When this album arrived I knew I would have to put aside some special time to listen to it, and when I had the opportunity I sat down and listened to it all the way through in one sitting. So what? I hear you ask. Well this set is nearly five and a half hours long! Perhaps I should let Markus Reuter explain, “embarking on this major tour in August and September 2018 in 10 countries with David Cross (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico) we planned to record all the shows with a view to potentially releasing them digitally. However, once I began reviewing the multi-track files, I was shocked to discover that in many cases both mine and Tony’s parts were missing, leaving us with far less useable material. Nonetheless, this setback inspired a creative approach that led us to produce this special boxed set. Across five themed discs we present the band’s progression throughout the tour using material and preferences that resonated with us.”
Not everyone will want to purchase this much music in one go, but it is also possible to grab each of the five discs individually (although by doing that you will miss out on the 24 page booklet containing photos by Tony Levin). The discs themselves are as follows, ‘Improvs (Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil)’, ‘Suites (Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Chile)’, ‘Full Show, Parts 1 & 2 (Costa Rica)’ (2 discs) and ‘Soundscapes (Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala)’. The result of all this music is that one comes away with the jaw permanently stuck to the floor (drool is so messy), as the ears cannot comprehend what is going on in front of them. Reuter (touch guitar), Levin (Stick) and Pat Mastelotto (drums) have no equal when it comes to improvised progressive rock, and when they add David Cross into the equation the beast takes on new meaning. As well as providing lead interpretations of his own, Cross also provides support in filling in some of the gaps behind Reuter, while Mastelotto and Levin are joined at the hip, due to the many years of playing together and countless hours onstage providing complex and complicated support. Here they are not as constrained as they are at times with King Crimson and use the opportunity to spread out but also keeping it tight, with Cross and Reuter often duelling and bouncing ideas off each other at the front.
This is not music which follows any set pattern, instead it is four of the truly great musicians having fun and taking musical frameworks and then moving that to extremes. There is very little speaking between the songs, which in many ways is a shame as I learned little snippets of which I was previously unaware, but there really is no need as when masters like this are onstage they literally let their instruments do the talking.
This style of music will not be for everyone, and not even for all fans of progressive rock, as they move between complex time signatures and styles in way that is sometimes hard to fathom. At one point Mastelotto asks the crowd if they want to clap along with the next number, explaining the insanely tricky time signatures and how to follow. Just when the brain is starting to melt, he says, “and then we do it backwards”, at which point the brain promptly departs and says to the ears on the way out “that’s it, you’re on your own as I have no idea how they can do this.”
But, and this is hugely important, this isn’t being fiendishly clever for the sake of it but rather they are discovering where the music takes them, and each night it can be as much a surprise to them the musicians as it is to us the listener. We get some Crimson numbers thrown in here and there but given two people onstage are current members and one is a past member that will never be surprising, but here they are brought up to date and given full Stick Men treatment. This is an incredible release, and one which fans of instrumental music which is truly pushing boundaries need to investigate. As to which disc is best? Sorry, I love them all.