Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins – A Scarcity Of Miracles (DGM/Southbound) CD REVIEW

It seems Robert Fripp can do nothing to appease his fans these days. You’d think that throwing out new, Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) 5.1 remixes of classic King Crimson albums – together with a seemingly never-ending treasure of live recordings – would make everybody happy. But no.
To many, this album is further proof that Fripp has lost the plot. What temerity, subtitling it with the line ‘A King Crimson ProjeKct’! And why is our favourite intellectual guitarist’s guitarist slumming it with this fellow with the unpronounceable name, anyway? Jakszyk or Jackshit?
Well, while I do have a few issues with A Scarcity Of Miracles, for this fan it’s one of the most gratifying releases from Fripp’s Discipline Global Mobile label for quite some time.
Jakko M. Jakszyk isn’t some obscure Eastern European, but a born-and-bred Englishman who, for some reason known only to himself, changed his name from Michael Lee Curran. His credentials are fascinating, having performed with the likes of Level 42, and more notably, several offshoots of the group Henry Cow, including The Lodge, one of the greatest forgotten groups of the late ‘80s.
It’s that Henry Cow connection that makes Jakszyk so interesting, because several previous albums displayed his understanding of that group’s genius at an almost entirely original form of English experimental rock. The extended Henry Cow family, combined with Robert Fripp and his very specific aesthetic and history in progressive rock, make for two important but often overlooked strands of a music. And while Fripp has played on Eno albums along with Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith, “the Cow” and “the Crimson” have never really mixed their DNA. Until now: Jakszyk brings his strong Henry Cow influence to this project, which often makes it sound like that legendary non-existent union between those two megaliths of art-rock.
On the surface, however, A Scarcity Of Miracles is simply a song-based album, in which Jakszyk gets to sing his songs of abject misery. That’s the other thing: Fripp fans seem to object to the outright emotionality of Jakszyk’s songs, accusing him of bland lyrics. I don’t think they quite get it. Yes, these songs are lyrically bleak, and seem to be about a relationship falling apart. ‘Secrets’, for instance, goes “I won’t ever feel again/So I won’t feel the need to explain.” On ‘This House’, his voice intones “This house/Is empty now”. There’s even a song called ‘The Other Man’.
I don’t think Jakszyk’s lyrics are poor. Sure, they’re simple, but that gives them an almost haiku-like flavour, which is reinforced by the contrast between his raw imagery and the extended instrumental drift of the pieces, which often go on for upwards of eight minutes.
The vocals remind me a little of another Fripp-associated group, No-man. They’re very English, very “proper”, and you can sense the anger and despair behind the very controlled vocal performance, but he never breaks out. That’s a good thing.
The music is mostly rather watery and opaque and at times quite gorgeous, with Fripp providing some of his best pseudo-Frippertronics in many years, and even some guitar playing where his tone is similar to those classic early ‘70s Crimson records. Jakszyk performs does his multi-instrumentalist thing (mostly guitar and keyboards), while Tony Levin gets out his Chapman Stick for some very nice low-down bass and possibly some faux-guitar.
The only sour note here is Mel Collins and his damn sax. Now, Collins made some sterling contributions to early King Crimson records, but his sound back then seemed rough, metallic, almost electric at times. Here, his interminable noodling inevitably connotes every jazz sax in history, particularly wretched toots like Kenny G. Everyone else here sounds like themselves, and while I know it’s a big ask for a saxophonist not to sound like a horn with the history of jazz in its elephant snout, but at times, Collins literally made me want to press the eject button.
But that’s one black mark on an otherwise very good album, which is capped off by two excellent pieces. ‘The Other Man’ (which I mentioned a few paragraphs back) is the most Henry Cow/Art Bears-influenced of the tracks, and it has that group’s austere but still melodic aspect with a sense of terror that could freeze you to the bone. ‘The Light Of The Day’ is nine minutes of extreme stereo imaging and bass throb moving from speaker to speaker.
Unjustly maligned, this is an excellent if somewhat dour project from Jakszyk and Fripp, with a slight thorn (or horn?) in its side (Collins) that makes it an album to dip into, rather than wallow all the way through in one listen. GARY STEEL
Music = 4
Sound = 4

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