Last fall, at a New York performance by the current incarnation of King Crimson, I was reminded yet again of the long-running alliances between progressive rock and jazz—in the music, which upholds a similar respect for virtuosity and ensemble dynamics, and in the crowd, whose patience and focus met or even surpassed what can be found in today’s serious jazz rooms. A triple-drummer frontline understood the depth of its power, but operated with a choreography and thoughtfulness that was equal parts orchestral percussion section and avant-jazz collaboration—paring down and beefing up, listening hard and locking eyes. Saxophonist and flutist Mel Collins, throughout suitelike arrangements that made space for improvisational daring, functioned like both a supercharged studio technician and a post-Coltrane fire-breather. Tony Levin, on basses and Chapman Stick, was a nimble, strong source of harmony, more Dave Holland than hard rock. Guitarist Robert Fripp led from within, like certain big-band leaders who were also instrumentalists bearing signature styles. And let’s not get started on the unison lines of the penultimate song, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” like steroidal, psychedelic bebop.
Rolling Stone veteran David Fricke was at that show too, and we got to talking about those exhilarating LPs on which jazz, fusion, and prog coalesce. Enjoy his survey of 10 essentials. —EVAN HAGA