by Rick Krueger
This article rounds out my “best of 2017” series, focusing on older albums that I discovered — or rediscovered in one case! — in the course of the year. They’re listed in alphabetical order by artist after the jump:
Discipline, Unfolded Like Staircase, To Shatter All Accord & This One’s For England: The Detroit quartet’s engrossing set was a highlight of my trip to Chicago’s Progtoberfest III. While their new album Captives of the Wine Dark Sea won well-deserved accolades, I’ve fallen hard for the dark drama of their previous albums. Matthew Parmenter gets his hooks in you with his declamatory vocal delivery and searing lyrics; then he and his bandmates John Preston Bouda, Mathew Kennedy and Paul Dzendzel keep you riveted with their razor-sharp precision and unpredictable interplay. Epics like “Canto IV (Limbo)” and “Rogue” were highlights of their Progtoberfest set; they’re every bit as powerful in these studio and concert versions. I’m hoping to dig deeper into Discipline’s brilliant back catalog for this site in 2018.
EMI British Composers Series, The Very Best of English Song: Five compact discs of top-ranked vocal music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Sir Edward Elgar and a host of major & minor British compatriots. The first disc features individual songs from the 1800s & 1900s, usually with piano or other chamber accompaniment. The second disc focuses on the Renaissance & Baroque periods, spanning songs from Shakespeare’s plays through miniature masterpieces by Henry Purcell, with modern comic turns by Michael Flanders & Donald Swann for dessert. Discs 3-5 are stuffed with great orchestral song cycles and encores of the 20th century, sumptuously sung and played by the cream of English performers. Brief but informative liner notes by Gramophone Magazine’s John Steane complete a luxury package at a bargain price.
Steve Hackett, Time Lapse (Live) and Metamorpheus: Steve Hackett came to my home town this year, so of course I delved into his back catalog after I saw him live! 1992’s Time Lapse was a favorite of mine that I had to re-buy (after trading it in a while back); it compiles scintillating live recordings of Hackett and band from 1981 and 1990, with all the fire and passion you’d expect. 2005’s Metamorpheus pairs Hackett’s acoustic guitar with chamber orchestra to instrumentally retell the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice; it’s warm, engaging, compelling listening.
Snarky Puppy, We Like It Here: My sax-playing nephew turned me on to this American jazz-rock ensemble, so I took him to see them live in Ann Arbor this past March. This CD/DVD package from 2016 showcases Snarky Puppy at their funky best, recorded live while surrounded by up-close fans at a Netherlands studio. It’s a eye-opening, intimate thrill ride, suffused with the sheer joy of Michael Teague and his band playing at their best for appreciative listeners. (P.S.: this year, I get to learn the keyboard chart of We Like It Here’s “Lingus” for my nephew’s degree recital.)
Paul Wertico Trio, Don’t Be Scared Anymore: Guitarist John Moulder, bassist Larry Gray and Wertico provided another Progtoberfest highlight, giving their all to multiple tracks from this 2000 disc (made with bassist Eric Hochberg). As was true onstage, this album has three stellar players working at the highest level of jazz/rock improvisation, following the music wherever it might lead, then taking it someplace even cooler with their outstanding chops. From the powerhouse opening of Hochberg’s “Clybourn Strut” to the gnarly free jazz finale of Moulder’s “Testament,” this is an overlooked winner.