Progressive rock has always attracted virtuoso keyboard players. Parallel with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page’s moves toward British blues and heavy music, classically trained pianists like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman fired up Hammond organs, Mellotrons and prototype synthesizers, mashing up genres and grabbing attention with gleeful abandon. From the maelstrom of psychedelia, jazz and modern classical, a new kind of rock emerged — and one of the unspoken standards of nascent prog was that you had to really be able to play.
That standard offered multiple paths forward for proggers: jaw-dropping shredfests by Emerson, Wakeman and disciples; seamless melds of improvisation and composition from King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator; long-form, ambitious suites by Yes and Genesis. It’s also spawned countless wannabe virtuosos — sometimes trying their hardest, sometimes just following trends, but frequently lacking the compositional chops to give their playing maximum impact. Even after prog’s fading from mass culture, the virtuoso standard keeps attracting musicians eager to prove themselves — especially keyboardists — to the genre, like moths to a No-Pest Strip.
The problem is this: when you have to prove yourself (especially to yourself), it may come too easily to baffle with BS rather than to dazzle with brilliance — to play more notes, not necessarily the right ones, with space and taste going out the window. And when the seemingly endless runs of 32nd notes stop, is there anything of substance behind the flash and the “oh, wows”?
That thorny dilemma is why Gleb Kolyadin is the young virtuoso progressive rock needs.
There’s no question that Kolyadin, classically trained in Russia, making his initial splash as half of iamthemorning, has technique to burn. But what makes his debut album so listenable are the compositions — what he’s heard in his head, transcribed into notation, and laid down here with a merry band of supporting players. This loosely connected suite of pieces (described by the composer as the story of a “person dreaming of a non-existent house”) is aggressive and dynamic, but also consistently tasty and well-judged, weaving influences from Bach and Tchaikovsky through Gershwin to Steve Reich and David Lynch into an mature, richly varied musical narrative. Vividly mapping an emotional journey from fragmentation (“Kaleidoscope/Eidolon/Into the Void”) to wholeness (“Echo/Sigh/Strand”), Kolyadin is in constant motion, but he already possesses a sense of space and variety in his playing that banishes boredom and leaves your ears wanting more.
And Kolyadin’s supporting cast is in perfect sync with his musical ambitions. Bassist Nick Beggs and drummer Gavin Harrison need no introduction to modern prog fans; as always, they lay down consistently stylish grooves, simultaneously elegant, subtle and brilliant. Theo Travis serves as second soloist on sax and flute, setting off Kolyadin’s synth work with a warm, occasionally fiery lyricism. Vlad Avy (guitar) and Evan Carson (bodhran and percussion) complete the core ensemble, providing solid backing for Kolyadin’s flights of fancy; guest vocalists (Antimatter’s Mick Moss and Marillion’s Steve Hogarth) are well suited to their brief cameos. “Storyteller” even provides Jordan Rudess (perhaps the last keyboard virtuoso to crack the genre before Kolyadin) a platform to shine, freed to build up a compelling solo without having to keep pace with John Petrucci et al.
This is the first album of 2018 that’s compelled repeated listens for me — it’s that good, that exciting, and that impressive. Judging by this exceptional debut, Gleb Kolyadin has a great future ahead of him — and progressive rock is already the better for it. But don’t take my word for it — listen to the album for yourself below!
— Rick Krueger