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King Crimson - Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins: A Scarcity of Miracles CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.56 | 576 ratings

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3 stars King Crimson reformed for a brief tour in 2008, and I took the opportunity to go see one of the Chicago shows. The lineup consisted of Fripp, Belew, Levin (Gunn and the band had agreed to part ways), Mastellotto, and an additional drummer in Pat Harrison, who had made his bones as the drummer for the prog band Porcupine Tree. I had hoped that the band had come out of hibernation with some new material that they wanted to try out on the road, but the show, while very enjoyable, was distressingly conservative. The band primarily relied on its 80s material (as well as a sprinkling of material from the 90s onward), with a couple of nods to long ago in "Red" and "The Talking Drum"/"Larks 2," and there was no new material at all. I somewhat got the sense that the band was touring primarily for the purpose of getting its feet wet and to see if it could find a creative spark that would make it want to go through the process of creating new material. Well, the tour ended and the band once more dissolved, and I wondered, given the age of the various members, if anything of note would ever come from them again.

A few years later, an interesting collaboration emerged which ultimately grew into this not-quite-but-kinda- sorta-King-Crimson album. While the Fripp/Belew/etc lineup had made a point of avoiding material from the earliest incarnations of King Crimson, another group had sprung up to fill the niche. 21st Century Schizoid Band emerged in 2002 with a lineup of the brothers Giles (Michael on drums, Peter on bass), Ian McDonald (yup, that one) on woodwinds, Mel Collins (yup, that one) on his own set of woodwinds, and a guitarist/vocalist by the name of Jakko Jakszyk. While this band only lasted for a couple of years, it essentially made Jakszyk an honorary alumnus of King Crimson, and through this and other connections he ended up striking up a friendship with Robert Fripp. In 2010, Jakszyk and Fripp got together to record a bunch of semi-ambient noodlings based around guitar, keyboards and Fripp's soundscapes, and Jakszyk decided to adapt them into songs. Collins decided that he wanted to add some saxophone parts, and eventually the trio was able to get Levin and Harrison to serve as the album's rhythm section.

As a collection of songs, this album isn't especially impressive; it didn't surprise me to learn that these pieces were retro-fitted into songs only after the fact, and in those stretches where the material becomes more tune- centric, it rarely reaches a level much beyond decent. The material is also often very sleepy and subdued on top of not being especially memorable, and neither Levin nor Harrison do much on the whole to try and liven things up. Despite these downsides, though, I find that the atmosphere is usually interesting enough to compensate for the shortage of memorability and surprising length of the tracks (the album is 42 minutes long over the course of only 6 tracks). I find it very interesting that, despite the album not fully committing itself to an ambient approach (which would have geared it 100% towards establishing interesting atmosphere, as opposed to the 50/50 approach of this album), and thus making me have to face it as a song-based album without many distinct ideas and with those ideas stretched out over long periods of time, I don't find myself losing patience with the material. I find this especially fascinating in the closing track, "The Light of Day," where the band bathes in soundscapes and quiet guitar/sax noodling (with bits of vocals here and there) for nine minutes without going anywhere discernable, but where I also find myself feeling a little surprised that it lasted nine minutes and a little sad that it couldn't go longer. The final guitar/keyboard textures of this track are especially fantastic.

Another track that I find myself drawn to for similar reasons is "Secrets." It gets a little silly when it gets into old man slow prog boogie mode in the middle, but the droning passages at the beginning, with Jakko singing, "I don't sense the time is passing ..." and the like, with Collins occasionally punctuating the low-pitched growling soundscapes, are just beautiful. Along similar lines, "This House" starts as wordless vocal harmonies over more soundscapes, and it morphs into having some very lovely parts (with a lot of alternating gentle guitar passages) that never quite congeal together but that circle around each other in a way that sounds just fine.

The other three tracks are a little more explicit in trying to be song-based, but I can't help but think that they sound like inferior versions of similar material done with Belew on vocals in the 90s and 00s. Yes, the presence of Collins adds a new element that hadn't been present in the Belew era, but it's not like Jakszyk sounds tremendously different from Belew as a singer, and the songs only really take off in the parts where the vocals go away for an extended period of time. The opening title track is a slow ballad, "The Price We Pay" is mid- tempo with poppy bits, and "The Other Man" has elements of being a noisy menacing rocker, but all of them kinda bore me until they get the parts that were probably from the original sessions that spawned the album. Fripp and Jakszyk show great chemistry in these, with Fripp mostly sitting back and providing a backdrop but sporadically emerging to play in a more typical manner, and there are some marvelous moments to be found on here. It's too bad that they're buried in songs that are otherwise just ok.

It's probably for the best that this wasn't officially called a King Crimson album; an actual King Crimson album would have contained input from all involved parties from the beginning, as opposed to this album's process of putting together the album one layer at a time. As a side ProjeKct, though, this is perfectly reasonable, and the presence of fresh creative blood is certainly welcome. It didn't lead to an immediate tour or reforming of the band (and in fact Fripp briefly officially retired from the music industry a year later), but it did lay the groundwork for a great live tour three years later, and if nothing else this project should get credit for that.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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