Last year was an incredible year for Progressive Music (note: upper case), but in my opinion, 2013 has been even better. Thanks to this community (Progarchy) and the ever-lively Big Big Train Facebook group, I have been exposed to more new prog in 2013 than in any year since the halcyon days of the early 70s. As a result, my wallet has been considerably lightened, but my musical universe has been enriched way beyond mere monetary value.
What follows is a brief review of my top ten purchases in 2013 – albums received for review or borrowed from friends are not included, however much I enjoyed them. The list is alphabetic, as each of these albums is my favourite when I’m listening to it, depending on my mood.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing: A superb album from start to finish, replete with powerful, hard-rocking passages, beautiful melodies, jazzy interludes, lush arrangements, and oodles of emotion (not something SW is renowned for). Much as I enjoy SW’s guitar playing, I’m delighted that he has handed over most of the guitar work to the incredible Guthrie Govan and stepped back to be more of a musical director – he has always been an excellent songwriter, but I think his compositions have benefitted greatly from this change of focus. I also think this is Wilson’s strongest and most confident vocal performance ever. Of course the rest of the band members are all outstanding, but in particular I love Wilson’s use of Theo Travis’ woodwinds to add an extra dimension that was sometimes lacking in the Porcupine Tree soundscape.
Spock’s Beard – Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep: I love Nick D’Virgilio’s singing and drumming and was concerned when I heard that he’d left Spock’s Beard, but I needn’t have worried. I thought X was an excellent album, but Brief Nocturnes is even better. Ted Leonard not only brings his powerful and emotive vocal delivery to the band (I think he’s the best vocalist the Beard have had to date), but also his strong compositional skills, which were always evident with Enchant. And Jimmy Keegan is a monster drummer, a worthy full-time successor to the vacated “batterie” stool (he’s been touring with the band for years). Ryo’s keyboard work has also been going from strength to strength since Neal Morse, the uber-controlling force, left the band, while Alan Morse and Dave Meros seem to be even more energised by the injection of new blood into the band. A strong set of songs, powerfully delivered by a great band.
Sanguine Hum – The Weight of the World: Sanguine Hum are one of my favourite “new” finds. This Oxford-based band deliver layered and beautifully structured compositions with plenty of dynamics, which never fail to surprise and delight. One reviewer described their approach as “polymath”, but I think this may give the wrong impression – while their music is precise, it is never clinical, and while complex, it is never complicated for the sake of it. Although I slightly prefer their first album, “Diving Bell”, “Weight of the World” is an excellent album that gets repeated listening, and will continue to do so.
Riverside – Shrine of New Generation Slaves: “SoNGS”, to my ears, is the best Riverside album since their impressive debut “Out Of Myself” in 2004. With greater emphasis on songwriting rather than thrash, and more varied textures that their last few albums, this album is imminently listenable, apart from the rather tiresome first few minutes of the opening song, which seems to stutter along for ages before it gets going. Mariusz Duda’s side project, Lunatic Soul, is definitely bleeding back into Riverside, which I’m delighted about. More, please Mariusz…
Haken – The Mountain: For me, the find of the year. Two months go I’d never heard of this band, but now I have all three of their albums and can’t stop listening to them. “The Mountain” is a real tour de force, with light and shade, strong melodies, excellent harmonies, tight ensemble playing and impressive pyrotechnics that are just right in context of each song, when they explode. I think their “Gentle Giant” moment (The Cockroach King) is one of the finest since the great band themselves were performing – far better than Spock’s Beard’s efforts (which are nevertheless uniformly good), and rivalling Kevin Gilbert’s genius in his “Suit Canon”. This band has everything (except a permanent bass player – sad that I’m living on the wrong continent, too old and simply not talented enough to audition for the post… !). Great album, and great band with a stellar future.
Cosmograf – The Man Left In Space: I’m a sucker for good sci-fi – combine it with superb songwriting and musicianship from wide range of musicians and I’m in there, lead boots, space suit and all. The first time I heard this album, I thought some of the the interludes caused the album to lose momentum musically, but repeated listening has completely dispelled that impression. I now think this is a beautifully balanced album, lyrically and musically, and I’m really looking forward to the next Cosmograf album (which is always a good sign).
Big Big Train – English Electric Full Power: “English Electric”, parts 1 and 2, were already two of my all-time favourite albums, but the combined and expanded package, “Full Power”, has raised the bar even higher. I have already written full reviews of the individual albums (here on Progarchy and elsewhere), so suffice to say that the re-ordering of the songs and the additional material has created one of the most satisfying listening experiences I’ve had since I first became “aware” of music. Brilliant songwriting, meaningful lyrics, exemplary delivery, superb, lush production. And of course, there’s also the magnificent packaging…
Ayreon – The Theory of Everything: Two adjectives often associated with Ayreon are “bombastic” and “overblown”, but I prefer to use adjectives such as “majestic” and “melodic”. Arjen Lucassen has more musical ideas than is reasonable for any single human being, and he seems to be a helluva nice guy as well. “The Theory of Everything” is his best work, including side projects, since “The Human Equation”, which was my first encounter with his music and still my favourite. However, I’ve only had TTOE for two weeks, and already it is threatening to nudge THE aside. With a stellar cast of musicians and singers, including major prog alumni John Wetton, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Jordan Rudess and Steve Hackett, he’s created another intense epic work that soars and delights, while examining the very human themes of genius, deception, ambition, pride and love. As a scientist, I also appreciate the recurring symbol of the lighthouse, representing intellect and science casting illumination through the gloom. Brilliant album.
The Aristocrats – Culture Clash: This band has literally blown my socks off (it’s OK, it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, so I’m not too uncomfortable). I bought the “Boing! We’ll Do It Live” DVD earlier this year, and was mesmerised by the incredible technical abilities of the three musicians, Govan Guthrie (guitar), Marco Minnemann (drums) and Bryan Beller (bass). But this is not just a musical show-off band – not only do they write splendid (instrumental) music that crosses a vast range of genres (truly Progressive), but their obvious enjoyment of the music, and each other, is completely infectious. “Culture Clash”, their second album, sees them settling into their relationships and interactions, and writing music specifically for each other – and it’s a sheer delight. Want more!
Antione Fafard – Occultus Tramatis: I get to listen to a lot of new music while I’m working, putting science textbooks together. Much of it tends to slip by me while I’m concentrating on the work, but every now and then an album wrests my attention from whatever I’m doing and forces me to focus on the music. “Occultus Tramatis” was one of those albums. Canadian bassist Antione Fafard has put together a star-studded cast of jazz, jazz-fusion and progressive rock performers including Jerry Goodman and drummers Simon Phillips, Chad Wackerman, Terry Bozzio and Gavin Harrison, and produced an outstanding album of prog fusion, which despite its musical complexity and ever changing time signatures is nevertheless fresh and rewarding, revealing different possibilities every time you listen to it. Each track has its own feel, with changes of pace, a variety of complex rhythms and contrasting instrumental arrangements, but the album still still has an organic flow. I listened to my review copy twice straight through, and immediately ordered the CD. Challenging, but excellent.
Thieves’ Kitchen – One For Sorrow, Two For Joy: I marginally prefer The Water Road, but this is a strong collection of jazzy prog songs.
Roy Harper – Man and Myth: Powerful, emotional work.
The Flower Kings – Desolation Rose: Their darkest album to date, but a real return to form. May have made it into my top 10 if it had arrived earlier.
Amplifier – Echo Street: Gorgeous guitar-based, atmospheric music.
Airbag – The Greatest Show On Earth: Only arrived last week. Excellent album that is rapidly growing on me.
Lifesigns: This is a strange one for me. I really like the instrumental work, but some of the compositions seem to meander for long periods. And I can’t get into the vocals – the delivery seems flat and unidimensional to me. Sorry.
Not considered (see above, but added to my wish list):
Comedy of Errors – Fanfare & Fantasy
Days Between Stations – In Extremis
Dream Theater – Dream Theater
KingBathmat – Overcoming the Monster
Levin Minnemann Rudess – LMR
Magenta – The Twenty Seven Club
Moon Safari – Himlabacken Vol. 1
Persona Grata – Reaching Places High Above
PFM – Da Mozart A Celebration
Shadow Circus – On A Dark and Stormy Night
Sound of Contact – Dimensionaut
The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail
TesseracT – Altered State
Verbal Delirium – From The Small Hours of Weakness
Von Hertzen Brothers – Nine Lives
So much to listen to, so little time. Prog has never been healthier.
Yessongs, taken from the Close to the Edge tour, arrived in the world in 1973. Happy Birthday, Yessongs, my first prog love. And, what’s not to love? My two reasons why. Enjoy.
2013 has already shaped up to be one of the most bountiful years ever for prog. Consider a few of the outstanding albums that have already been released: Big Big Train’s English Electric 2, Cosmograf’s The Man Left In Space, Bruce Soord/Jonas Renkse’s The Wisdom Of Crowds, KingBathmat’s Overcoming the Monster, Sanguine Hum’s The Weight of the World, Sound of Contact’s Dimensionaut. Add to that list Days Between Stations’ In Extremis, which has taken up permanent residence in my home CD player and my iPod.
Days Between Stations, based in Los Angeles, is Oscar Fuentes Bills (keyboards) and Sepand Samzadeh (guitars). In Extremis is only their second release, but it possesses the maturity and excellence of a far more experienced group. Their 2007 self-titled debut consists of five extended instrumentals with some wordless vocals (plus two “intermissions” of sampled conversations), and is top-notch prog in its own right. The opening track, Requiem for the Living, begins with a beautiful yet mournful theme on synths and piano, which eventually develops into a slide guitar workout that would do David Gilmour proud. According to Samzadeh, it was inspired by Gorecki’s Third Symphony, also known as his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The album concludes with the epic Laudanum, which never loses focus or power over the course of its 22 minutes. It includes ambient textures, jazz fusion, and, of course, lots of prog guitar!
While Bills and Samzadeh were ably assisted on their first album by Jeremy Castillo (guitars), Jon Mattox (drums), and Vivi Rama (bass), for In Extremis, they have taken things to an entirely new level. Billy Sherwood (Yes) is sharing production duties with Bills and Samzadeh, Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, and many others) is on Stick and bass, Colin Moulding (XTC) lends his voice to a song, and Rick Wakeman (Yes, etc.) contributes some mellotron and minimoog. In a fitting way, the late Peter Banks (Yes, guitar) adds his magic to several songs. As a matter of fact, these are Banks’ last recorded performances.
In Extremis begins with a massive fanfare featuring the Angel City Orchestra that becomes the overture for the album. The most obvious difference with this set of songs is that we now have vocalists singing lyrics! Billy Sherwood sings in the Floydian Visionary, Eggshell Man, and the title track. Thematically, the lyrics convey the loss and regret of someone near the end of his life:
There’s no replacing what’s been left behind
There’s no returning to that place and time
In sight were all the distant horizons
In flight were all the dreams alive
A high point is Colin Moulding’s marvelous vocals on the wry pop of The Man Who Died Two Times. Set to an irresistible, bouncy ’80s vibe, Moulding sings of
All the angels cried
For the man who died two times
And they wiped away tears of laughter
And helped him survive
Going station to station
Always ready to revive
Next up is a touching string quartet piece dedicated to Peter Banks, which is followed by the crowning glory of the entire album, Eggshell Man. It features a delicate accoustic guitar intro with gorgeous vocals by Sherwood and a mellotron flute solo by Wakeman. It soon picks up speed and intensity, including a section with some Middle Eastern flair. The tempo ebbs and flows over the course of twelve minutes, Wakeman has a terrific minimoog solo, Levin is rock-solid on bass, and Sherwood sings of “best laid plans” and empires returning to dust. It’s one of the finest songs released this year.
Believe it or not, there is still the title track to come, and it’s a monster, clocking in at 21:37. In Extremis is a requiem for a man (the Eggshell Man?) who realizes too late the brevity and preciousness of life:
Images upon the screen
Recanting all the memories
From the first breath
To the last goodbye
Dust dancing on beams of light
Most groups would give anything to achieve a track like In Extremis. Days Between Stations pulls it off with ease, and manages to precede it with seven other tracks that are its equal.
There have been some extraordinary releases in prog music this year, and Days Between Stations’ In Extremis is near the top of the heap. This is an album not to be missed.
Here’s the official trailer:
One of the hardest things a serious music fan is ever tasked with is coming up with a list of five or ten desert island discs, i.e. the albums without which he or she cannot live. In fact, trying to put such a list together can be torture. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the Geneva Convention is a prohibition on forcing prisoners of war to assemble a desert island disc list under duress. Such a thing could cause serious and irreversible psychological damage, and would thus be inhumane.
The trouble with desert island disc lists is that our moods – and thus our musical preferences at any given moment – are so incredibly varied. One moment you might want to listen to the intricacies of a well-played classical guitar piece, the next moment you crave the audio testosterone known as AC/DC. One moment you may want the sunny joy of Led Zeppelin tracks such as ‘The Song Remains the Same’ or ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, the next moment you want the dark, brooding heaviness of early Black Sabbath. One moment you want the folky feel of some acoustic Jethro Tull, while in another moment you want the cathartic release of an angry Tool song. These examples are just the tip of an infinitely large iceberg.
While I would have to inflict great pain upon myself to assemble a definitive desert island disc list, there is one album I can say would be on any final version that I came up with – Yes’s 1977 masterpiece, ‘Going for the One’.
“Why ‘Going for the One’?” you ask. The consensus on Yes albums like ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘The Yes Album’ is that they are great albums, if not outright masterpieces. On the other end of the spectrum, albums like ‘Union’ and ‘Open Your Eyes’ are generally considered somewhere between awful and God-awful. And then there are those Yes albums that are lightning rods of controversy – ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, ‘90125’, and to some degree, ‘Drama’. ‘Going for the One’, while generally viewed in a positive manner, doesn’t fall into any of these categories among the majority of Yes fans. But if you ask me, it is a masterpiece as much ‘Close to the Edge’. It crystallizes the essence of Yes – not to mention some artistic goals of first-wave progressive rock.
To really ‘get’ this album, it helps to understand the context in which it was recorded, both within the band’s history as well as musical trends at large. Recording for the album began in earnest in the fall of 1976 – the same year that the punk movement exploded onto the scene, in no small part as a reaction to progressive rock. The genre of progressive rock itself was beginning to show some signs of wear and tear – Peter Gabriel had left Genesis, King Crimson had disbanded, and the general excesses of the genre were beginning to turn the music-buying public looking in other directions. Meanwhile, punk was raging and stadium rock’ was beginning to step into the place formerly occupied by the proggers.
Within the band, Yes had gone through a tumultuous few years, including the release of the controversial ‘Topographic Oceans’, Rick Wakeman’s resulting departure, ‘Relayer’, a number of solo albums, a significant amount of touring, the easing out of Patrick Moraz and the eventual return of Wakeman. There was a need for the band to catch its collective breath, to reflect.
‘Going for the One’ has a very introspective feel to it. This is borne out in no small part by the album artwork, including the cover (shown above) as well as the inner gatefold.
A first thing to note is that none of the Roger Dean artwork is present –neither on the inner gatefold or the outside cover – save for the famous Yes logo. The front cover shows the backside of a naked man, intersected by varying geometric shapes of different lines, against the backdrop of two modern skyscrapers, symbolic of standing naked against modern world. On the inside gatefold is an idyllic scene of a lake at sunset. From the liner notes of the re-mastered CD, I am taking an educated guess that this is Lake Geneva, Switzerland, not far from where the album was recorded. Some sort of island (quite possibly man-made) having a rather large but bare tree sits in the middle of the lake. Individual pictures of each band member are also shown, with all but Steve Howe’s having a lake (the same one?) as a backdrop. The contrast between the front cover and the inner gatefold would suggest taking refuge of some sort, turning inward and reflecting.
In addition to its introspective feel, ‘Going for the One’ also very much has a classical music-like sound as well. In his excellent book ‘Rocking the Classics’, author Edward Macan describes progressive rock of the 1970’s as attempting to “combine classical music’s sense of space and monumental scope with rock’s raw power and energy.” ‘Going for the One’ accomplishes this spectacularly, better than any other progressive rock album of the 70’s, other Yes masterpieces included. The introduction of the harp and the church organ, the latter from St. Martin’s Cathedral in Vevey, Switzerland, are instrumental in the sound of this album. The sound here exemplifies the term “symphonic progressive rock.” Interestingly enough, this was the first Yes album since ‘Time and a Word’ that did not feature Eddy Offord in the role as a producer. There is little doubt Offord’s absence affected the overall sound.
The title track kicks off the album, and it is an outlier with respect to the remainder of the tracks – a straight ahead rocker. In yet another “first in a long time”, the title track of ‘Going for the One’ is the first Yes song under eight minutes in length since Fragile. Between ‘Fragile’ and ‘Going for the One’, the shortest Yes song was ‘Siberian Khatru’, clocking in at 8:55. Musically, the song is propelled forward by Howe’s pedal steel guitar. This is interesting in itself, as the instrument is most closely associated with country music, yet Howe makes it rock and rock hard here. Wakeman’s keyboard work, both on the church organ and piano stand out here as well. In general, every instrument here, as well as the vocals, proceeds at an up tempo pace that maintains itself from start to finish.
There are a two other things to note on the title track that are true for the entire album. One is that the production here is very crisp and clean. The second (which undoubtedly plays on the first) is that the soundscape is not as dense as on the album’s predecessor, ‘Relayer’. Instead of choosing to fill up every available recording track, the band has scaled things down a bit from their previous effort. This is done to good effect, as it gives the music a little more chance to breathe.
The classical-like sound referenced above makes its first appearance on the next track, ‘Turn of the Century’, and is prominent from here on out. The music begins with some light, exquisitely played acoustic guitar work by Howe. Jon Anderson has stated the song was inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’, and lyrically it tells a story of a sculptor creating his lover in “form out of stone” after her death. Both music and lyrics convey a sense of deep loss, making this the album’s most emotional piece. The loss is most poignantly conveyed in the first half of the song, when the music is very melancholy. Around the halfway mark, Wakeman’s piano makes an appearance, along with Howe’s pedal steel guitar. This evolves into a very tumultuous transition. But what emerges on the other side, in the latter half of the song is bright and joyful. Howe takes over on a standard electric guitar with some very sunny lines, while Squire’s bass line does a great job of playing off of Anderson’s vocals. Moreover, this portion of the music is very joyful, indicating that our protagonist has emerged from his grieving and can once again experience happiness. Perhaps the sculpture of his lover has given him solace and peace, coming to life metaphorically if not in reality. The ending of the song has a bittersweet feel to it, as if again to acknowledge the loss while also acknowledging the ability to find joy in life once again after such a tragedy. All things considered, this is a very beautiful and delicate composition both musically and lyrically.
‘Parallels’ is up next, and is an underrated gem of the Yes catalog. This song features spectacular performances by Howe, Wakeman, and Squire, who take turns in showing off their chops on their respective instruments. Still, they never descend into self-indulgence or stray from the song’s logical progression. The song introduces itself proper with Wakeman’s billowing church organ from St. Martin’s Cathedral ( this is best played LOUD to get the full impact). Squire and Howe then chime in, the former with a typically excellent bass line, the latter with some crisp, clean lead guitar. From there, the song takes on a straightforward structure of two verses and two choruses, before transitioning into the middle section led by more of Howe’s crisp lead guitar. After another verse, the song segues into an instrumental section in which Wakeman and Squire are at the forefront. The interplay between Wakeman’s soloing on the church organ and Squire’s bass line is nothing short of brilliant. The transition out of this instrumental section is announced by the return of Howe’s guitar. After one final chorus, the song begins barreling toward its conclusion. Howe again steps to the forefront, his guitar firing burst after burst of clean, high notes. This is some of my favorite Howe guitar work in the entire Yes catalog – bright, sharp, and technically brilliant. Squire and Wakeman remain in the mix here with some fantastic playing of their own.
Another defining aspect of ‘Parallels’ is its conclusion – one of the best endings to a song I have ever heard. That ending is more easily described in non-musical terms. Imagine 18-wheeler, barreling down the highway at full speed. Now imagine that 18-wheeler not just coming to a full stop, but stopping on a dime. And imagine that 18-wheeler doing so with the grace and finesse of a ballet dancer. That’s the ending of ‘Parallels’ right there. It’s an extremely difficult combination to pull off, which makes its flawless execution here that much better.
If J.S. Bach had a rock band, it would sound like ‘Parallels’.
Moving on, we next come to ‘Wonderous Stories’. It’s the shortest song on the album, but also the brightest. It also marks the return of Howe on a guitar-like instrument called the vachalia, which last appeared on ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’. Like ‘Parallels’ before it, the song includes a verse-chorus structure, with the choruses featuring some of Yes’s trademarked harmony vocals. The middle section is marked by a rather vigorous Wakeman keyboard solo including synths that emulate a string section. The song resumes its verse-chorus structure once again, while a thick bass line underneath propels the music forward. Howe and Wakeman continue to supply the melodies on top. The vocals, which include both harmonies and counterpoints here, are stunning. As the vocals fade out, Howe enters the scene again, this time with some jazzy electric guitar to close out the song.
Finally, we come to ‘Awaken’. There are numerous superlatives which could be used to describe this piece. All of them are inadequate. Somebody will have to invent new ones.
Much like the album ‘Moving Pictures’ did for Rush, ‘Awaken’ brings together everything that is great about Yes and distills it into one coherent work of art. It has the epic scope of pieces such as ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Gates of Delirium’. It has the virtuoso instrumentation of numerous Yes classics such as ‘Heart of the Sunrise’, ‘Yours is No Disgrace’, and ‘Siberian Khatru’. And it has the classical feel of the preceding tracks on the same album. Moreover, it pares back some of the excesses of previous albums without paring back any of the artistic ambition.
To the uninitiated, Wakeman’s piano lines that open ‘Awaken’ could be mistaken for something from a piano concerto. After a few vigorous runs, the music begins a dreamy sequence, as Anderson’s vocals begin. As the introductory verses closes, a note of dissonance sounds before Howe takes over using a guitar riff that has a decidedly Eastern flavor (incidentally, the working title for ‘Awaken’ was ‘Eastern Numbers’). Anderson begins a chant, and the music takes a more serious tone. The most remarkable thing about this section is the drumming and the bass work. Alan White’s drumming with Yes has never been better than on this album, and on this particular track. Squire’s bass plays off of both White’s drumming and Howe’s guitar. The odd time signature here keeps things more than interesting, as it is difficult to predict when the next bass note or next drum beat will fall, and yet it’s also clear that there is a logical pattern behind the playing. It’s the kind of bass and drum work that sucks the listener in and keeps them hooked.
After two verses and two choruses of the chant, the music breaks into a blistering Howe guitar solo. Much like the guitar work on ‘Parallels’, the soloing here is full of bursts of sharp, high-pitched notes. However, the mood here is entirely different, expressing a sense of inner turmoil and urgency. This is another section of brilliant virtuoso guitar playing that illustrates why this album is among Howe’s strongest, either in or out of Yes.
As Howe gracefully exits the solo and returns to the main riff, another verse and chorus of the chant follow before the music begins a slow transition away from the Eastern motif. Wakeman’s keyboards step to the forefront, first mirroring Howe’s riff before segueing into the “Workings of Man” portion of the song. The church organ leads the way into this section, which has a much more European sound and texture, not to mention the lyrics. The tension builds here to a peak before Wakeman puts the brakes on the whole thing with a series of ever quieter notes, effectively bringing the first half of ‘Awaken’ to a close.
The transition to the second half of the song begins with a split-second of silence, before a single note of White’s tuned percussion blends into the first pluck of a harp by Anderson. From an initial quiet beginning, the band begins to slowly and painstakingly build tension in what is a textbook example of the technique. White’s percussion and Anderson’s harp start this section, soon to be joined by Wakeman, who is initially playing singular notes on the church organ.
A layer is added to the tension when Wakeman begins playing slightly longer (but still relatively quiet) runs. Squire also quietly enters, playing singular high bass notes, most likely on the six-string neck of the monster triple neck bass he uses for live performances of this song. These bass notes intensify and push the music forward, while Wakeman’s runs on the church organ slowly begin to lengthen, increase in volume, and sound more orchestral. Choral singers also join the fray, further building the intensity, which builds like a wave to a first peak before receding somewhat. At this point, Howe re-enters the picture on electric guitar, and leads the music to a second peak and a transition into what may be called the ‘Master of Time’ section of the piece. The build-up from the initial plucks on the harp to this point is powerful stuff, very mesmerizing and very emotional.
I have a personal anecdote I would like to share to illustrate the emotional punch of this section. In 2002, I attended my sixth Yes concert at an excellent Austin venue called The Backyard. I went with several former co-workers, including a friend of mine named Cheryl. While Cheryl is not a prog rock fan per se, she is much more of an astute listener to music than the vast majority of people. Musically, she is “switched in”. Toward the end of the concert, Yes performed ‘Awaken’. During the portion described above, I was mesmerized as normal, but for some reason I looked over at Cheryl standing next to me to gauge her reaction. Tears were streaming down her face, which was transfixed to the stage as she was as absorbed in the music as I had been just before turning my head. Amazing. I remember thinking “she gets it”, and was very impressed at that. Among my friends and acquaintances, I have musically usually been an outlier, as few of them have been interested in prog, and certainly not anywhere to the same degree as me. Some of them have even heard ‘Awaken’ in my presence and have given me strange looks that say “what the heck is this?” Yet here was Cheryl, on her first listen to ‘Awaken’, completely getting the gist of this incredible composition. As someone who had known this little secret for a long time, I found it very gratifying to see her reaction with no prompting or no explanation from anyone else – only the music was talking. It’s a moment I will not soon forget.
As the music progresses through the ‘Master of Time’ section, Anderson sings several verses and the tension continues to build, finally resolving itself with a shattering climax, with Wakeman’s church organ and the choral singers at the forefront. The dreamy section from the beginning is then reprised, and the final line of lyrics is one of my favorites from the entire Yes catalog: “Like the time I ran away, and turned around and you were standing close to me.” Howe then brings ‘Awaken’ to its final conclusion with some playful electric guitar lines.
Wow. What a piece of music. In my opinion, the finest fifteen minutes plus of music Yes ever committed to any recording medium. This is not to take away anything from some of their other masterpieces (and there are several), but to extol the virtues of this incredible piece of music. And by the way, I am in some good company when I surmise that this is Yes’s best work. None other than Jon Anderson himself has stated “at last we had created a Masterwork” with regard to Awaken. On the 1991 documentary ‘Yesyears’, Anderson refers to “the best piece of Yes piece of music, Awaken” and further states that it is “everything I would desire from a group of musicians in this life.” I’d say that’s a pretty strong endorsement.
In progressive rock circles, many references are made to the various sub-genres. Yes music (at least their 70’s output) is most often classified as symphonic progressive rock. No album exemplifies this term more perfectly than ‘Going for the One’, and no song exemplifies it more than ‘Awaken’. Other Yes works, such as the previously mentioned ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Gates of Delirium,’ possess the same scope but not the same instrumental timbre. ELP had some symphonic works that were their own interpretations of existing classical compositions while their own magnum opus, ‘Karn Evil 9’, sounded high tech for its time. ‘Thick as a Brick’ by Jethro Tull is certainly symphonic in its scope, and while great in its own right, has more of a folky feel than symphonic. In contrast to all of these, on ‘Going for the One’, Yes has created original compositions that, in many parts, could be easily mistaken for classical symphonic music by those not otherwise familiar with this type of music. A perfect fusion, you might say.
I’m still struggling to come up with the other four or nine or however many albums I need to complete my desert island disc list. And being immersed in the midst of a second golden age of progressive rock as we are now, completing that list will only get tougher due to the cornucopia of excellent new releases. But I can say without any hesitation, without any equivocation, whatever final form that list takes, it will most definitely include ‘Going for the One.’
As a sophomore at Lafayette College I became program director of the college radio station, and Larry Fast (Synergy) became the general manager. We had access to early releases and concert passes in one of the great periods in progressive music. To generate better distribution for college stations, I published a newsletter called The Rolling Paper that we distributed each month on campus and to all record labels.
We were fortunate to interview our three favorite bands between 1971 and 1973-Yes, Genesis on their first US performance at Lincoln Center, and King Crimson on the second Larks Tongue tour through the Bill Bruford connection with Yes.
We met and interviewed Yes at Dickinson College in 1971. I had seen Yes the previous summer supporting Jethro Tull ($5) with Tony Kaye and had been blown away by the energy of the band. By December the Yes album was taking off, and Fragile had arrived that week as an import from Jem Records. We requested an interview through Atlantic Records, and received a warm welcome from the band members who were delighted that we were holding import copies of Fragile in the US. For the next several years we were fortunate to have backstage passes to more than 20 Yes shows at area colleges, and later at the big arenas like Madison Square Garden and the Spectrum in Philly during their prime including several shows with Bruford on drums prior to his departure. We watched the band grow from being third on bills (Yes, King Crimson, Procol Harum ) to headliners for the Close to the Edge through the Tales from Topographic Oceans tour. Larry built a strong connection with Rick Wakeman through electronics and keyboards, and he went on to build some sequencers for him over the next few years. My connection was forged through and over beer, as Rick and I shared a fondness for brew. I was but a lightweight while Rick’s consumption of Budweiser was unrivaled and eventually unsustainable.
I thought it would be fun to revisit this interview 40+ years later and have condensed the original piece, but not changed the content. Read the rest of this entry
Once again, the AllAboutJazz.com site has another great piece about a prog musician: “Trevor Rabin: All Colors Considered”, by Ian Patterson. The focus is on Rabin’s outstanding new solo album, Jacaranda (one of my favorites of 2012), which is Rabin’s first solo excursion since his exceptional 1989 album, Don’t Look Away, which I played incessantly back in the day and revisit on occasion. Patterson begins by putting Rabin’s impressive career in perspective:
Whether taking a stance against apartheid in the early ’70s in his native South Africa or turning down the opportunity to play in super group Asia for artistic reasons, Rabin has always done things his own way and stuck to his principles at every step. Rabin is perhaps best known around the world for the mega-hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and his 12-year stint with progressive rock giant Yes, but there are a surprising number of strings to the musician’s bow.
While it would have been easy to carry on touring and recording with the legendary British group, Rabin felt that after a dozen years a new challenge was needed, and he said no to Yes. So it was in the mid-1990s that Rabin embarked upon another career as a composer of film soundtracks. In a little over 15 years, Rabin has recorded 40 film soundtracks of varying genres, winning numerous awards in the process.
Just when it seemed as though Rabin’s music would only be heard in cinema houses around the world, he’s back with another surprise in the form of his sixth solo album, Jacaranda (Varese Fontana, 2012). It’s his first solo album of original material since Can’t Look Away (Elektra, 1989), and it’s an inspired collection of guitar- based instrumental compositions.
Tucked away along the endless leafy lanes of south east England lies a little prog oasis not many people know about. The elegant Grade II Listed façade of the period home of Trading Boundaries in deepest East Sussex gives away no clues that it is currently the location of an exhibition of probably the most famous prog artist in the world who has been joined in the celebrations this weekend by a special “old friend” of his.
The name Roger Dean is synonymous with the iconic album covers of chiefly Yes, but also other great prog rock bands such as Asia, Uriah Heep, Greenslade and now the legendary Dutch band, Focus.
Yet Dean considers himself to be nothing more than a landscape artist. That is some diminution of his role in creating the entire backdrop for a generation of prog rock lovers and perhaps being a huge influence on a very successful contemporary film but that is another story.
Living close by in the Ashdown Forest area of East Sussex, this is the third time Roger has exhibited his vast collection of work at Trading Boundaries. And here in this shopping emporium among imported Indian wooden cabinets and wardrobes, soft furnishings and desirable trinkets are currently hung some of the most iconic examples of his work.
So around every corner currently, there is another Roger Dean masterpiece to lose yourself in ranging from the huge swirling blue inner landscape he developed for Rick Wakeman’s Return to the Centre of the Earth to the intensely intricate design for Asia’s Alpha which the artist explains brought out his inherent skills as a draughtsman.
There are also the suites of logos for Yes, including the more recent dragonfly designs, and for Asia, both of which demonstrate how important it is for a band to have its own identifiable branding especially when so beautifully conceived and crafted by Dean.
Of all the works, it is the cover of Tales From Topographic Oceans which still draws the eye the most. That whole universe captured in one panorama throws up so many visual questions. Is it all meant to be beneath the sea – hence fish – or how can it be when there is a waterfall running through it – and what about the distant pyramid and the blueness of the heavens above? Like the contents of the album, the image is a mystery, a conundrum and above all else, a journey.
Oh yes, and did I mention earlier on that an old friend joined him? That would have been one and only Mr Wakeman who has supported him both evenings this weekend in Trading Boundaries’ intimate and atmospheric Elephant Cafė, (Carl Palmer, John Wetton and Steve Hackett have also played there recently), to reflect and reminisce on the past as well as contributing three musical interludes.
Well, the stories and laughs flowed thick and fast, most of them worthy of a separate post once I have deciphered the shorthand hieroglyphics I took down at speed in virtual darkness, so allow me some time to translate and share them with you some other time.
However, I can tell you this. Despite christening it Toby’s Graphic Go-Kart, Rick rates TFTO is his favourite Yes album cover whereas the artist has gone for Relayer which he said looks as though it has been painted “with dirty water”.
Also, the first time Roger showed the band an example of his work to use, Rick was admiring it and said how nice it was until the artist told him he was holding it upside down.
What came over loud and clear however was the tremendous mutual admiration and respect between the pair throughout this impromptu chat, conducted on a couple of easy chairs with the emporium’s dog occasionally wandering onto the stage and stealing the show.
And yes, Rick played – though only just when he was presented with the resident “school” piano, which in his own inimitable way, made it sound like a Steinway.
To a backdrop of even more of Roger Dean’s incomparable works, Rick played “And You And I” using some of the original chord sequences. Well, need I tell you how absolutely sublime it sounded and still as hypnotic as the version which we all now have in our collections. Then he just made us all melt with The Meeting, that gorgeous prog hymn from Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe (ABWH). Rick explained he and Jon had been at George Martin’s studio in Monserrat before the volcanic eruption where they recorded the album. Both liked the idea of trying to create instant music so the melody line was what they came up with and the very first take was what appeared on the album. He made it all sound so simple, of course.
Finally, to end on a more light-hearted note, he decided to play The Nursery Rhyme Concerto using the style of the great composers such as Mozart for Baa Baa Black Sheep and Ravel’s Hickory Dickory Dock. British readers will be particularly interested to learn that Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was performed in the style of Dawson, Les Dawson. Note to American readers, Google Les Dawson piano – you’ll get the general idea!
Well, that was certainly an evening you never imagined would happen. And it does not end there either. As part of the exhibition events, both top tribute band Yessongs Italy and also Focus will be playing live there in the next three weeks. What a wonderful way to celebrate a man who drew on his own unique imagination to inspire ours and also that of the music which shaped our lives.
For more information, go to: http://online.tradingboundaries.com/rdex2012