What if your partner can’t stand some, or all, of your favourite music? House arrest over lockdown has surely made the problem worse for couples forced to share the domestic sound system. An album to be released on Valentine’s Day offers a novel solution, reports John Bungey (*):
For one group of fans, an album out on Valentine’s Day tries to tackle a thorny but little discussed issue. A Romantic’s Guide to King Crimson offers softer, sweeter versions of the vintage prog rock band’s canon designed to woo long-suffering partners.
“It’s always been a joke in the King Crimson camp that there’s never a line for the women’s restrooms during intermissions,” says Deborah Mastelloto, wife of Crimson drummer Pat. Amid the band’s loud and knotty catalogue the pair found sufficient tunes to domesticate. Some were easy: the already pretty Book of Saturday is re-recorded by the couple with gossamer harp and flute as Deborah whisper-sings the wistful lyric. Matte Kudasai acquires a touch of dark Bond-theme drama; Two Hands becomes smoochy Euro pop – ideal sounds for a Russian kleptocrat’s aqua disco at 2am.
Could this be a trend? Smooth versions of late Coltrane for the dinner jazz slot… Of course many women (and this is the gender the King Crimson album is aimed at) may find such ideas hugely patronising. Who says some women don’t love a 17-minute blast of, say, Peter Brötzman’s searing free-jazz masterpiece Machine Gun (YouTube) as much as their menfolk (though I’ve yet to meet her).
Jazz appreciation can be as male-skewed as prog rock. A straw poll of male and pale peers confirms a problem. One friend reports: “Recent ‘God what is that’ or ‘Turn that off’ or ‘I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than listen to that’ or, more politely, ‘That’s not my kind of music’ have included the Necks, Sonny Rollins’s A Night at the Village Vanguard (made more unlistenable to my partner because it’s a sax/bass/drums trio – no piano) and Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew on loud also caused her to abandon the lounge recently.”
A second friend responds: “It’s Soft Machine and John McLaughlin’s Extrapolation she doesn’t get on with.” Another adds: “Zappa and Garbage never get played in my house. K*** can sense when I’m even thinking of playing them even though she may be many miles away and I get a ‘Don’t you dare’ text.”
Part of the solution is of course compromise: “My partner grew up a soul girl,” says a musician friend, “so you can imagine what she makes of my long-time interest in progressive rock. The nearest we meet is Weather Report.” (In my house it’s Steely Dan.)
All is not lost though. The wave of jazz coming out of south London – Nubya Garcia, Theon Cross, Cassie Kinoshi – attracts both genders in a way that a 1970s Soft Machine concert never did.
Oliver Weindling, head manager at the Vortex in east London, says audiences at the club are changing: “Historically, jazz in its more intense forms has been very male-oriented, especially free improv (Billy Jenkins once described these audiences to me as ‘single, divorced or separated, middle-aged me’ ).”
Weindling adds: “Younger audiences are certainly more mixed … Where we now have more female musicians (and we are now approaching 50% balance), then likewise the gender balance is more equal. Of course, the most ‘extreme’ version of that is Blow The Fuse, led by Alison Rayner and Deirdre Cartwright, where the audiences are probably 70% female. “Evan Parker gigs, which, since they have been going on for nearly 30 years at the Vortex, are a good touchstone. And here audiences are definitely more balanced and younger than a decade ago.”
Never mind King Crimson and their quest to fill up the ladies’ loos, it may be a while before anyone produces A Romantic’s Guide to Evan Parker, with all the circular breathing and high-order harmonics excised. In the meantime, there’s always headphones – the gift to give on Valentine’s Day?
(*) Warning: This Valentine’s Day feature may contain gender stereotyping!
A Romantic’s Guide to King Crimson by the Mastelottos is released by 7d Media – LINK TO BANDCAMP