The first show opened with the Opening Soundscape: Gaudy. The tone and texture of the opening is profoundly reminiscent of the days of King Crimson from the earliest days to the most recent. David Cross’s violin brings to mind the heady days of the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic album while surging beyond those boundaries. The expanding horizons with the soundscape itself are mesmerizing and deep. It is the introduction to all that follows.
It moves effortlessly into Improv – Blacklight with the heavy drums of Pat Mastelotto. Markus Reuter (Touch Guitars® and keyboards) pushes the structure outwards as Levin (Stick) and Mastelotto anchor the piece with a free rhythm. Again, the post-Crimson texturing is evident in the Improv and creates a bridge into Hide the Trees.
Hide the Trees (Reuter, Levin and Mastelotto) is performed with perfection, as one would expect. Levin and Mastelotto nail the groove from the start but Reuter takes on the melody for several bars until the groove resumes the dominance. David Cross glides in with his violin and the smile appears on your face.
The broken beat of the drums are still given structure from Levin and Reuter until Mastelotto comes back to the corral. This is profoundly satisfying. Even at 8:54, it seems too short. For longtime King Crimson fans, hearing Tony Levin say, “David Cross on violin” is pure gold.
Improv – Moth follows after and is opened with Cross’s pizzicato violin and a wash of Reuter’s keyboards. The fluttering wings of the moth are almost visible in the imagery created. Once again, Cross is in stunning form and Mastelotto’s strokes are incredible. Levin works the bass groove from beginning to end Listening to these masters improvising so telepathically is a treat to be savored.
Industry is a favorite from the Bruford-Levin-Fripp-Belew days of the early 1980s. The moth motif morphs into an industrial one as cold, steel machine moves into the dominant theme. Mastelotto recaps Bruford’s line and then some. Reuter shows himself the true disciple of all things Crimson. The droning and heavy rhythm creates an enclosed space within which Reuters and Cross move.
Cusp is a Reuter-Levin-Mastelotto piece. This is a hypnotic exercise in rhythm and free-flowing melody. It is a Mastelotto highlights reel. All the while, Reuter’s Touch Guitar is understated but very imaginative. This was a winner.
Cusp slowly bleeds into Shades of Starless (Cross-Reuter-Levin-Mastelotto). The theme is obviously from the King Crimson song, Starless, but this is a variation on a theme. The presence of David Cross makes such a difference. Cross is so distinctive. His artistry leaves no doubt as to whom the violin belongs. The same goes for Levin. John Wetton was a great member of King Crimson but the Jazzy twists of Tony Levin are almost incomparable.
The Talking Drum continues the take on King Crimson. Written by Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford and Muir, this is a smoking scenario for the present quartet. The dialogue of Reuter and Cross with the pulse-pounding rhythms of Levin and Mastelotto is electrifying.
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2 (Robert Fripp, composer) is probably my favorite King Crimson piece of all. The movement of the piece is fascinating. Starting with up-tempo and the coolest chord changes, it slows to a moderate step with a more lyrical melodic line. The tight bass and drums are a clinic in precision. Then the seven-note thematic climb begins leading to the bridge. Cross wails with the violin and Levin and Mastelotto thunder their support. The dénouement is magnificent. It is the perfect way to close out the first show.
The second show kicks off with Opening Soundscape: Cyan(Reuter-Cross). The ambience is punctuated with rhythmic stabs and soaring violin and leads precipitously into Improv: Midori where the march of Levin and Mastelotto add stridence to the melodic features. The purpose in concert may be warm-up but the creativity and imagination is phenomenal.
The group then tears into Robert Fripp’s Breathless. It is the archetypal King Crimson piece with the great guitar riffs and staggering bass and drums. The momentary howling bass is certainly breath-taking and the guitar of Reuter is spot-on.
The band returns to an improve with Improv: Moon. Far more delicate than the previous two ventures’ beginnings. The bass and guitar are anchored by the drums as they are joined by the violin. It shimmers and reflects off of the rock-hard rhythm section. A delicacy remains within the violin but it is well-protected and sometimes well-hidden.
It is followed by another Crimson favorite, Sartori in Tangier from the Three of a Perfect Pair album. The violin opens the piece with the beautiful chords in a meditative introduction. The tight rhythms and the Saharan melodies are amazing, as much now as when the original was first released. The music is still fresh and timely and the performance is on fire. The groove is monstrous. The stratospheric violin ascends in enlightenment. This was the power and the glory of King Crimson and it has been restated in equal measure by Stick Men plus David Cross.
Crack in the Sky (Reuter-Levin-Mastelotto) is a cool track with Tony Levin on vocals. Loved the guitar work of Markus Reuter over the R&B bass and drums. The ambient keyboards are well-spaced and affirming. This may be Reuter’s showcase track.
Shades of Starless makes another appearance in this, the second, show of the night. A song so nice, you need to hear it twice. It is almost a minute shorter than in the first set. Maybe it’s me but the violin seemed more plaintive here than before. Loved the fade-away.
Who could have expected Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite next? Stravinsky, sure, but this is Stick Men and make no mistake. I have heard Emerson, Lake and Palmer with their arrangements of Classical pieces and have enjoyed them. But this! This was furious—just like Stravinsky would have enjoyed. Exquisitely powerful.
The Talking Drum was also reprised in the second set, albeit a minute longer this time due to an extended violin lead-in.
The second show also ended with Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2. No problem! I can’t get enough of it, anyway. There were some noticeable differences that make it a fascinating study to compare them both. Brilliant.
With Stick Men+ beginning the 2016 tour, the release of Midori serves as a herald for the excitement awaiting concert-goers.
The four artists never disappoint in their various groups and incarnations. I have seen Levin and Mastelotto together and have seen Levin with Bill Bruford as a duo and as part of King Crimson. But these four with this music is right on time and in perfect sync with each other and their audiences.
Midori has captured a moment from Japan in 2015 that is rich and amazing. What wonders await the 2016 tour.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl