimes even exceeding the high bar Robert Fripp has always set for his assorted versions of the band. It’s a daring and dizzying display of musical daring and dexterity, an auditory circus that, along the way, creates newly definitive interpretations of the most familiar songs. The only problem would be that, as an audio ensemble, we don’t see the complex interplay between Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, and Jeremy Stacey (who doubles on keyboards) as they create a multi-drum attack – including the opening “The Hell Hounds of Krim”, created especially for this outfit – which would even make the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band jealous.
Crimson enthusiasts will certainly revel in the restored center section of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part One”, which has been on the fringes since 1973, the far-reaching arrangements of “Indiscipline” and “Starless” and the warm, swinging flavor. of Tony Levin’s double bass. with the jazzy “Neurotica”. Second guitarist Jakko Jakszyk confidently delivers the vocal parts of “Pictures of a City”, “Epitaph”, a pulverizing “One More Red Nightmare” and a particularly epic rendition of “The Court of the Crimson King”, while the veteran by Crimson Mel Collins, mainly on saxophone and occasionally on flute, is a formidable presence throughout the set.
Fripp notes a visit log entry included in Music is our friendlibretto, which the closing show “21st Century Schizoid Man” is also the same song Crimson played on their very first show in the United States in 1969. If that does indeed close the chapter of this version of King Crimson – and maybe from King Crimson, period – it ends on an appropriate high note. Like the best friendships, this one must be cherished for a very long time.
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