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Thursday, February 1, 2018

McDonald And Giles: McDonald And Giles

McDONALD AND GILES: McDONALD AND GILES (1970)

1) Suite In C; 2) Flight Of The Ibis; 3) Is She Waiting?; 4) Tomorrow's People / The Children Of Today; 5) Birdman: The Inventor's Dream / The Workshop / Wishbone Ascension / Birdman Flies! / Wings In The Sunset / The Reflection.

General verdict: Beautiful, if a bit lightweight, jazz-symph-prog — an epic and logical conclusion to the saga of Giles, Giles & Fripp.

With Lizard and McDonald & Giles appearing on store shelves within the same year, it was actually difficult to tell which of the two was the real King Crimson — with Fripp and Sinfield on one team and Ian and Michael on the other, each had exactly two members from the original lineup. (In fact, since Sinfield also wrote the lyrics for the ʽBirdmanʼ suite, one could take him out of the equation and hand the victory over to McDonald and Giles with a smashing score of 2:1). Indeed, this self-titled debut from the pair, which, unfortunately, also turned out to be their only record, is thoroughly Crimsonian in shape and intent; all it lacks to be fully canon is Robert's blessing, and at least a bit of his guitar presence.

Lengthy, multi-part compositions; improvised jamming; mixtures of classical, jazz, and folk in­fluences; an overall feel of tapping into something transcendental — all of these trademarks of early King Crimson make their way onto this album as well. However, left to their own devices, McDonald and Giles show little desire to rock out: the album's moods range from playful to solemn to sorrowful, but never cross over into angry / ominous territory. Word of the day is «romantic», so much so that it does not take a tremendous leap of imagination to understand how it was that seven years later Ian McDonald would find himself as one of the founding fathers of Foreigner. (For that matter, John Wetton's leap from King Crimson to Asia is far less credible).

But that would be seven years later, when «going commercial» and 20 minute-long suites were mutually exclusive undertakings. In 1970, the climate was different, and although the duo's only album did not sell at all well, this was due rather to the lack of good publicity, an established stage presence, and a strong accompanying single. The music, however, was largely excellent — with tons of fresh and experimental ideas, plenty of energy, and a couple of sincere loving hearts behind all the songwriting.

Thus, ʽSuite In Cʼ, whose atmosphere of lightly psychedelic tenderness is also reminiscent of contemporary Caravan, dips into just about everything over the course of its eleven minutes — there's R&B-influenced pop, jazz jamming, brief orchestrated classical interludes, rockabilly saxes, and Beach Boys-style harmonic shuffles. Whether it all fits together and makes perfect sense is debatable, but the track never loses momentum, and the funniest thing about it is hearing Giles go apeshit on the drums and McDonald go all Ian Anderson-like on the flute and under­standing that this is just like the mid-section on ʽ21st Century Schizoid Manʼ, only with all the aggression taken out. Which means there will always be a vague stigma of «fluffiness» attached to this kind of music, but surely there is a word to be said about positive and harmless emotional agitation, too. McDonald and Giles handle this well.

They get even more ambitious with the ʽBirdmanʼ suite, which occupies the entire second side of the album with its story of a modern-day Icarus (but with a happy ending, I gather) that goes all the way back to 1968. In many ways, it is a fascinating piece, with choral harmonies, catchy pop interludes, masterful use of kaleidoscopic sound effects, bits of deliciously funky jamming (brother Peter Giles shines on bass in the ʽWorkshopʼ section); in some ways, it is a bit messy and unsure of itself (the entire ʽBirdman Flies!ʼ section, instead of sounding like actual flying, sounds more like six minutes of tuning up and getting one's act together before advancing to the real thing); but the track's main theme, briefly introduced in the opening section as a leitmotif, truly soars in the ʽReflectionʼ finale — a simple, but majestic piano theme, eventually joined by a host of instruments and voices. This is truly a high point of the symph-prog era, combining melancholy with majesty and sadness with optimism, and it makes me a little sad to see it so hopelessly buried at the end of a record known only to meticulous connoisseurs of the genre.

For completeness' sake, we should also briefly mention the remaining three songs on side A: ʽFlight Of The Ibisʼ and ʽIs She Waiting?ʼ are a couple of pretty ballads («power»-style and folk-style, respectively) that ooze class, but are not very memorable; and ʽTomorrow's Peopleʼ, originally written by Michael in 1967, predictably sounds like an extended outtake from Giles, Giles & Fripp — a light, cheerful jazz-pop composition with a sense of humor, something cool to come back to once you have decided to seek a fittingremedy for post-Al Kooper Blood, Sweat & Tears. Somehow, though, I end up liking their multi-part suites more: their individual ideas, with the obvious exception of ʽReflectionʼ, tend to be weaker than their colorful — and some­times downright crazyass — transitions into one another.

Overall, I do believe that the record should be treated as fully «canon» for any King Crimson or prog-rock fan. This is one possible direction, after all, in which the band's sound might have evolved. Sure, it is simpler and lighter and maybe even poppier than the other one, but this does not make it any less... well, let's say, inquisitive into the laws of music and the peculiarities of human nature. Sometimes I actually feel a bit sorry that with the guys' departure, King Crimson had forever lost that tender romantic spirit — I do not really believe that it goes completely against the nature of Robert Fripp or anything. Then again, perhaps distancing yourself from future members of Foreigner is a good thing to do... as early as possible. Just in case. And with Fripp's sagacious art of foresight, he probably saw that one coming, too.

2 comments:

  1. This album is incredible. As good as any Crimson. Lost classic. Just wanted to say that. Out loud. Picture me saying that out loud, because I’m doing it as you read this.

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  2. (For that matter, John Wetton's leap from King Crimson to Asia is far less credible). Actually Crimson to Uriah Heep to Asia, even more incredible.

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