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King Crimson in Ann Arbor, 5 Things To Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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King Crimson is a bit like Michigan weather; It’s never the same any two times you look at it.

During its 49 years the group has been through 23 members -- with co-founder/guitarist Robert Fripp its only constant -- and more than a dozen lineups. And the latest is a doozy, what Fripp calls a “double quartet” featuring four drummers and nine members total, including longtime bassist Tony Levin, in his third tour of duty, and ‘70s reedsman Mel Collins.

This version of the group has worked primarily live, but it also released an EP this year with an intriguing cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” (which Fripp played on in 1977) as well as a live album. Levin, 71, tells us the double quartet is just the latest in a lineage of Crimson incarnations...

• Levin, who also plays the Chapman Stick, acknowledges that Crimson “has its own way of doing things,” but he considers that a positive. “For me it’s a challenge, and a challenge is something that I look forward to. And I’ve referred to the band before as a band that challenges itself as a band but also we challenge ourselves as individual players. So here’s my chance to up my game, to up my playing and not settle for whatever I’ve been doing. I’m still trying the techniques, new sounds...I’m trying not to settle for the same old stuff because to me that’s part of what the band is about.”

• Levin says that in the current double quartet lineup, “We have four drummers but only three of them are playing at a time. So the drummers have put a great deal of work and ingenuity into devising drum approaches so it’s never just the three of them bashing the same part. It’s divided up among them in fascinating ways that vary throughout each piece. So you can imagine for me, as the bass player, a part of the rhythm section trying to hold together something coherent in all this stuff, it has indeed been a challenge, and one that I look forward to. I dreaded it a bit a few years ago when we started with this idea, but it turned out to be easier than I thought it would be and a lot of fun and a good challenge.”

• Two of Levin’s predecessors in King Crimson, Greg Lake and John Wetton, passed away during the past 11 months, which adds somewhat to his role in the group’s heritage -- although Levin hastens to say he doesn’t see it that way. “I think like any fan I mourned the loss of those guys,” he explains. “I was a fan of those parts and those people. I don’t think it’s affected my role. really, in the band. In the band I don’t think about myself and how I am in the band or anything about what I’m doing; I think I just focus on the music. That’s what we all do. It’s certainly an odd thing to be the bass player in a band where the classic guys are falling by the wayside. I’ve always felt heavily the challenge of finding the right bass approach in the band, from the beginning. And that has not changed with their passing.”

• Having Mel Collins back in the band is a cool thing for both longtime fans and band members. “He’s a heck of a player and a great guy,” Levin says. “The years I was in King Crimson before this incarnation, it was pretty much a guitar band. And to have the saxophone playing it completely changes the feel of it, to me. And his flute playing is also marvelous. And yes, it harkens back to the way King Crimson sounded way back when, but to me it has more resonance because it takes you to a different place -- not really a jazz place, but a less guitar-rock place.”

• While the current Crimson is composing new music, Levin does not expect a conventional album release from the band. “The reason for that is we keep writing new material and introducing it into the live show and releasing it on the live albums,” Levin explains. “So yes, we’re slowly introducing brand new material, in addition to the improv sections, which are different every night. But there is no plan for a traditional studio album of new material, and I guess that there won’t be one, because that involves taking a year off of touring to write the stuff and getting together for a month in the studio and mixing it and things like that. And that seems not to be the trajectory that King Crimson is on.”

If You Go:

• King Crimson

• 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22

• Michigan Theatre, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor.

• Tickets are sold out.

• Call 734-668-8463 or visit michtheater.org.

Web Site: www.michtheater.org

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