Thursday, August 4, 2011

"A Scarcity of Miracles," Waterfalls, and Sirens

During the recent negotiations of a house sale, a potential buyer wanted whack off a couple thousand to install a water fountain in the back yard that would “drown out” the noise from the road.  As I stood in 104 degree temperatures and watered the yard with a scalding hot garden hose, I pondered this proposal, along with the fact that it is, quite frankly, impossible to keep a lawn green in Texas right now. 

Its a well-traveled corner that the house sits on, but it is hardly a major thoroughfare.  There were cars driving by, but to my ears, it mostly seemed like delicate whooshing, and certainly nothing that would keep me up at night.  I was about to dismiss his proposal as utter nonsense when an EMS truck defiantly revved up its siren full-blast directly outside, rattling my naked eardrums.  No way any two thousand dollar waterfall could combat that.

In Mozart’s day, Vienna was quiet enough that fire signals could be given by the shouts of a scout mounted atop St. Stefan’s Cathedral.  Now, our moments of “silence” are actually times when we "just" hear the air conditioner, or the cars whizzing by outside, or the stomping around of our upstairs neighbor’s children.  You can hardly stand in front of a burning house and yell “fire” in a way that anyone will pay attention to.  It's no wonder that music has generally become noisier.

Deception of the Thrush: A Beginners Guide to ProjeKctsNow King Crimson, there’s a noisy band, or at least a band with a long history of an incredible potential for noise.  For a brief period in the 90s, its ever-shifting lineup evolved into a six-member paint-peeling beast that whose group improvisations threatened to crumble under their own weight.  In response, band master and philosophically aloof guitarist Robert Fripp encouraged the various members of the groups to create ProjeKCts, smaller satellite ensembles whose purpose it was to “research and develop” the potentials hidden within the larger group.  There is a good compilation of the work of these groups called Deception of the Thrush. Put it on at your next Thanksgiving dinner and see what happens.

Scarcity of Miracles-a King Crimson ProjekctMany of these ProjeKCts were pretty noisy and improvisational in nature, but King Crimson, as a larger unit, was not just about incendiary group improvisations.  Fripp also regularly explored atmospheres and ambience as readily as dissonance and angularity.  A recent collaboration with Fripp and several King Crimson alumni has received the “ProjeKCt” label, A Scarcity of Miracles, by Jakszyk, Fripp, and Collins, and it represents a much different aspect of King Crimson's multiple personalities.

This group, ostensibly “ProjeKCt 7,” is composed almost entirely of players that have played with King Crimson from different eras of the band’s career, not the least of which is the “dream team” of drummer Gavin Harrison and bass guy Tony Levin.  I am also happy to see the role of 70s King Crimson saxophonist Mel Collins acknowledged, and, as always, Fripp's guitar tone is nothing short of inspirational.

Guitarist and vocalist Jakko Jakszyk stands out a little in this line up due to the simple fact that he has never actually played in King Crimson proper.  Still, he has a stocking at the King Crimson family Christmas, although by way of the back door.  Jakszyk played guitar and sang in the 21st Century Schizoid Band, a group made of up King Crimson alumni who, with Fripp’s blessing, covered selections from the band's 60s and 70s back catalog: songs that have been effectively retired.  His inclusion into this ProjeKCt allows that recent reincarnation of the band’s past to be folded into the complex King Crimson lineage.

Its classification as a “ProjeKCt” allows A Scarcity of Miracles to somewhat sidestep the issue of being considered a “true” King Crimson album.  Although they are generally remembered for their angular proto-metal and polyrhythmic excursions, King Crimson has always counterbalanced their aggressive side with dreamy, soothing ballads, even as far back as their first album.

A Scarcity of Miracles is an outlet for Fripp's melodic and atmospheric side.  It’s more like a flowing waterfall than an explosive siren, but it still harbors a satisfying depth.    

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