Part I and Part II of the 32-disc Exposures box set are online and available for your reading pleasure. The sheer density of this collection made it prudent for me to break this review into more digestible bites. If you haven’t read the first two sections, I would recommend doing so first.
And now for Part III …
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS
Robert Fripp might be known as the compositional genius behind tunes like “In the Court of the Crimson King,” “Fracture,” and “Red,” but some might argue that he prefers to be a musician of the moment. Within the confines of written compositions, Fripp is a slave to the fan’s expectations of certain notes played in particular places. With Frippertronics (and later Soundscapes), the guitarist is allowed to go where the moment takes him.
By 1979, the Revox tape players were getting quite the workout. With every passing performance, Fripp appeared to develop and understand more and more just what his playing style was capable of. On Disc 13, for example, “Loop and Solo III” bears a striking resemblance to what was coming with the 80’s King Crimson. The loops bore resemblance to the opening “Entry of the Crims” from Absent Lovers and Fripp’s main guitar lick is almost identical to what he would play on “Frame By Frame.” Things were definitely starting to happen!
Eventually, the drive forward reached critical mass, meaning something official and for the record needed to spring forth. Which is exactly what happened with God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners, which arrives on Disc 14.
But even this tweaked conventional thinking. Half the album (God Save the Queen) featured what was happening during the Frippertronics shows. The other half of the album (Under Heavy Manners) took things a step further with Fripp debuting new more-or-less danceable(!) grooves he referred to as Discotronics.
Featuring David Byrne on vocals (no doubt returning the favor from Fripp’s services with Talking Heads on Fear of Music), Fripp’s next sound evolution manages to combine his loops with the steady 4/4 beat most commonly associated with, yes, disco. Does this music have a good beat that you can dance to? In its own quirky way, yes it does! Still, Fripp continues to fire off the rapid-fire riffs he was just a couple of years away from using in the reformed Crimson. How he maintains that riff for so incredibly long is anybody’s guess.
The highlight of the disc might be the last track, a previously unreleased jam. What sets it apart is the undeniably funky bass line provided by Busta Jones. The thought of Robert Fripp playing with a bassist using a heavy thumb and slapping technique may seem a little foreign to prog fans. But there it is. And it works.
FRESH MIXES AND STRETCHES
Disc 15 is another Steven Wilson mix of Discotronics and 2021 mixes of Under Heavy Manners. The results can be quite interesting. The opening “Under Heavy Manners” may be regarded as disco, but Fripp is offering up a more reggae-centric groove over Jones and drummer Paul Duskin. David Byrne’s vocals are the icing kn the cake.
A certain level of amusement comes from these sessions when seen in the proper context. Fripp’s “hairy guitar” runs over dance-oriented club beats can arguably be seen as a preview of things to come, as the guitarists frenetic runs take a similar approach during ProjeKct 4, a King Crimson R&D experiment driven in many ways by Pat Mastelotto’s use of beatboxes and other electronic devices to drive club-oriented grooves.
Disc 16 opens with a genuine “What the hell?” moment from Fripp, whose playing takes a small, but significant, step out of character during the opening track, “Funky Frippertonics.” The expected loops are suddenly augmented by a wah-wah driven riff that seems to run against anything we’ve known about Fripp’s musical character. It’s a very cool change of pace that reminds one of what Miles Davis was doing in the early to mid-70’s. The first three tracks on this disc are among the most interesting in the collection. They take Robert completely out of the prog-oriented alternative times and abstract loops, forcing him to jam along with really cool grooves and straightforward rhythms. It’s not that he hasn’t done it before with others. The forthcoming League of Gentlemen proves this. But even that band doesn’t possess the level of “soul” — from an American perspective — that would put his music in front of completely different ears.
A WHOLE NEW LEAGUE
Starting with Disc 17, The League of Gentlemen take the stage and maintain a stranglehold on it until the end of Disc 19. The first disc is the second show of a live set recorded in Boston in June of 1980. Fripp declares LoG as music for dancing, though one wonders just what kind of frenetic body gyrations were taking place while Fripp played regimented, mathematical leads and the rhythm section’s hypersonic beats backed him up. The image of the Peanuts gang from A Charlie Brown Christmas makes for an interesting mental image.
The quality of the recording (restored from the band’s cassette recording) is quite impressive. Alex R. Mundy deserves applause for his efforts. Here’s hoping he tips his cap.
Disc 18 contains the ‘85 mixes of the League’s Thrang Thrang Gozinbulx and The League of Gentleman. Seriously, it can’t be easy to dance while also wondering, “What the hell is that guitar player doing?” One can only imagine the befuddled look on many a girlfriend goaded into attending this gig by their Fripp-loving husbands and boyfriends. Then again, maybe they were able to throw caution to the wind and let it all hang out! Power to them!
Disc 19 is a collection of fresh League of Gentlemen remixes lovingly assembled by Steven Wilson. It’s a forgone conclusion they anything Wilson touches turns to audio gold, and this is no exception. The material, previously unreleased, comes straight from the original multi-track tapes.
From here, Fripp shifts direction yet again. We’ll talk about that in Part IV.
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Another “I was there” moment is in this section. As I understand it, the Detroit LoG gig I attended on July 10, 1980 is the foundation of the Thrang Thrang Gozinbulz album, with overdubs from later shows in Toronto. In contrast to the Frippertronics record store gigs, this show took place in an incredibly unsympathetic environment — Harpo’s, an old movie palace in an already-decaying part of town that had been turned into a biker bar, kitty corner on Harper Avenue from one of my favorite bookstores at the time. (I saw Renaissance there a couple of years later as well; go figure).
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