Stick Men+ featuring David Cross: Midori
Though there's nothing in the Stick Men name that directly references King Crimson, the group seems very much like an offshoot. After all, Stick Men consists of long-time KC associates, specifically stick bassist Tony Levin, drummer Pat Mastelotto, and touch guitarist Markus Reuter (Levin and Mastelotto play in the current, three-drummer iteration of King Crimson and all three participate in The Crimson ProjeKCt), plus the live recording features as a guest one-time KC violinist David Cross, some forty years removed from his short tenure with the group.
Documenting shows performed in Tokyo in Japan during April 2015, Midori pulls from Crimson's catalogue and features a number of soundscapes and improvs. There are moments on the recording where one could be convinced that what one is hearing are unreleased improvs by that classic incarnation as opposed to a modern-day relative, an effect strengthened by the mellotron's occasional appearance. As the release features material from two shows, a few tracks repeat from the first set to the second. There's so much material presented, however, that one barely notices there are additional run-throughs of “Shades of Starless,” “The Talking Drum,” and “Larks' Tongues in Aspic.”
Fripp isn't present, obviously, but the group's sound is nevertheless strongly reminiscent of the outfit that produced Larks' Tongues in Aspic and Starless and Bible Black. Reuter doesn't ape Fripp, but, as the soloing in “Crack in the Sky” (and elsewhere) makes clear, the similarities will be immediately apparent to anyone familiar with the latter's sound. Mastelotto lacks Bill Bruford's singular invention and imagination but performs solidly, and in some passages (e.g., during the first set's “Industry”) the percussive attack is so colourful it begins to suggest the Bruford-Jamie Muir combination. Though the presence of Cross on the recording obviously enhances its appeal for Crimson devotees, Midori in no way relegates the others to backup roles. Instead, Cross's playing is featured no more prominently than anyone else's, the musical whole the primary concern of all involved.Stick Men clearly enjoys stretching out, and it's not uncommon for tracks to last from nine to twelve minutes. In some cases, the band lumbers; in the heavier “Larks' Tongues in Aspic” and “Breathless,” it roars with conviction; and during “Shades of Starless,” whose melody might well be the loveliest in Crimson's catalogue, the four execute the material with delicacy. A gravelly voiceover by Levin does appear on “Crack in the Sky,” but the other eighteen are purely instrumental. The outfit even tackles—shades of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Pictures at an Exhibition!—Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, and, wouldn't you know it, the eleven-minute treatment actually comes off pretty well. In fact, you might come away from it puzzled as to why no prog outfit climbed that particular mountain before, considering how well Stravinsky's melodies lend themselves to a Crimsoid-styled interpretation. Weighing in at nearly 140 minutes, the recording, which was first released as a two-CD set in Japan but is now being made available in a 1000-copy edition via MoonJune Records and at the group's 2016 live shows, is about as complete a document of how this particular foursome sounded on those Japan nights as might be imagined.