Thursday, 24 March 2016

King Crimson - Live in Toronto

I have always had a problem with the Live at Orpheum CD/DVD release of last year. I just found it lacklustre. Not because of the running time, but it just sounded unexciting. I think Jakko mixed it way too quiet and that somehow lost some of the dynamics of the recording and also mixed it so tightly that a lot of the detail of what was going on was lost. For instance one of the key percussion elements on the studio version of "One More Red Nightmare" were the handclaps. Those are present on the live version, but mixed so low that they are barely discernible. Also, the concept of three drummers is lost as the tight mixing makes it again difficult to discern one drummer from another. I know what Jakko was trying to achieve here. A polished, produced album in the tradition of something like USA. But whereas Fripp's mixing decisions for that album resulted in powerful versions of tracks like "Easy Money" and the improv "Asbury Park" in comparison to the raw live mixes which we have heard since, Jakko's mixes don't do the new lineup any favours.

But this new release is the complete set from November last year and mixed by David Singleton, who has a real understanding of live King Crimson recordings as he has been involved in such a capacity since the early 90's. Here he has got the mix levels right. He has stated in his diary from the DGM web site that he tried turning the levels down, but felt it was necessary to keep them as presented here in order to show off the band in full, powerful mode. That decision was right! At last this version of the band is properly showcased, with the whole ethos of having three drummers in the front line fully defined. The complexity, power and precision of each player and how they come together as a performing unit is fully presented here. One drummer and guitarist on the right and another on the left channel with the third drummer in the centre. You can clearly define each players contribution to the arrangements, especially important on something like "Sailor's Tale" where the cymbal opening is played by each player in turn. A nice touch that! Other highlights are a complete "Larks' Tongues in Apsic Part 1" including all the little effects which Jamie Muir added to the studio version, including the laughing toy box at the end. Level 5 and VROOOM are given different slants with Mel Collins additions taking those pieces away from their more polished Belew-era lineup origins. There are hints at some new material too, especially promising on Radical Action and Meltdown.

After the Live at Orpheum set I didn't think this new King Crimson was very exciting or interesting. This new set has completely changed my mind and I can see how this lineup can take material from any era of the band and make it their own and more importantly sound fresh, powerful and purposeful!


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery SACD

With the news of the death of Keith Emerson I have been revisiting ELP recordings of course. I have heard so many versions of Brain Salad Surgery over the years and own plenty too! Before the catalogue moved to Sony, Universal released a number of deluxe editions which BSS was one back in 2008. It was a mess! From what was actually on the disc to all the errors in the booklet, this looked like a rushed job. The package had 3 discs, one of which I call the "hidden" SACD. Hidden because, apart from the SACD symbol on the discs, nowhere on the packaging or booklet does it mention the third disc is actually a hybrid SACD. The first disc is the original album on CD, remastered by Pachal Byrne. The SACD has that as the CD layer and also the stereo layer of the SACD, so making disc 1 completely redundant! The multichannel layer has the 5.1 mix which was produced for Rhino's 2000 DVD-Audio version of BSS. I have only ever played the SACD on my Sony unit which does not have multichannel capability. So I have only heard the Paschal Byrne stereo remaster. It however just occurred to me that I could play this on my universal player which has SACD stereo and multichannel playback through HDMI into the amp. Though I don't have surround sound my amp should automatically downmix the surround tracks into stereo so I could hear that Rhino mix. I did just that and the results were astounding! Whereas I found the recent Jakko Jakszyk remix very odd and quite radical in some places, this Rhino mix is more akin to the original mix but more detailed, powerful and very exciting indeed. It's a great listen. There are subtle changes, but nothing that jars as much as the recent mix. It's just overall a hugely detailed, clear, punchy experience. It may be my favourite BSS yet. I just wish I sussed this out earlier. What a twat!


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Keith Emerson 1944 - 2016


Words simply cannot express the importance of Keith Emerson on my life. I was 11 years old, back in 1972 around a friends parents house. His big brother had on a record and I heard all these strange noises coming from the speakers, things I had never heard before. The album sleeve had these strange blank framed paintings hung on a wall. That was The Old Castle and the album was Pictures at an Exhibition. That was the start of a musical journey that has lasted to this day. But it was Emersons glorious Moog playing that set it all off and has made music the single most pleasure in my life. Made it more important than food or water. Music is ingrained into my soul and it's all thanks to the music of ELP. But especially thanks to Keith Emerson. He has been with me all those years and now he is gone!