Tuesday, January 5, 2021

In Memoriam: Three Crims


Since its formation in 1968, King Crimson has gone through many different lineups and musicians, and over the years, there has been some sort of official differentiation between “members” and additional musicians who recorded and/or toured with the band, although some people moved between the two statuses. In 2020, we lost three musicians affiliated with King Crimson, two full members, and one who declined the rights and privileges, such as they are, of that status. Two of those remembered here were involved in 1970, the third played during the more recent configuration of King Crimson, from 2013 until his death earlier this year.  

King Crimson: Cadence and Cascade

Gordon Haskell was a school friend of King Crimson leader Robert Fripp, and played with him in a band when they were teenagers, before moving on to become the bass player in the band Fleur de Lys (and, apparently, briefly sharing a flat with Jimi Hendrix). They also acted as a house band for Atlantic Records, which gave Haskell the opportunity to work with noted producers, including George Martin, Arif Mardin and Glyn Johns. He recorded a solo album in 1969, but it went nowhere. 

Meanwhile, his old friend Robert was having problems of his own. After recording In the Court of the Crimson King, a legitimate classic, and touring behind the album, both Ian McDonald and Michael Giles left the band. Then, singer/bass player Greg Lake quit, planning to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer. After hiring, and then sacking, the still unknown Elton John (who got paid £250 for not working) as the vocalist on Crimson’s second record, In The Wake of Poseidon, Lake ultimately agreed to sing on the album (in exchange for Crimson’s PA equipment), but there was one song that Fripp felt wasn’t right for Lake. He approached Haskell, who recalled, “I straight away, without any hesitation, said ‘absolutely not’. I was totally R&B oriented and it wasn’t my sort of music. I didn’t like King Crimson. Anyway, after a while I said I’d think about it, and my wife got to work on me because she wanted a regular income so in the end I joined.” Haskell sang on one song, “Cadence and Cascade,” which is a beautiful ballad, beautifully sung, as you can hear at the link above. 

After completing Poseidon, Fripp regrouped again, adding more musicians, who began work on Lizard, which was jazzier and more avant-garde than the two prior records, and it was not a good experience for Haskell, who sang and played bass on the album. He didn’t like the music, noting that “At the end of one song, ‘Indoor Games’, I just burst out laughing. You can hear it on the album. They thought it was really freaky, that I’d understood the lyrics and my part – but the truth of the matter is, it was a lousy song, the lyrics were ludicrous and my singing was atrocious so I just burst out laughing. And they thought it was wonderful!” Haskell left the band, acrimoniously, during rehearsals for live performances, and later King Crimson for royalties. 

After leaving King Crimson, Haskell struggled for years, before having a hit single in England, “How Wonderful You Are” in 2001 and he followed that up with a successful album, Harry’s Bar, in 2002. His next record was not as well-received, and he was released by his label after a dispute. From then on, Haskell continued to release music without much success, and wrote an autobiography, The Road to Harry’s Bar. 

Haskell died from cancer on October 15, 2020 at the age of 74.   Announcing his death, the official King Crimson website noted, “The experience was not a happy one for Gordon and he bitterly regretted his decision to join,” and that Haskell had “come to detest” the song “Cadence and Cascade,” which is a shame.

Keith Tippett also played on the Poseidon and Lizard albums. Allmusic’s biography of Tippett states that he “held an unparalleled place in British contemporary music,” due to the breadth of his collaborations, the variety of music he wrote and performed, and the influence that he had on other musicians. Tippett's work ranges from free improvisation as a solo pianist and with duos and small groups, to compositions for, and performances with, contemporary classical groups and large-scale works for Jazz Orchestra. 

Tippett (whose last name was actually Tippetts, which he changed for the delightful reason that he was tired of seeing his name on posters with the apostrophe after the last “t” and not the “s”), was a classically trained pianist who had formed a jazz band, the Keith Tippett Sextet, which released its first album in 1969. Other members of that band included Elton Dean, later of Soft Machine, and Mark Charig and Nick Evans, who also contributed to King Crimson albums. Tippett was hired to play piano on Poseidon (including some pretty playing on “Cadence and Cascade”), and along with Charig and Evans, played on Lizard and Islands. His influence in King Crimson increased over time, and he claimed that Fripp offered him co-creative control over the band if he would join full time. However, as he remembered, “I didn’t want to join King Crimson, not because I didn’t like King Crimson, I had great respect for the band, but I wanted to be doing other things, I didn’t want to just go out on the road for eighteen months. I had too much love for the sextet and it would have taken me away from the jazz scene.” 

One of those things was to put together a 50 piece band, Centipede, that included members of his jazz band, along with members of Soft Machine, King Crimson, and other bands that skirted the progressive rock/jazz genres, along with students from the London School of Music. It released an album, Septober Energy, produced by Fripp (who had appeared live with the band, but was not on the album), in 1971. Melody Maker wrote about this album, “In this one piece he has done more than almost anybody else that comes to mind in breaking down barriers in rock, jazz and classical music” The album was, however, not commercially successful, probably for the reason that it broke so many barriers.

Tippett continued to perform and record improvisational and avant-garde jazz music and jazz/rock with various combinations of musicians, including many from the Canterbury scene, until fairly recently—his discography as a leader and sideman is vast. 

Tippett succumbed on June 14, 2020 to a heart attack after two years of recurring illness at the age of 72.

After disbanding a version of King Crimson in 2008 and playing with various Crimson-related musicians before briefly retiring, Fripp decided to form a new King Crimson lineup, this time with three drummers. One of the drummers was Bill Rieflin, who had played with, among others, Ministry, KMFDM, and R.E.M. after Bill Berry left the band. Although mostly known for playing industrial and darker rock music, his stint with R.E.M. and his work on other projects demonstrated the wide scope of his talent. In addition, he was a prolific session musician, recording with artists from Nine Inch Nails to experimental rockers Swans and pop singer Robbie Williams. He released his first solo album, Birth of a Giant in 1999, which included contributions from Fripp and Trey Gunn, who was in King Crimson at the time. 

Over the years, Rieflin, who also played keyboards and other instruments, had collaborated with Fripp in a number of different projects, and participated in Fripp’s Guitar Craft project, about which he stated (before joining Crimson), “I couldn't possibly describe in any detail the impact this has had in my life; I can say that it was and continues to be significant. Were I to say "life-changing," this would be true, but it wouldn't begin to communicate the depth of the experience.” 

So his inclusion as part of the new “seven-headed monster” configuration of Crimson, along with Fripp, Tony Levin, Mel Collins, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison (who had played in prior versions of the band), and Jakko Jakszyk, was not surprising. I saw this band play in 2014 and was blown away by the power and intricacy of the percussion work (as well as by the rest of the band, of course). Here’s a video of the three drummers, with Rieflin in the center, “soloing” during rehearsals in 2014, highlighting how they play both in unison and separately.

Rieflin took a “sabbatical” from the band in 2016, but returned in 2017 to create a “Double Quartet” formation, but rather than have four drummers (that would be crazy, right?), he focused on “mellotron, keys and fairy dusting, rather than using drums as a main instrument.” He didn’t appear on the autumn US tour in 2017 (when I saw them again, and they were, again, great), but returned in 2018 before taking another sabbatical in 2019. Rieflin died on March 24, 2020 from cancer at the age of 59.