First published on LiveJournal - 14/10/09
'Since this tour was first announced, people have said to me, “It's incredible... seeing all those Crimson-related guys playing together... it's amazing! But tell me, Jakko - What the sodding hell are YOU doing here?” The thing is, I won a competition last year... I was the 2001 winner of PROG IDOL! It's an exciting time... they whisk you off to a secret location and teach you things you'd never thought about before... like maintaining general interest during other people's solos, that kind of thing... I still haven't got the hang of that one! ...or trying to find your pedals when you're standing knee-deep in dry ice...'
Jakko, on stage with the 21st Century Schizoid Band, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 30/09/02Jakko M Jakszyk is a really funny guy, a natural comic. He is also a sickeningly talented multi-instrumentalist, singer, performer, writer and producer. Yet within the [for the sake of argument, let's still call them] 'grooves' of “THE BRUISED ROMANTIC GLEE CLUB”, Jakko pours his heart out on such matters as his troubled relationship with his adoptive parents, his search for his birth mother, his struggles with the bottle and the mental turmoil that resulted... He doesn't sound like such a happy little bunny now, does he? Why, even the instrumental composition “Catley's Ashes” turns out to be named after a dead cat!
[Jakko's sleevenotes tell his own PERSONAL story better than I ever could, while there is a VERY detailed CAREER history on the old Wiki, so I won't reiterate here.]
But it is THE MUSIC ITSELF that really matters here, both to the listener and, it is apparent, to Jakko himself. The tracks on Disc 2 demonstrate just exactly what it was that kept the teenage Jakko going THEN, while the fulfillment of creating music as beauteous as that on Disc 1 must be what keeps him going NOW. That and the stellar roll-call of FRIENDS he can call on to help make that music a reality. “The Bruised Romantic Glee Club” itself has had quite a chequered history. It was 'released' to rave reviews a couple of years ago, only for the record company to go belly-up just as it should have been shipping it out to all us eager punters (It seems it's not the first time this has happened to a Jakko artifact - his debut solo release “Silesia” suffered a similar fate). In the subsequent months, much water has flowed under the bridge and a couple of members of its all-star cast have sadly left us (Ian Wallace, Hugh Hopper). Teasers have emerged in the form of tracks posted on Jakko's MySpace or as a couple of demos appearing as downloads via the DGM concern. The earlier reviews had painted a rosy picture. Jakko's track record speaks for itself. I had a fair idea of what to expect. And so the "new" album by the artist formerly known as EDUARDO (as in RAW SEX from the French & Saunders show - look it up on YouTube if you don't believe me!) has finally arrived. It comes as not TOO much of a surprise that the album is A VERY BEAUTIFUL THING INDEED.
[For the sake of this outpouring, as in real life, I shall deal with the THEN disc first. Like, I suspect, many others of my generation, I immediately seized upon the second disc to see what the assembled crew had done to several beloved songs by SOFT MACHINE, KING CRIMSON (natch!) and HENRY COW. I wasn't disappointed. Soft Machine Volume Two's "As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still", the 'Indian' version of the KCrim's "Pictures Of A City", a jawdropping take on Henry Cow's "Nirvana For Mice", the title track of "Islands" (sadly never performed live by the Schizoid Band) and a glorious rendition of the Cow's strange song "[Nine Funerals For] The Citizen King", combine to form a thirty-odd minute suite which perfectly embodies all that is great about GOOD PROG. And with names of the caliber of Dave Stewart, Clive Brooks, Hugh Hopper, Gavin Harrison, Mel Collins, Danny Thompson and Ian Wallace listed in the sleevenotes, who but the most churlish of post-punk iconoclasts could resist? The NOW disc, the album proper as it were, deals with SUCH personal matters that I feel it deserves a little 'living with' before I can open up with some opinions of my own, beyond the obvious ones of an “Oh Wow!” nature. So I apologise for the delay...]
DISC TWO - THEN
AS LONG AS HE LIES PERFECTLY STILL/THAT STILL AND PERFECT SUMMER/ASTRAL PROJECTION IN PINNER... It was the done thing, amongst all those 'Canterbury' bands, to string together, without a break, several unrelated short compositions, to create a big 'suite' that would fill a whole side of a twelve-inch long-playing record. Either that or they would think up a new title for every time there was a key change or shift in the tempo! This little concatenation (look it up!) features a faithful rendering of the piece that, if memory serves, opened side two of Soft Machine's second platter, complete with lyrical references to the recently departed Kevin Ayers. It has been newly married to a short Jakko original, very much in keeping with the period flavour (perhaps more Caravan than Softs) and a new coda by Canterbury veteran Dave Stewart. In fact, a veritable Canterbury SUPERGROUP has been assembled for the occasion, featuring not only Stewart with 'THAT' Canterbury fuzzy organ sound, but also SM original Hugh Hopper and Dave's old mucker from Egg (and Nick Mason's drum tech) Clive Brooks. All the fiendishly interweaving wind parts are played by Gary Barnacle. What's not to like?
PICTURES OF AN INDIAN CITY... I love this track to death. But it's probably because I've 'lived with it' for the longest time (it was previously available as a DGM “Hot Tickle” download) that I can foresee it becoming a tad tiresome. Don't get me wrong; I adore and appreciate the music of the Indian sub-continent in all its forms - I'm even partial to some of the cheesiest of Bollywood Pop-Bhangra now and again! But there is something about the tikka masala flavour of this version that reminds me of those awful Ananda Shankar/'Sitar-A-Go-Go' novelty albums of the late sixties (Lest we forget that the Coral Sitar was invented for the very purpose of Western guitarists achieving that 'EXOTIC EFFECT'). Or perhaps it is because the original version is so ingrained in my psyche. Having said that, the musicianship on this number is absolutely staggering, especially the way that Gavin Harrison's kit drumming interplays with the tabla of Pandit Dinesh during the “42nd At Treadmill” section (I'm not even sure you'd call it that anymore, now that Sinfield's new lyrics are about Mumbai rather than some Northern industrial town). Mel Collins plays some tasty soprano sax towards the end, creating a much lighter feel than the original version.
NIRVANA FOR MICE... Like Jakko, I too 'discovered' Henry Cow towards the end of my secondary education and I would put the “Leg End” album right up there in my all-time top five. The first startling thing about this version of that album's opening salvo is that Dave Stewart actually sat down and 'painstakingly' PROGRAMMED all of the horn parts into a computer. There doesn't appear to be any 'real' winds on it at all! The second startling thing is the Zappa-like guitar solo that suddenly pops up where you'd expect Geoff Leigh's alto break to be (The influence of “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” on the SOUND of early Henry Cow can not be underestimated... discuss.) Once again, kudos to the fabulous Gavin Harrison for his performance on this piece.
ISLANDS... Can I stick my neck out and say that this version (of the title track to King Crimson's fourth long player) is actually BETTER than the original? Even though the “Islands” record was MY first teenage introduction to The World of KCrim, I could still recognise that it had its flaws - Boz' under-rehearsed, rather plodding bass guitar work, the way the harmonium doesn't QUITE make the key changes... Nevertheless, this particular song conveys the atmosphere of my own youthful island-hopping activities and so I have always had a deep personal attachment to it. This version is a TRULY WONDERFUL THING INDEED.
THE CITIZEN KING... and at the other end of that first Henry Cow album was this spooky, yet strangely jolly little song by Tim Hodgkinson. The original was entitled “Nine Funerals Of The Citizen King” but perhaps that would be pushing the death theme a little TOO far this time around! Jakko's (and Stewart's) arrangement sticks pretty faithfully to the Cow version - more of that 'painstaking' programming from the original score. The original piece faded away into a mist of atmospheric noises-off; here Jakko has substituted something in a similar vain from his own teenage tape archives, called
DISC ONE - NOW
THE BRUISED ROMANTIC GLEE CLUB... Jakko is apparently the Bruised Romantic of the title, WAND'RING LONELY through the world, aloof and lost in his own contemplations. The world is a windswept seaside resort, its gaudy facade has seen better days. How dare the world be so upbeat and cheerful, when I'm working so hard at feeling sorry for myself... The song has a nicely spiteful edge to it, with Gavin Harrison's drums well to the fore, underpinned by the Chapman Stick basslines of perennial fashion-victim Nick Beggs. Occasionally, it drops back into something a little more pastoral, with Mel Collin's sax or flute showcased against the synthetic strings. The piece is coda-ed (is that a word?) with Jakko's...
VARIATIONS ON A THEME BY HOLST, a little quartet for cello (Caroline Lavelle), viola (Helen Kaminga), flute (Ian MacDonald) and 'fake bass clarinet' (Jakko). As a kid, I always found “Jupiter The Joybringer” to be far too pompous and IN-YER-FACE, so it's so nice to hear it transformed into something more suitably melancholic and introspective, before we crash back into...
CATLEY'S ASHES... I was already familiar with this instrumental piece, as it served as a showcase for Ian Wallace's drum solo during the latter days of the 21st Century Schizoid Band. In Jakko's opinion, it 'never really worked in concert'. I always thought it had a slight 'Canterbury' vibe, or is perhaps reminiscent of parts of Mike Giles' “Progress” album. I wasn't sure how I would take to a version that featured Mark “The Thumb” King on bass guitar (By the time Jakko joined Level 42, they were still riding high on a wave of commercial success. But those of us who had warmed to their earlier incarnation as a funky jazz fusion outfit, only to see them evolve into purveyors of fluff for the undiscerning sound systems of travelling salesmen, had long since lost interest). In the event, the Laird of Prendergast Cringe puts in a fine performance, eschewing the trebly percussive style for which he is renowned, for something a little more subtle and John Perry-like. Here Mel Collins has to do the work of [at least] two saxophonists, with some nice ensemble work and tasty soloing. Gavin Harrison is again, for me, the man of the match. He reminds me of Terry Bozzio on this piece, in the way he plays freely behind the guitar and sax solos. Jakko's guitar solo is gorgeous in tone and beautifully constructed (He must sick of the Allan Holdsworth comparison by now, but sorry! here's another one!)
WHEN PEGGY CAME HOME... This instrumental piece features a lyrical guitar solo (here he sounds more like Jeff Beck) over synthetic strings and choir with occasional touches of Irish flute (and the voice of an Irish priest, but I haven't yet figured out what he's nattering about). This segues straight into the contrasting...
HIGHGATE HILL... This is very much a childish fantasy of what Jakko BELIEVED Highgate might be like, rather than what it actually is. The chorus is one of those that will lodge in your brain for the rest of the day, once you've heard it. If releasing singles was still something that people cared about in this world we call POP, then this ought to be one.
FORGIVING... Again, this song was familiar via the version that was released as a DGM “Hot Tickle” download (I think I'm right in remembering that the demo version had more piano, less synthy strings and John Giblin's bass was more to the fore - excuse me while I go back and listen to it!). This appeals to my own 'Xenochronic'/montaging sensibilities by virtue of the fact that Robert Fripp's guitar soundscapes were recorded for a completely different song altogether, only subsequently relocated to this piece instead. This song is poignant with a capital 'Phwoor!'
NO ONE LEFT TO LIE TO... This is another more 'spiteful' song. To use the vernacular, IT ROCKS! The little guitar motifs behind the chorus have more than a suggestion of The Fripp. There's also a nice bit where everything drops back for Mel Collin's alto solo and one is reminded that this man used to play with Clannad (There's even something that sounds like a harp in there!)
THE THINGS WE THROW AWAY... A strangely haunting little piano piece by Lyndon Connah, with pretty little acoustic guitar filigrees from Jakko. It reminds me of some of John Greaves more pastoral work, it has that slight garlic aroma...
DOXY, DALI & DUCHAMP... The way the sampled voices pop up occasionally throughout this and the subsequent tracks is reminiscent of the suite that filled the second side of Kate Bush's “Hounds Of Love”. The 'jazz trio' of Dave Stewart, Gavin Harrison and Danny Thompson here is an inspired combination. Jakko's strings and guitar fills add to the overall mood of SLEAZERY.
SREBRENICA... A haunting requiem, adopted from Serbian music and composed originally for a BBC play. If it is possible to describe an electric guitar as 'keening', then that is what it is doing here. The folky whistle motifs and (frighteningly realistic, if they ARE synthetic) orchestral flourishes add a sense of impending doom as the piece progresses.
WHEN WE GO HOME... A sad but never cloyingly sentimental lyric; more of those disembodied voices; hesitant piano figures (again, very Kate Bush) which eventually get doubled by acoustic guitar and glockenspiel; Robert Fripp's guitar beaming in JUST when it's most needed; cleverly arranged synthetic strings which surge in the best Hollywood style; If this doesn't bring a lump to your throat, then I don't know what will... After that, you just HAVE to go back and listen to Disc Two again...
Official Website: www.jakko.com
MySpace page: www.myspace.com/jakkojakszyk
Wikipedia article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakko_Jakszyk
Buy Jakko's music from BURNING SHED