Tuesday, 14 October 2014

KTVU.com talks to King Crimson bassist Tony Levin

Tony Levin
Bill Rieflin/papabear.com
Tony Levin
By Dave Pehling and KTVU.com
King Crimson fired off one of the first shots in the progressive-rock revolution with the mellotron-heavy pomp and fantasy-laden lyrics of the band's 1969 debut In the Court of the Crimson King. Injected with elements of pastoral folk, frenetic jazz (the dizzying tandem saxophone and fuzz guitar lines on the classic "21st Century Schizoid Man" for instance) and modern-classical disonnance, the album set a new standard for ambitous rock as art and spawned a legion of imitators.
But while British contemporaries like Yes got bogged down with ponderous concept albums, guitarist Robert Fripp (the sole constant throughout Crimson's existence) and company were exploring much darker, more experimental territory. The band's searing efforts Larks Tongues in Aspic and Starless and Bible Black featuring former Yes drummer Bill Bruford drew much more heavily on improvisation -- percussionist Jamie Muir had worked extensively with English free-jazz players Derek Bailey and Evan Parker -- pushing boundaries with angular experimentation and challenging time signatures that later influence such alternative-rock mainstays as Primus and Tool (who invited the band out on tour in 2001).
After dissolving the band in 1974, Fripp concentrated on collaborations with the likes of Brian Eno, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel before finally reviving the group in 1981. With a brash new line-up featuring Bruford, session bassist and Chapman Stick player Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon) and fellow guitar phenom Adrian Belew -- who had played with Bowie, Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads -- Fripp and the new King Crimson recorded three critically celebrated albums that touched on new-wave, minimalist composition and Indonesian gamelan music before Fripp again put the group on hiatus.
That break would last almost a decade before the iconic guitarist reconvened the musicians with an ambitious "double trio" version of the group that added Chapman Stick/WARR guitar player Trey Gunn and drummer Pat Mastelotto that toured and recorded to wide acclaim. Crimson would have one of its most productive periods over the next decade with the players assembling in a variety of offshoot side "ProjeKcts" for tours focused more on improvisation in the late '90s before a return to a quartet line-up and a heavier guitar sound for The ConstruKction of Light in 2000 and The Power To Believe three years later.
While there were some concerns that Fripp might have put the band to bed permanently after claiming he was retiring from the music industry in a 2012 interview, the guitarist surprised fans last year when he announced a new seven-piece version of King Crimson with three drummers and players from throughout the band's 40-year career arc. With Mastelotto, late 2000s drummer Gavin Harrison (best known as a member of modern prog rockers Porcupine Tree) and former Ministry/KMFDM/R.E.M. drummer Bill Rieflin in a percussive frontline backed by Fripp, Levin, '70s era saxophonist Mel Collins and new addition Jakko Jakszyk on guitars and vocals, the Mark VII version of King Crimson has been wowing audiences with fiery performances that have featured revamped takes on songs from the band's early albums that haven't been performed in decades.
Tony Levin recently answered a series of questions for KTVU.com via email, discussing the creative process of the new ensemble and what King Crimson is planning in the future ahead of the band's two-night stand at the Warfield in San Francisco on Oct. 3-4.
The reviews of the tour so far have been ecstatic. What has the experience been like for you if you were to compare to past Crimson tours? Do any specific standout moments or shows come to mind at this point in the tour?
I don't compare tours, really. In fact I'm not big on comparing any musical things like players or bands. I guess I'd make a pretty bad journalist!  All of the Crimson tours I've been on were wonderful for me, and I'd say that in spades for this one. The line-up is very different than before, and so are the challenges for me. But we rehearsed a lot, and that gave me time to come up with a decent approach to each piece and to the show as a whole.
Thus far, I'd say that every show has been excellent, as has been the audience reaction, so I don't have any 'lesser' shows to compare them to. All a bit different and plenty of mistakes in each (at least by me!), so it's not like we're just repeating the same playing over and over.

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