At roughly the halfway point of the massive new four-disc (three CD and single Blu-Ray) chronicle of its 2015 tour, the prog royalty of King Crimson takes a stab at a 1994 tune called “Vrooom.” Originally a volcanic return to form after a decade of inactivity, this new version crackles with all the expected firepower — double-barreled guitar runs, a battalion of percussion and a bass groove that seems to grab the song and toss it around the room. But it’s also surprisingly giddy. Having saxophonist Mel Collins in the touring lineup for the first time since 1972 gives the music an almost cartoon-like bop. In fact, it’s been a long time since Crimson, a band with an often beastly and dark instrumental command, sounded so outwardly playful.
The resulting album, curiously titled “Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind,” is something of a gold mine for Crimson fans but also a highly recommended primer for newcomers. Essentially a retrospective in terms of repertoire, it reaches back for faithful versions of epics from the band’s 1969 psychedelically inclined debut album, “In the Court of the Crimson King,” while looking ahead with several new tunes featuring the current seven-member roster boasting three drummers (Pat Mastelotto, Bill Rieflin and Gavin Harrison) as a front line, with vets Collins, guitarist Robert Fripp and bassist Tony Levin in the backfield along with the newest recruit, guitarist and vocalist Jakko Jakszyk.
But nostalgia is on the back burner here, as the majority of this material has been absent from Crimson shows for decades. The mounting percussion and resulting buzz-saw guitars in “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One” sounds remarkably vital, as does the dramatic ensemble synergy that explodes out of “Sailor’s Tale.”
The three-drummer lineup might seem excessive to some ears, but the dynamics the trio create through these recordings are remarkable, whether it’s through the brief, incantatory chatter of new tunes that are exclusively percussive (“Banshee Legs Bell Hassle”) or the way the rattling slowly builds like a distant storm in older works (“Starless,” “The Talking Drum”).
Collectively, the nearly three-hour “Radical Action” is a slab of prog history seething with forward-thinking playfulness and cunning. It’s a riot of a record.
The album also comes on the heels of “Too,” the second studio outing by Dizrhythmia, a world beat-flavored session of rhythmic, atmospheric pop featuring Jakszyk, Harrison, veteran British folk-jazz bassist Danny Thompson and classical Indian singer and percussionist Pandit Dinesh.
Amazingly, more than 25 years have passed since the first, self-titled Dizrhythmia album was released. But “Too” nicely builds on the earlier sleeper record with a crisp, global and modesty prog-ish sound, whether it’s through the bright instrumental runs and Eastern intrigue of “Trust Me, I’m a Healer” or the hushed, meditative pop flow of “Never Land.” All of it results in an album that makes for ideal autumn listening.