Kronomyth 1.0: AURORA. There were a lot of people who lamented the loss of King Crimson, and it’s tempting to see the first U.K. album as a kind of Crimson Mark II. Bill Bruford and John Wetton had been half of that band, Eddie Jobson had replaced David Cross for some studio overdubs on the live U.S.A. and while Robert Fripp was irreplaceable, Allan Holdsworth was hardly a case of settling for less. The record does invite comparison to King Crimson, but Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jean-Luc Ponty also serve as reference points. In fact, there are several moments on here where the words “Ponty on steroids” come to mind. (Holdsworth, you may recall, had just come from playing on Ponty’s Enigmatic Ocean.) What’s unique about U.K. is that they’re not jazz-rock fusion in any sense that I understand the label. It’s almost as though the band took the musicianship and unpredictable twists and turns of Zappa (e.g., “Presto Vivace And Reprise”) and Ponty (“Time To Kill”) and drained all of the jazz out of it, leaving pure prog chops in its place. And it’s in that sense where the first U.K. album is groundbreaking, because it allowed future proggers to make highly complex, dynamic and mathematical music without leaning on jazz idioms to do it. There are a lot of prog bands in the 21st century that are making music that sounds like U.K. did thirty years ago. As much of a powerhouse album as this is, I do feel like it falls apart in spots as the band tries to mesh melodies, vocals and high-octane musicianship together. The closing “Nevermore” and “Mental Medication,” for example, probably would have worked better as instrumentals than extended songs. That said, the opening suite, “In The Dead of Night,” is classic prog—something I didn’t expect to encounter anymore in 1978—and “Thirty Years” is pretty amazing too. Until now, Eddie Jobson had been a peripheral (if popular) player in prog circles, but this album established him as a major creative force in the field. Unfortunately, the band began to fall apart soon after, with Bruford and Holdsworth leaving the fold (they would reappear later that year on Bruford’s Feels Good To Me). What remains on this first record is a sweet, wonderful alignment of stars that one can happily exonerate for the future crimes of Asia.
Kronomyth 2.0: AMBROSIA. With Bruford and Holdsworth gone, Eddie Jobson and John Wetton raise the stakes to fill the spaces and come up with an even more cogent case for their existence on Danger Money. Ex-Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio doesn’t really show up until mid-album, but when he does, everything clicks, so much so that the absence of half the original band is almost a non-issue. The dynamics of a trio are different, and Jobson focuses on the keyboards over the violin, which gives this record a more pronounced ELP feel than their first. The Ponty references are understandably fewer as Jobson limits his violin to a few tracks; “Casear’s Palace Blues” is the only track where Ponty came to my mind. The songwriting is remarkably solid this time around: “Rendezvous 6:02,” “Carrying No Cross” and “Nothing To Lose” (which foreshadows the work of Asia) would handily make the cut for a Best of U.K. (were such an animal to exist). While the album’s most obvious reference is the first U.K. effort, much of Danger Money feels like an update of the ELP/KC approach to prog. In fact, when Crimson regrouped in 1980, they might as well have been called U.K.C., as they seemed to borrow from both. At six songs, the effort may seem slight, but U.K. packs a lot of music into them, particularly for a trio. “The Only Thing She Needs,” for example, holds your attention with shifting arrangements, while “Danger Money” does the same through Wetton’s lyrics (which are some of his best over his career). Danger Money, if not Jobson’s finest hour, is at least his finest forty minutes. No prog keyboardist to my mind was playing better music than him in 1979, but more importantly Jobson had found a way to update prog’s excessive scale without the excess baggage of complicated themes and classical posing. I hear elements of Sparks on “Danger Money” and Ultravox on “Carrying No Cross;” two bands that had successfully (at least in the musical sense) managed to bridge the past with the future. That U.K. didn’t have a future is one of prog’s great tragedies, since they might have continued to make great music for years (and staved off the formation of Asia). What they did leave behind, while slight in size, was monumental in effect.
Kronomyth 3.0: ADDENDA. As quickly as it started, it was over, and another supergroup was superseded by individual interests. Night After Night was mixed and released after the band’s final performances in Japan, during the summer of 1979. Included here are two new tracks performed live, “Night After Night” and “As Long As You Want Me Here,” which show a lack of creative chemistry was not UK’s undoing. Perhaps the wonder is that UK lasted at all after the loss of Bruford and Holdsworth, except that Jobson and Wetton always were the heart of the group. On this performance, Jobson’s keyboards (and occasional violin) are outstanding, filling in the space so well that he nearly does the work of two musicians (“Alaska” is particularly impressive). John Wetton’s voice is in fine form, delivering the new tracks and “old” favorites like “Rendezvous 6:02” with the right amounts of drama and nuance. Terry Bozzio does a good job on drums, with plenty of double-stroke rolls tripping smoothly over the tom-toms just as they did in Zappa’s employ. The new material, the clean recording, and the lack of anything else from the band conspire to make Night After Night that rare essential live recording. Some listeners have even anointed this their best effort; perhaps overenthusiastic praise, but cheeky product this is not. Given the often redundant nature of live recordings, this one is remarkably relevant.