Matt Carmichael
King Crimson
Bill Bruford is a "happy camper." He said so himself. He is a drummer in a rock band, if you can call them that. But considering he called them that, it's OK.

"It must be a rock group because it has electric guitars in it. It has a singer; therefore, it can't be a jazz group. It's not a classical organization because we don't wear bow ties," Bruford says from his home outside London.

The band in question is King Crimson, and their new album is "THRAK," their first in 10 years. If you know them, the idea of new material excites you. If you don't, that is fine with them. "We love new customers. Why don't you consider that we're the latest 17-year-old bunch of guys on the block, around the corner, and see if our music stands up. If it does, buy a slice," Bruford says. "THRAK" is worth several listens, he says, because "a King Crimson album doesn't give up all its secrets immediately."

The latest incarnation of the name and idea called "King Crimson" is its fifth since the band began in 1969. It has been 10 years or so since the last time there was a King Crimson. Bruford explains that the members of Crimson, especially Robert Fripp, the acknowledged leader of this group, have "come to see [the band] as something of a tool that you get down off the shelf when you perceive that there is interesting work to be done with the tool."

Getting back together this time wasn't as easy as it has been in the past. Besides various personal projects that the band mates were involved in, there were legal difficulties stemming from Fripp's relationship with EG Records, Crimson's former management company. They had to bring in the lawyers, and, as Bruford says, "The minute you call lawyers you're in deep trouble." He speaks about the problems with the business end of the music business, "That is the daily hum of the industry of human happiness of which we are a part. People loathe each other. Musicians do the best they can to retain perhaps 80 to 90 percent of what you're owed," but he says that he is not bitter, getting taken on a deal is just part of life.

For this go-around, Crimson is a "double trio" meaning they have two of everything. They have two guitarists; Fripp who among myriad other accomplishments helped to create the entire genre of ambient music, and Adrian Belew, who is famed not only as a backing guitarist for almost everyone at some point (Bowie, Paul Simon, etc.) but for his extensive solo career. Trey Gunn and Tony Levin play bass and sticks, "an electric 10-stringed bass guitar which is tapped not plucked." Bruford and Pat Mastelotto play drums and percussion. Balancing the instruments is not as hard as it sounds, according to Bruford. They simply play different things, or sometimes, they don't even play at all. That's the hardest part "If you sit on a rock stage and don't play anything, people think you're sick."

And for Fripp and Belew?

"They only nominally play the same instrument, their characters are so different as people," Bruford says, "Fripp appears as the rather stern academic on one side of the stage, and Belew the ever-young, ever-happy puppy dog wagging his tail hoping to get away with something the stern academic won't notice."

Crimson is embarking on their first tour in years which is in Europe at the moment and will hit North America soon. The live sets of King Crimson are so legendary that there are hundreds of known bootlegs of their shows. Bruford feels that THRAK is one of the best stabs at capturing the feel of "live" Crimson on an album. This is partially because of the fact that it was recorded live in the studio. However, he thinks that the concerts will begin to take even more advantage of the Double Trio set-up because they didn't take the idea as far as they could have in the studio. "The reason being that the music was pouring out and it seems kind of churlish to stop the thing and say 'Wait, this doesn't remind me of a double trio.' "

c1997 Thompson Target Media