A Proggy Christmas, 2017 Edition

First the Big Big Train Christmas single, then the new Tiger Moth Tales album, now this — our Founding Progarchist’s stocking is filling up quick!  From Cosmograf’s Facebook page:

“Cosmograf will be releasing a single record on December 1st, entitled ‘A Festive Ghost’. Exclusively distributed in digital only format via Bandcamp, this unconventional Christmas song is a wistful reflection on the pressures of maintaining damaged relationships at the time of the festive season.

All of the instruments on this record are played by Robin himself including the drums.

A donation is being made to MacMillan Cancer Care for each download purchased.”

 

Bruford: Seems Like a Lifetime Ago, 1977-1980 — A Review

by Rick Krueger

I think it’s fair to say that this 8-disc set is going to be my reissue of the year.  It’s pure delight from first to last, covering three brilliant studio albums, two distinct live sets (one previously unreleased) and a fascinating batch of rough-draft outtakes — all spearheaded by paradigmatic progressive rock drummer Bill Bruford.

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Progtoberfest III: Closing Thoughts

by Rick Krueger

A week after the final notes stopped ringing, I’m still gently buzzing about Progtoberfest III; it was easily the most immersive three days I’ve ever spent as a listener.  Not all of the nineteen (!) bands I heard hit my sweet spot, but every single one belonged on the stages of Reggie’s Rock Club & Music Joint, and at least three sets (by Dave Kerzner, Discipline and Moulder, Gray & Wertico) were right up there with the finest live rock and jazz I’ve heard in nearly 40 years of concert-going.

So in closing, a few shout-outs to people who richly deserve them:

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Progtoberfest: Day 3 Report

by Rick Krueger

As I entered Reggie’s Rock Club on the final day of Progtoberfest, the Virginia band Kinetic Element were winding up their set.  From the merch stand (where Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter was kind enough to make change for me as I bought CDs), their take on classic prog, spearheaded by keyboardist Mike Visaggio, sounded accomplished and intriguing; I wished I could have arrived earlier and heard more.  Plus, you gotta love a band with a lead singer in a kilt!  (Props to Progtoberfest’s Facebook group admin Kris McCoy for the picture below.)

Kinetic Element

The second high point of the festival for me followed, as fellow Detroiters Discipline held the Rock Club spellbound with their baleful, epic-length psychodramas. Matthew Parmenter reeled in the crowd with his declamatory vocals and emotional range; from there, the quartet’s mesmerizing instrumental interplay kept them riveted. The well-earned standing ovation at the end felt oddly cathartic, as if the audience was waking from a clinging nightmare, blinking at the newly-rediscovered daylight — even while rain clouds and colder temperatures rolled in outside.

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Progtoberfest: Day 2 Report

by Rick Krueger

The sun shone warmly again on the south side of Chicago as Progtoberfest III kicked off its second day.  Taking in the view as I exited the ‘L’, it was amusing and welcoming to see a familiar screaming face painted on the exterior of Reggie’s:

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Hoping to get Alphonso Johnson’s and Chester Thompson’s autographs in the VIP Lounge the night before, I’d struck up a delightful conversation with members of the North Carolina Genesis tribute band ABACAB.  In 2016, festival organizer Kevin Pollack had given them “homework” for this year: to play all of Genesis’ live album Seconds Out on the 40th anniversary of its release.  You could tell the band was nervous (they focus on 1980s Genesis to get bookings, so they had to learn half the album in the past year) but also absolutely thrilled to bring it to the Rock Club stage.  And on Saturday afternoon, they nailed it, to the joy of an enthusiastic, supportive crowd and rave reviews from other acts.  They’re already planning to return to Reggie’s in April as a headliner, and for Progtoberfest IV next October.  Check out why below:

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Progtoberfest: Day 1 Report

by Rick Krueger

On Friday, October 20, hundreds of dedicated proggers converged on Chicago from around the country — and even from across the globe.  The location: Reggie’s Rock Club & Music Joint on the Near South Side, only two blocks away from the former Chess Records, the birthplace of great discs by Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and countless others.

Reggie’s has two main rooms, both dedicated to Progtoberfest this weekend.  The Rock Club is designed for concerts, with a raised stage, a main floor, an upper level mezzanine —and a wire fence decor motif throughout.  The Music Joint has a tinier stage tucked into the back of a narrow bar and grill.  This weekend, merch tables were crammed into every inch remaining on the main floor, and patrons less interested in the music (or needing a break from the density of the sound) took advantage of Friday and Saturday’s warm weather to eat and drink at sidewalk tables.  An upstairs space that held a record store until recently was turned into the VIP/Meet and Greet lounge for the duration.


Due to the usual complications of traveling to and around Chicago as the weekend starts, I got to my spot in the Rock Club just as Schooltree was taking the stage.  With only an hour on the schedule, they powered through highlights of their Heterotopia album, condensing the narrative to zoom in on its main character Suzi.  The set left no doubt that Lainey Schooltree is a major talent; her songwriting chops, keyboard skills and vocal versatility all came through loud and clear, grabbing and holding the audience’s attention.  The rest of the band bopped along brilliantly too, with the ebullient energy of Peter Danilchuk on organ and synth leading the way.


The crowd for Schooltree was solid, but hometown heroes District 97 were the first group to pack the place, filling both seats and standing room on the main floor.   The band took no prisoners, blasting right into riff-heavy highlights from their three albums that showed off every player’s monster chops.  Soaring above the din, Leslie Hunt pulled in the crowd with her astonishing vocal power and range.  New songs were mixed in that sent the audience head-banging and prog-pogoing with abandon.

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The Albums that Changed My Life: #6, Songs of Travel & On Wenlock Edge by Ralph Vaughan Williams

by Rick Krueger

In our casually audiophile age of 96 kHz/24 bit BluRays and 180-gram virgin vinyl, it may be hard to comprehend what a difference digital recording made when it came of age in the late 1970s.   I remember cueing up Keith Jarrett’s Concerts: Bregenz, München and being blown away as much by the background silence, the clarity and depth of the piano sound, and the extended dynamic range as by Jarrett’s freewheeling improvisations.  The compact disc was still in the future — but at that point, after suffering through muddy, distorted mass-produced pressings of way too many albums, it seemed like that future was all upside.

Classical record companies were the most fervent backers of digital recording from the beginning; the prospect of “perfect sound forever” made both corporate executives and their target demographic (single men with money or credit to burn — surprise!) salivate in anticipated ecstasy.  Certainly, as I built a classical collection during graduate school, the word “Digital” on the front cover of a record always counted in its favor.

That’s one reason I picked up the album pictured above.  Another reason: I’d already heard some fine Mahler recordings by the young conductor Simon Rattle, precociously helming the scrappy City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  And there was one more burning question: was Benjamin Britten right about Ralph Vaughan Williams?

Continue reading “The Albums that Changed My Life: #6, Songs of Travel & On Wenlock Edge by Ralph Vaughan Williams”