Search This Blog

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Robert Fripp And The League Of Crafty Guitarists: Live!


1) Guitar Craft Theme I: Invocation; 2) Tight Muscle Party At Love Beach; 3) The Chords That Bind; 4) Guitar Craft Theme III: Eye Of The Needle; 5) All Or Nothing II; 6) Guitar Craft Theme II: Aspiration; 7) All Or Nothing I; 8) Circulation; 9) A Fearful Symmetry; 10) The New World; 11) Crafty March.

General verdict: King Crimson Spin-Off Episode II: ʽAttack Of The Acoustic Clonesʼ.

More accurately, Robert Fripp And The League Of Crafty Guitarists; one might even reasonably doubt about how necessary it is to include the discussion of such a record in King Crimsonʼs discography, since it is ultimately unclear how much of that crafty guitar is even played by Fripp here in the first place. The album was the first in an occasionally renewed series of releases by Robert and his alumni from Frippʼs school of Guitar Craft, which he had founded in 1985 — now that he had his hands completely free from King Crimson again — and which has since claimed to have released more than three thousand graduates, though, perhaps not surprisingly, the only more or less familiar names belong to those graduates who actually went on to play in new incarnations of King Crimson themselves (like Trey Gunn).

Next to Fripp, the credits list the names of about twenty different musicians, each of them labeled «acoustic guitar, composer», to stress that creativity was just as important for crafty guitarists as technicality. If I am correct, however, none of them are aligned with individual tracks, though, clearly, not all of these twenty people play on all the tracks together at the same time — to stress that, in the end, the music matters more than the performerʼs identity. This is the perfect excuse to include the album in the discography, because even if it turns out that Robert himself does not play a single note here, Live! is still distinctly Crimsonian in spirit. It is also surprisingly good: certainly not an unexpected overlooked masterpiece or anything, but far more satisfactory than what youʼd normally expect from the musical equivalent of a collection of graduation essays from promising, but not-genius students.

The albumʼs special quality is, of course, that most of it is acoustic, which sort of makes it the kind of record that could satisfy our curiosity if we all started wondering about how Discipline would have sounded without amplification and sound effects. The tracks shuffle between familiar speedy polyrhythmic exercises and slower, moodier, more meditative and ambient paintings in a way that is surprisingly listener-friendly: it is almost as if Fripp intended the album to fulfill more of an advertising function for his musical philosophy and methods of teaching than to simply be another obscurity-headed gift for the devoted fans. (Of course, it still ended up an obscurity-headed gift for the devoted fans, but hope dies last). As a result, this is a small, compact, and perfectly listenable — provided you already have a feel for New Wave-era King Crimson, of course — encyclopaedia of Frippisms which anybody with just an acoustic guitar and plenty of time to kill is welcome to.

It is even not devoid of hooks: ʽAll Or Nothingʼ, for instance, has such a strong, catchy basic theme, presented as a sort of Tom-and-Jerry dialog between treble and bass, that Fripp saw fit to include two versions of it — after more than eight minutes of the composition, that theme refuses to leave my head, but in a good way, like some psychedelic chase scene that infuses you with energy despite all the repetition. And ʽEye Of The Needleʼ adds a pinch of smooth tenderness to the familiar guitar cobwebs — give it a suave Belew vocal overdub and you might have some strong competition for ʽThree Of A Perfect Pairʼ. Other tracks may be helped out by the irony of their titles: ʽTight Muscle Party At Love Beachʼ sounds precisely the way it announces itself, but provided all the guests at the party in question are scurrying little ants.

The slower parts are not nearly as interesting and often do sound like well-executed exercises: ʽThe Chords That Bindʼ is a minimalistic piece probably just intended to illustrate the relations between several chords in a single complex progression, and the cohesive cycle joined together by titles like ʽInvocationʼ, ʽAspirationʼ and ʽCirculationʼ is nice enough background music for a special meditation session (somehow Frippʼs manner of playing and composing always seems more idiosyncratic and off-beat to me when he is going for a fast and aggressive sound than when he is slowing and smoothing things down — Iʼm sure there is a perfectly valid musicological explanation for this somewhere). Still, they are more odd and unique than ʽThe New Worldʼ, a lengthy piece of Frippertronics that, for some reason, fleshes out the albumʼs second side — perhaps it was discovered that all of Frippʼs horses and all of Frippʼs men, no matter how well trained, still couldnʼt put 40 minutes of music together again, and so we have these ten minutes that will not add anything new to your understanding of Frippertronics.

At the end of the album, after a brief performance of ʽCrafty Marchʼ, which I assume to have had the status of a group anthem (all twenty guys playing in unison? is that what contributes to the odd quasi-harpsichord effect, or am I just hallucinating?), we are treated to a minute of collective applause — the only reminder, really, that the album was supposed to be titled Live!, and that Fripp actually prefers live playing with elements of improvisation to calculated studio craft, but that the audience at these live sessions need only be there as passive recipients, never as an even mildly active part of the experience itself. Which, of course, works perfectly fine for the kind of music that King Crimson play. I seriously doubt that these here pieces were recorded before any sort of live audience — live in the studio, most certainly, but the tacked-on applause just sounds like a bit of modernist irony, especially in the wake of yet another acclaimed version of King Crimson having just laid down their instruments and quit the stage for good.


  1. There was me thinking that you'd drawn the line at Three of a Perfect Pair, perhaps to avoid having to revisit THRaKaTTaK.

  2. Nice review! I am interested in listening to it, but I am not really sure how to access it. Oh well

    1. Here is a bootleg recording that actually gives much more stuff than the official out-of-print release: