ROBERT FRIPP – Washington Square Church

Panegyric 2022

Washington Square Church

Free from constraints of collective approach, avant-garde avatar scales solo heights.

There’s something intrinsically, inherently wrong about Robert Fripp’s concert recordings committed to media. Existing strictly in the moment, in the here-and-now, his improvisatory pieces somehow retain their magnetism even when preserved for posterity, yet many examples of the veteran’s art remaining aurally alluring decades later got lost in the mists of time, as the loops which he used to prepare in advance appeared detached from solos – until the document of the artist’s stint at Washington Square United Methodist Church in May 1981 surfaced. It allowed his manager David Singleton to mix and restore the audio with a result that’s stunning not only in surround sound but also in stereo, both variants forming a double-disc album 40 years after those shows took place.

On this platter Robert, fresh out of his revitalized ensemble’s tour, sculpts most arresting instrumental compositions seemingly out of the clearest ether and ventures far beyond the sonic concept of Frippertronics to explore the dynamic and melodic possibilities of fluctuating lines which weave hypnotic patterns in the imperceptibly epic opener of those evening performances, occasional flurries of notes tying six-string knots on the broad tuneful highways where unexpected chords serve as traffic signals that sometimes sting the listener’s ear with a spectral, if heavy, riff. The effect is akin to a cosmic voyage into the Great Unknown, especially when oscillating passages produce scintillating tapestries, as captured in “Washington Square II” whose sunset-smelling splashes paint the calm-before-the-storm sort of spoiled tranquility, the number’s follow-up swirling like an undercut tornado – fast and slow, fast and slow – and busting silence to bluesy smithereens, until heavenly harmonies of “Washington Square IV” elevate it all to roaring celestial spaces.

Of course, Fripp being Fripp means enchantment and chamber atmosphere are bound to diverge at a certain point, so the predatory fifth part of the concert has crimson-colored squeals bleed into its texture that’s gradually getting ripped to rags, contrasting the deceptively sere serenity of the next chapter, which might offer the audience a bout of “Starless” yet stays on track to unfold a rippling, fluid stream of “Washington Square VII” and see the guitar shift and shred the flow into bite-sized clusters of rapture only to be interrupted by quietude. This is when the frantic “Washington Square VIII” starts to roll towards a stained-glass grandeur and ferociously rocking fret phrases, readying the multilayered ground for the probing echoes of the subsequent etude and future reflections in the almost orchestral segment of wonder. However, nothing can prepare anyone for the show’s chiming finale: a staging of glorious billows, the harbingers of electric tsunami barely able to subside in the end – and prompt another spin of the disc with a tease of discovering previously unheard details of the overall picture.

Grandeur has never been as understated as it is here, on this intangible monument to one man’s fleeting reverie.


July 20, 2022

Category(s): Reviews
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