King Crimson courts continuity at Miller Symphony Hall
Jakko Jakszyk found himself enamored with music at a young age, an understandable fascination considering the explosion of talent that radiated out of Great Britain in the 1960s.
“When I was very young, and obviously had an innate interest in music, barriers were being broken down, particularly in England,” Jakszyk says in a phone interview.
“The whole way music was being made started to change. It was this amazing world of discovery. While I didn’t know it then, most of the bands that came from the British blues began to explore and move out, like Jethro Tull,” says Jakszyk, a London native.
While many bands were revolutionary for the time, there was always one that stood out in Jakszyk’s mind as unique, special, and ultimately transforming: King Crimson.
King Crimson performs at 8 p.m. Nov. 11, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown. The concert is sold out.
Jakszyk, lead vocals, guitar, and flute, has been with King Crimson since 2013.
King Crimson, formed in London in 1968, released its debut album, “The Court of the Crimson King,” in 1969. The band is classically-influenced and used the Mellotron as its signature sound.
The band includes, in addition to Jakszyk, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, Mel Collins, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, Jeremy Stacey and Chris Gibson. Fripp is the only original member.
The group’s albums include “In the Wake of Poseidon” (1970), ”Lizard” (1970), “Islands” (1971), “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” (1973), “Starless and Bible Black” (1974), and “Red” (1974).
The group, which broke up in 1974, reformed in 1981, releasing “Discipline” (1981), “Beat” (1982), and “Three of a Perfect Pair” (1984).
King Crimson got back together in 1994, releasing “Thrak” (1995), then disbanded, getting back together in 2000, releasing “The Construkction of Light” (2000).
The group’s most recent album is “The Power to Believe” (2003). The band, inactive after 2009, started performing again in 2013. Founding member Greg Lake died of cancer in 2016.
“When I heard Crimson, I didn’t know why, but I knew it was coming from a different place than all these other people,” Jakszyk says.
“It was otherworldly. At that age you kind of immerse yourself in it. It encompassed this extraordinary range, moving from pastoral romantic balladeering to something unlike all the other things. The whole mystery of it and the artwork ... I just got completely absorbed by it. Nothing else had what this had, so I know I immediately gravitated towards that.”
Now, Jakszyk, 59, can be found onstage, performing with Fripp, one of the men who sparked his music interest all those years ago.
“In the 80’s, I was working with a fellow as a session player, writing and I worked on an album that was very successful. After that, well, publishers have this notion where they think ‘If we can get someone who’s had some success and match them up with someone else who had success, they’ll work well,’ which, of course, is not how that works at all.
“I was given a list of collaborators, and the only name on that list that I felt like working with was Fripp because of King Crimson, and I got to know him quite well. He was great company, very funny, and we ended up working on a few projects over the years.
“In 2012, I was offered the opportunity to be in the band, and when I called my one friend, Nick Beggs, he said ‘Blimey, that’s got to be the longest audition in rock history.’”
While many might describe or categorize the music of King Crimson as “progressive rock,” or “prog rock” to some, Jakszyk doesn’t view the term as terribly important and, in some cases, actively harming how the music is viewed.
“There’s a lazy journalistic cliche about what prog rock is. All the songs are about Hobbits and they wore capes. But that’s the jokey take on it, and the downside is it might put people off who would like it.
Jakszyk went on to explain that the term “prog rock” had a much different meaning to him, especially growing up, as the phrase emerged well after he was listening to the music most people categorized as such.
“Here’s the thing, when I first listening to [King Crimson], it wasn’t called that [prog rock]. It was just rock music or underground. When you walked in to a record shop, it’d be pop or something like that, the ‘progressive’ moniker was attached to it was much later.
“At the time, the term, as a consumer, meant it was challenging music. It was extending what music could do, moving away from the normal conventions of songwriting.”
Over the years, King Crimson has appeared in various incarnations. The group on tour is the fifth iteration. And while each era has brought its own sound and take on the music being created, Jakszyk feels that this is the first time that the band has embraced everything that’s come before as well as what’s to come.
“This sounds counterintuitive or contradictory, but I think if you listened to Crimson, you listen to any of their albums from the start to the most recent, the band both sounds like a different group and yet the same. There’s a harmonic gloom that holds it all together.
“But I think more than any other version of the band, this one is the only one capable of addressing any one of those eras. All the others were kind of representative of who they were at the time. This group is looking at the progression of the material.”
Much of this is helped by the diversity of the band members, with each contributing not just their talents, but their history with the work.
“Some, like Fripp, have been in the group for a while, so they bring with them that kind of continuity, that authenticity. And then you’ve got someone like Gavin Harrison, who hasn’t been a part of Crimson before. He doesn’t copy what came before, brings his own voice to the work. And then I’m the one fan boy of the whole thing.
“Part of how I sing was determined by me listening to those albums at a young age. I can sing it as me, but I’m so shaped by those records. It doesn’t sound like a pastiche, but you can hear the influence in how I perform.”
As King Crimson continues its tour, Jakszyk hopes the group is bringing something to its concerts that’ll both please older fans and provide something for a new generation to grasp onto.
“Well, I hope that older fans of the band will see it as a continuation that has the required DNA that still makes it Crimson. The process we go through is kinda mad. We come up with whole pieces and Robert [Fripp] won’t recognize it as a Crimson piece unless it’s changed.
“It’s an arcane, mad way of going about it, like creating a framework, putting something on top of it, and then taking away that framework, but it just works,” Jakszyk says.