Famous politicians and statesmen are memorialized with marble statues and towering monuments; actors and entertainers are awarded gold statuettes and a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame - immortality for the chosen few; but for the journeymen musicians who seemingly work in anonymity throughout their career, the accolades are often reserved for their eulogy and unfortunately forgotten shortly thereafter.
KING CRIMSON SONGBOOK VOLUME 2 is the final recordings by x-Crimson drummer Ian Wallace who passed away February 22, 2007, and not only serves as an eloquent eulogy by his friends, family and peers but the disc is a labor of love and fitting tribute to the memory of this talented journeyman musician. He may not have the notoriety of fellow Crimson alumni Bill Buford, but Ian Wallace was without question an extraordinary talent, as his work with the likes of Jackson Brown, Don Henley and Bonnie Raitt – as well as the music on this disc - can attest. The name that immediately comes to mind when listening to his skin-work on this disc is jazz great Buddy Rich.
This album is the second in a series of jazz interpretations of King Crimson classics from CJ3 – Crimson Jazz Trio, featuring Jody Nardone (piano and vocals), Tim Landers (bass) and Ian Wallace (drums) Fellow Crimson alumni Mel Collins (sax) appears as a Special Guest.
At first I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this concept … a jazz piano trio performing King Crimson?! Nardone joking referred to the project as SWING CRIMSON, and my initial reaction was to dismiss the notion as a novelty – like spending a Saturday night in the piano bar of a Holiday Inn. But the project had Fripp’s backing, so if the Crimson King himself approved of the re-imagined Crimson classics who was I to marginalize the recordings.
The CD opens with THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING and my preconceived notions seem to have been correct – swing jazz and morose progressive Mellotron epics do not mix. This unnatural combination of genres felt like a badly miscast remake of a classic motion picture. Memories of the ridiculous Pat Boone heavy metal album IN A METAL MOOD: NO MORE MISTER NICE GUY flooded my head.
But once THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING came to a conclusion every tune there-after worked; and in some cases the experimental interpretations surpassed the original in energy and execution.
A solid case can be made that THE ISLANDS SUITE featuring the tracks PRESS GANG, ZERO DARK THIRTY, FORMENTERA LADY, SALIOR’S TALE, and THE PLANK might actually be as good - or better - than the original Crimson recordings.
CJ3 seem to really gel on the tunes from the Fripp/Belew era Crimson, like ONE TIME, FRAME BY FRAME, HEARTBEAT, and INNER GARDEN featuring a strong vocal performance from Jody Nardone. Everything flowed smooth and natural, as though the tunes were being heard for the first time, unlike the opening track which had a schizophrenic unbalanced feel.
My personal favorite Crimson incarnation was the Larks Tongue/Starless era with Robert Fripp, John Wetton, Bill Bruford, and David Cross, and the powerhouse closing track LAMENT represents that era - the arrangement is pure genius … opening as a moody piano interlude before exploding into a rousing percussive onslaught.
This is not be a perfect album, and Crimson purist may retch at the blasphemous notion of a jazz piano trio performing some of the most intense guitar driven prog/rock ever conceived – but for the adventurous open-minded music lover this is well worth the time.
Rating: 7 out of 10 Recommended for jazz aficionados.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on August 12th, 2009