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David Cross - Exiles CD (album) cover


David Cross


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.64 | 48 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Review 57, Exiles, David Cross, 1997


This album, though my only experience of David Cross post the legendary 1973-4 King Crimson, suggests a musician who has moved, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, with the times, while retaining his basic interests. Though neither as eclectic or balanced as the superb Larks' Tongues In Aspic and Starless And Bible Black albums which this violinist is mainly known for, Exiles shows many merits, and has, sometimes effectively, and sometimes less effectively, challenged my own preconceptions and ideas. Improvisation meets carefully arranged pieces with good effect, and the overall quality is fairly strong. It's a shame that a weak ending brings down the album slightly.

The basic band is technically competent, though Cross's violin and Pete McPhail's soprano sax are really the only inherently interesting parts of it, with the background violin we see in Starless And Bible Black as the most prominent style. The other playing is usually good, occasionally very good, but sometimes a little too conventional for my taste. Of prime importance to many who might be tempted by the album is the luxurious guest list, featuring one lyric by Peter Sinfield as well as adequate David Cross/band ones, and, probably of more interest, guitar from Robert Fripp, and vocals by Peter Hammill and John Wetton. Naturally, these three guests do fill their places at least capably, and John Wetton especially is a standout vocalist.

The take on Exiles will no doubt be controversial for many classic prog fans. As it is one of my favourite tracks off my favourite album, I am one of those fans. Initially, I was utterly bamboozled by the dancey synth on the opener and saddened by the absence of Bill Bruford, though the very neat incorporations of piano, slippery acoustics and more rock-based content did impress me from the start. The twists are evident, and it's clearly putting a very different stamp on a classic piece and producing a real cover rather than simply a re-performance. David Cross's connection with the piece is evident from his own alterations on the violin as well as the general calibre of the cover, and the slightly clearer Wetton vocal delivery does a world of good for Richard Palmer-James' excellent lyrical content. Not a case of being better or worse than the original, but a case of being different, challenging and interesting in its own right, and of being strong enough to let me overcome my prejudice against the trancy introduction/conclusion of the rendition.

Tonk features Peter Hammill's vocal, growling, ferocious and threatening with a couple of clever eclectic touches. Behind the rather generic metallic riff, David Cross and Robert Fripp strike ferociously with screechy violin and chaotic Fripp guitar parts. Not instant love, for me, but once I began to look at the leads more closely, it became much more satisfying and enjoyable.

The instrumental Slippy Slide, aside from featuring an odd treble-riff thing with violin and two guitars, I think, is mostly of interest for Pete McPhail's fluid soprano sax soloing, with a convincing verve, even in the fairly heavy context of the piece. The percussion part is cleverly handled, and has a fairly nice elephantine sound to it. Overall, a very energetic and high quality piece of work.

Cakes, a, no doubt improvised, piece featuring only Cross's violin and Fripp's lush soundscapes (on guitar, supposedly). Interesting as the contrast between the very chaotic, splintering violin and the reverent, haunting keys is, I really have an issue getting any imagery or concept from the long, developing piece until about the fifth or sixth minute. A highly avant-garde piece of work, with some very odd violin choices, but still not fully satisfying for me.

This Is Your Life features Sinfieldian lyrics, which are justified if only for the line 'Rainbows Are Made Out Of Tears' and a vaguely worldy sound to the percussion. Besides a sublime Wetton vocal performance, which carries the cryptic lyrics nicely, it features excellent background violin, clever additions from keys and guitars, as well as a very nice bass rhythm. The 'tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor...' a theme which will recur at the album's end is included towards the piece's conclusion. A highly original piece of work, much as it may not be the average progger's cup of Earl Grey.

The metallic opening of Fast gives way to an Arabic-feel thick violin, and fast bass, which then switches back to the quick metal piece. This pattern of various interludes followed by the metallic theme is repeated mainly throughout. Aside from the excellent fast-paced violin soloing and the neatness with which the sections merge there's not that much to commend the piece for. Solid, but too easily forgotten.

Troppo features another Hammill performance, equally good in quality, though this time substituting confusion for threat of Tonk, and complimented by an 'oh-oh' effect. This time the bass is spotlighted in the vocal sections, while some excellent dark keys and guitar (which turns out to be Fripp, looking at the booklet) come to the forefront of the instrumental section. A dark, effective and potent piece with killer percussion.

Hero concludes the album, with a largely improvisational feel. Hugely explosive guitar features, as does some more normal sax-work. The piece builds up gradually, with some reminding themes, solid playing and some very strong soloing, but it is not entirely convincing in the way it does this. The drumming feels a little bland, and the coda at the end simply doesn't give the unified/concept feel it was meant to provide. Long, meandering, and only hitting its target of creating a scenic feel on occasion.

So, experimental and powerful at times, and with plenty of integrity and an overall consistency. However, the album is probably not essential for those who are not fans of David Cross or especially fixated on the album's three guests. It is good in most parts, but would have been more pleasing to me with a little more focus on the themes of the improvisations. Not bad at all, and I look forward to discovering more of David Cross's discography. Recommended to anyone interested in seeing a well-incorporated violin in a variety of contexts. Worthy of a place in the collection of most fans of 73-4 Crimson.

Favourite Song: Tonk

Rating: Three Stars, certainly good

TGM: Orb | 3/5 |


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