There appears to have recently been a growing interest in reinterpreting prog material in a jazz setting, re-imagining familiar pieces via a different methodology, as was seen last year with Gavin Harrison’s Cheating The Polygraph album of Porcupine Tree songs shimmering brightly within the luminous big band arrangements of Laurence Cottle. King Crimson have been the subject of a jazz makeover with Ian Wallace’s Crimson Jazz Trio, but that was ten years ago and now we get a new interpretation of the venerable old material in a jazz style.
Whereas Wallace’s trio focused more on rhythm with a drums/bass/piano line-up, the Delta Saxophone Quartet (as the name on the tin suggests) utilise the different voices of the sax family, with the addition of pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock to put a different spin on many things Krimson.
In 2014 with their thirtieth anniversary approaching, DSQ approached Simcock to collaborate on a celebratory project and the seeds of Crimson! were planted out of a mutual appreciation. DSQ had previously investigated the music of Soft Machine (on their Dedicated To You…But You Weren’t Listening album from 2007) and Simcock and DSQ shared common ground in the music of King Crimson, Simcock also having been a member of Bill Bruford’s Earthworks early in his career. I was lucky enough to see Earthworks play a tiny club with Simcock (and the aforementioned Laurence Cottle) in the ranks, and his performance certainly stood out.
For Crimson!, Simcock composed the opening A Kind of Red, in homage to both KC’s Red and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and arranged all of the pieces on the album. As the one original piece A Kind of Red is unfamiliar but lays out the intent of Crimson! to not merely reinterpret but enlarge on the legacy of a band that is often whispered of in hushed tones. It is exciting, thoughtful and highly listenable, Simcock’s melodic sensibilities fully demonstrated. The feel comes from Davis, the edginess is all Red.
With such a long history of playing together you’d expect the results to be exhilarating and spot on, and so they are, and in Graeme Blevins and Pete Whyman the quartet includes two experienced and impressive improvisers. Useful when tackling some of the trickier and more explosive Krimson backwaters. Simcock’s music brought fresh challenges to the ensemble, Chris Caldwell delighted to be “still learning after 30 years”. With the rhythmic intent of the piano parts the quartet are given space to work as a unit while the pieces still remain true to their source material, which Simcock selected from across King Crimson’s career, reflecting three very different line-ups in the group’s long history; the John Wetton period 1972-74, the ’80s quartet and ’90s THRAKera. Rather than simply scoring out KC’s music, Simcock aimed to create opportunities to transport it to different places, to ‘open it up’, and he has certainly been successful in doing so, the results being intricate and imaginative.
As is often the case, reinterpretations such as this can cut through the associated baggage of an artist or oeuvre to show off the quality of the music anew, and that is exactly the case here. As a dyed in the wool KC fan I know these pieces inside out but they emerge gleaming into the world to be freshly enjoyed. The playing of all concerned is exquisite and the detail keeps the pieces true to themselves whilst pushing the boundaries of the originals. There may be those who see this kind of release as sacrilege but that is to ignore the cultural significance that the music garners via cross-pollination with other genres.
All of the chosen pieces have something to recommend them. VROOOM/Coda: Marine 475 is as angular as the original but with, as you might expect, a smoother edge, sparse piano and the various sax voices having room to play. The Coda has an element of Michael Nyman’s early works about it with added bluesiness from Simcock, piano blues also colouring the intro to Dinosaur, the structure of the original emerging from the varied sax tones. The piano is allowed space to improvise before the horns return to kick up a hell of a storm. The second half is more thoughtful and the musicians are allowed to stray further from the text. The Night Watch gradually emerges from the ether, the sax arrangements in the second half being particularly impressive, and a vibrant The Great Deceiver gets an almost funky makeover. In all of these pieces you can both hear the originals and appreciate the new directions that they’ve been given and Two Hands is lyrical and yearning, a laid back take on one of the quieter moments of the ’80s KC.
If recordings of this nature underline a growing acknowledgement and acceptance for “The Music That (for far too long) Dare Not Speak Its Name” then it’s all good. The fact that it’s also a fascinating slant on what this music would sound like in an alternative universe and a damn good listen for both prog and jazz fans alike makes it a no brainer.
01. A Kind of Red (8:52)
02. VROOOM/Coda: Marine 475 (6:17)
03. The Night Watch (8:43)
04. Dinosaur (10:59)
05. Two Hands (4:37)
06. The Great Deceiver (4:48)
Total time – 44:16
Graeme Blevins – Soprano Sax
Pete Whyman – Alto Sax
Tim Holmes – Tenor Sax
Chris Caldwell – Baritone Sax
Gwilym Simcock – Piano
Record Label: Basho Records
Catalogue#: SRCD 50-2
Date Of Release: 26th Feb. 2016