Rick’s Quick Takes for May

As always, purchase links are embedded in each artist/title listing; playlists/videos/samples follow the review.

Artemis, In Real Time: This second album delivers on the promise and potential of Artemis’ 2020 debut. As I recently discovered in concert, here’s a jazz sextet with a forceful front line (Nicole Glover and Alexa Tarantino on woodwinds, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet) and an assertive rhythm section (founder Renee Rosnes on piano, Noriko Ueda on bass, Allison Miller on drums) that revels in both challenging and collaborating with each other. Whether hurtling through the post-bop twists of Miller’s “Bow and Arrow” and Jensen’s “Timber”, reaching for the skies on Ueda’s open-hearted “Lights Away From Home” or tenderly exploring Rosnes’ spacious ballads “Balance Of Time” and “Empress Afternoon” — not to mention their unique spins on tunes by departed giants Lyle Mays and Wayne Shorter — this is a group of top-rank players that mesh marvelously as an ensemble, delivering a whole lot of serious, elegant fun.

Brian Dunne, Loser on the Ropes: It’s true that I wouldn’t have come across this New Jersey-born, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter if my nephew hadn’t played drums for his recent tour. But I’m glad I did! Dunne’s vivid lyrics — questing, skeptical, bemused, and poignant all at once — hitch a ride on his insistent verbal rhythms, catchy melodies and tightly constructed tunes, sung with his direct, inviting voice to impressive effect. He rocks out on “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors” and “Bad Luck” and whips up midtempo singalongs on “It’s A Miracle” and “Optimist,” slowing down for more reflective efforts like the title track and the closer “Something to Live For”. There are sonic echoes of mid-period Dire Straits and (inevitably?) 1980s Springsteen, but this is fresh, thoughtful music with both forthright appeal and subtle intensity, well worth hearing.

Bill Evans, Treasures: from the late 1950s to his premature demise in 1980, Bill Evans changed jazz piano forever with what Miles Davis called his “quiet fire”, reshaping the piano trio format as a conversation of equals in the process. The latest in a rich harvest of archival discoveries from jazz detective Zev Feldman and his compatriots, Treasures captures Evans’ steady, probing artistic growth in the late 1960s via a series of visits to Denmark. Whether captured solo, in full flight with various bassists and drummers, or even at a heart of a suite for big band and orchestra, Evans is consistently engaged, shaping jazz standards, rarified pop tunes and his own compositions into things of sheer beauty with his intense lyricism and sense of swing. As good an introduction to this titan of the genre as any!

Guardians of the Galaxy, Awesome Mix, Vol. 3: Fair warning: this semi-soundtrack to the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster probably won’t give children of 1970s radio like me the same nostalgia buzz as the first two volumes of Awesome Mix. Sure, there are still great throwbacks from Heart, Rainbow, Earth Wind & Fire, Alice Cooper and Bruuuce; but this time around they share playlist space with the American slacker punk (X, The Replacements) rock-rap (Beastie Boys, Faith No More), and post-indie dream pop (Florence and the Machine) that followed over the decades. So it’s a more diffuse experience, with tracks that are actually eminently forgettable (Spacehog? The Mowgli’s?) — not to mention a missed opportunity for a prog shout-out. On the other hand, any compilation that includes The Flaming Lips’ hospice anthem “Do You Realize?” and EHAMIC’s “Koinu No Carnival” — Chopin filtered through an electronica mixmaster! — deserves at least a listen, and possibly space on your shelf or hard drive.

Marillion, Seasons End Deluxe Edition: The final reissue in the set of Los Marillos’ eight EMI albums, boxed up in typically comprehensive fashion. Layering his and John Helmer’s words atop the veteran band’s latest soundscapes (often repurposed from a futile final effort at working with original vocalist Fish), new boy Steve Hogarth brought it all back home with melodies that tacked closer to folksong than operatic recitative and scenarios that evoked slice-of-life drama as well as existential soliloquies. In retrospect, Seasons End was just the start of H-era Marillion’s evolution, but the end result still rocks hard, smart and sharp after all these years, from the atmospheric intro of “The King of Sunset Town” to the unnerving claustrophobia of closer “The Space”. In addition to a remix of the 1989 original, we get b-sides, demos and early versions of multiple album tracks — plus three high-energy live sets (audio and video from 1990, plus 2022’s British Marillion Weekend) and two documentaries on the CD Blu-Ray version. Like the entire series, this re-release is great listening and great value for money. (And deluxe boxes of post-EMI albums have been promised by manager Lucy Jordache. Stay tuned …)

Paul Simon, Seven Psalms: Designed as a unified song-cycle to be heard in its entirety (it’s one 33-minute track on CD and streaming audio), Simon’s new work is a dreamlike meditation unlike anything else in his catalog. His subdued voice and acoustic guitar carry the musical weight, hinting at gospel, folk and blues as the suite unfurls, with ambience courtesy of composer Harry Partch’s “cloud chamber bowls”, British choir Voces8 and full orchestra. Anything but orthodox, metaphor-packed portraits of “The Lord” — who Simon compares to, among other things, a virus, a virgin forest and a record producer — become a recurring theme, punctuating scattered thoughts on life past and present. Scattered, that is, until the finale “Wait” (“I’m not ready/I’m just packing my gear”), where Simon abruptly, delicately drills down to our common endpoint. Ruminating on what’s been becomes a stoic stock-taking of what we’ve become, a bracing reminder of what awaits us all — and, just possibly, a call to hope in what might lie beyond. Subtle and devastatingly effective, Seven Psalms is a momento mori for the Boomer generation — and for anybody else with ears to hear.

U.K., Curtain Call: When keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson locked in with guitar genius Allan Holdsworth and the then-defunct King Crimson’s rhythm section — John Wetton on bass & vocals, Bill Bruford drumming — sparks flew thick and fast. U.K.’s 1978 debut album was a sleek, captivating blend of progressive rock and jazz fusion; 1979’s Danger Money slimmed down to a more focused power trio as Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio replaced Bruford and Wetton’s writing veered toward proto-Asia pomp-rock. The inevitable semi-reunion happened in the 2010s, with Jobson coming off a productive career in film and TV scoring and Wetton rebounding from a hard-fought battle with substance abuse for a extraordinary final run. Joined here in 2013 by hot young virtuosos Alex Machacek (guitar) and Marco Minnemann (drums), the duo triumphantly roar through U.K.’s complete repertoire to an enthusiastic Tokyo crowd. From the crash/bash technoflash of “In the Dead of Night”, “Alaska/Time To Kill” and “Carrying No Cross” to the glowering, tasty tension of “Thirty Years” and Rendezvous 6:02″, this foursome whips up a level of excitement and energy that was unstoppable on the night and remains irresistible on disc. Now remastered and reissued by Jobson in tribute to his late partner, this reasonably priced video (on BluRay & DVD with a bonus audio Blu-Ray) is an immensely satisfying summation for long-time fans, and a glimpse of what the fuss was all about for curious newbies.

Yes, Mirror to the Sky: After the stodgy fiasco that was Heaven & Earth and the modest charm of The Quest, Steve Howe and the rest of Yes’ current line-up actually raise a ruckus this time around. Large helpings of vocal and instrumental interplay in the grand tradition, plenty of fresh, arresting guitar licks by Howe, and lots of splendidly evocative harmonies from Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood make Mirror to the Sky a real pleasure to hear. If you expect the peak inspiration and combustible drive of Yes’ classic era, you’ll be disappointed, but this release is a convincing mix of extended epics like the title track and proggy pop like the singles “Cut from the Stars” and “All Connected”, with only the bonus disc’s “Magic Potion” sounding like a dud to my ears. For me, the most enjoyable new Yes album since 1999’s The Ladder. Check out Time Lord’s review here.

— Rick Krueger

We’re Number — Fourteen?!?!

Tooting our own horn here . . . Progarchy has made Feedspot’s list of “30 Best Progressive Rock Blogs and Websites”, winding up in the #14 spot “ranked by traffic, social media followers & freshness”.

Kinda cool to be on the same list with such well-respected sites as The Prog Report (#1), The Progressive Aspect (#5), Strawberry Bricks (#9), Prog Magazine (#11) and DPRP (#13). Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen! Check out the complete list here.

(And yeah, this is from an obscure for-profit aggregator site that’s aimed at getting you to purchase access to their complete lists for marketing purposes. And for all we know, it’s entirely compiled & written by bots. Still.)

In Concert: Brian Dunne Comes Off the Ropes

Brian Dunne with Brennan Wedl, The Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids Michigan, May 5, 2023.

Back when I started to read the music press in the mid-1970s, one of rock critics’ ongoing themes was “The Search for the New Bob Dylan.” Who could fill the bill? A widely-hyped superstar-in-training like Bruce Springsteen or Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler? A fresh-faced folkie like John Prine or Steve Forbert? Or maybe Bob Dylan himself, after he: a) went acoustic again; b) went electric again; c) got divorced; or, d) got found by Jesus? The quest for an artist with that kind of potential, a unique alchemy of words, music and voice, got downright obsessive – and ended in disappointment more often than not.

Now that rock itself has taken a back seat to pop and hip-hop in mass culture — and Bob D. himself is 20-plus years into his ultimate, impressively rich comeback — “The Search for the New Dylan” has long been moribund. But if somehow it became a thing again, I’d submit New Jersey-born, Brooklyn-based Brian Dunne for consideration. On the basis of his first visit to Grand Rapids, touring behind his fourth album Loser on the Ropes, this youthful singer-songwriter is the real deal.

With three recruits from Brooklyn group The Tube in his corner, Dunne came out swinging: the catchy rocker “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors”, the stutter-stepping “Rockaway”, the new album’s pensive title track and the mid-tempo singalong “The Optimist” all connected solidly with the small but enthusiastic crowd. Dunne’s vivid, thoughtful lyrics — questing, skeptical, bemused, poignant all at the same time — gained force and traction riding his insistent verbal rhythms, immediate melodies, tightly constructed tunes, and direct, appealing voice. The backing band delivered consistent muscle: on guitar, keys and backing vocals, Tyler Rigdon added high harmonies, extra propulsion and Brothers in Arms/Born in the USA atmospherics; bassist Sam Gehrke locked in with a tight, solid groove; and Chris Krueger laid down an irresistible backbeat that vibrated the walls — or at least the cushions in the booth my wife and I occupied. (Full disclosure: Chris is my nephew!)

His pace firmly established and the crowd fully on his side, Dunne varied his attack, weaving in back-catalog highlights like the Mellencampish “Nothing Matters Anymore” with the band and the hushed “Chasing Down a Ghost” as a duet with opening act Brennan Wedl. Solo songs “New Tattoo” and “Taxi” set up a final full-band run, with the winning singles “Bad Luck” and “It’s A Miracle” bringing the audience to their feet and the rootsy “Fiona” (from Dunne’s collaborative side project Fantastic Cat) giving Rigdon, Gehrke and Krueger the chance to channel a bit of The Band.

Brian Dunne performs “Bad Luck” live in Grand Rapids.

Plowing into their encore without bothering to leave the stage, Dunne and his seconds delivered their final haymakers with the affecting “Sometime After This” and the rollicking “If You Wanna Stay Awhile”. All in all, an enjoyable night that sent me happily to the merch table for CDs and an autograph! If you’re looking for fresh, thoughtful songwriting that has both forthright appeal and subtle intensity, Brian Dunne’s music might just knock you out. (And check out The Tube and Brennan Wedl too!)


Set List:

  • Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
  • Rockaway
  • Loser on the Ropes
  • The Optimist
  • Walk Me Home
  • The Kids Are All Grown
  • Nothing Matters Anymore
  • Chasing Down a Ghost (with Brennan Wedl)
  • New Tattoo
  • Taxi
  • Thinking of a Place
  • Bad Luck
  • It’s a Miracle
  • Fiona (Fantastic Cat song)
  • Something to Live For
  • Sometime After This
  • If You Wanna Stay Awhile

— Rick Krueger

Rick’s Quick Takes for April

(As always, purchase links are included in the artist/title listing, with available online audio/video following.)

This month’s favorites:

The Zombies, Different Game. Led by singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent, The Zombies notched three hit singles (“She’s Not There”, “Tell Her No” & “Time of the Season”) and a noted album of psychedelia (the misspelled, wildly adored Odessey and Oracle) back in the 1960s. This fourth effort since their late-90s reunion is my unexpected album of the month: a mesmerizing mix of the Baroque, the blues, witty lyrics worthy of the Great American Songbook and pile-driving soul. Argent’s compact yet ambitious songwriting is at a peak here: check out the elegiac, Bach-meets-John Lee Hooker title track; the doo-wop harmonies of “Rediscover”; the Motown/Steely Dan workouts of “Runaway” and “Merry-Go-Round”; the forlorn, string-laden balladry of “If You Would Be My Love” and “I Want to Fly”. And Blunstone can still stir up a furious storm with his R&B-inflected shouting or calm troubled waters with his cool serenity, frequently in the same tune! Mostly cut live in the studio, this is rock classicism at its finest; don’t miss it.

Nickel Creek, Celebrants. On their first outing in nine years, the progressive bluegrass trio riffs off an unlikely source to stunning effect. Inspired by the Beach Boys’ unfinished modular masterpiece SMiLE, mandolinist Chris Thile, violinist Sara Watkins and guitarist Sean Watkins conceived this album as a suite, with songs and instrumentals interconnected by recurring melodies and lyrics. The result flows brilliantly from beginning to end, impelled by these technically formidable, yet invitingly inventive players; the music moves like a flash from supple chamber textures (“The Meadow”) to propulsive rock (“Where the Long Line Leads”), through pensive slices of life (“To the Airport”) to hard-pickin’ instrumentals (such as the widely separated bookends “Going Out . . . Despite the Weather”). And that’s to say nothing of the trio’s thrilling, acrobatic vocal work, both solo and in harmony. Nickel Creek opens my local outdoor amphitheater this summer — and I, for one, can’t wait to hear what they do with this material!

London Brew. As with so much floating in the atmosphere of early 2020, this concept (a London concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ groundbreaking fusion album Bitches Brew) mutated along with COVID-19. Instead, we got something that’s arguably better — a dozen of the hottest young British jazzers jamming for three days in the studio, inspired by Miles’ ideas but whipping up a double-length set of free playing that’s more a seething maelstrom than a reverent tribute. Saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings (Sons of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming) and Nubya Garcia are probably most familiar to American listeners. along with drummer Tom Skinner (Sons of Kemet, Radiohead side project The Smile). Their fluidly molten lines and explosive grooves are core elements of this stormy music — but so are Nick Ramm and Nikolaj Torp Larsen’s floating keyboards, Martin Terefe and Dave Okumu’s boundary-bursting guitars, Raven Bush’s arcing violin, Theon Cross’ pumping tuba, and the volatile rhythm section of Tom Herbert and Dan See. The end result spins unpredictably between open, spacious textures and unstoppable torrents of furious sound, delivering 90 minutes of inspired, spectacularly unclassifiable music that never doubles back on itself.

This month’s jazz:

Chick Corea, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (reissue). thanks to the no-frills Dutch reissue label Music On CD for bringing back this 1968 gem; arguably the first great album in Corea’s mind-boggling discography, it’s a near-perfect blend of lyricism and experimentation, simultaneously honoring and stretching the jazz tradition of the time. Teaming up with bassist Miroslav Vitous (later of Weather Report) and legendary drummer Roy Haynes, Corea weaves seamlessly through classic early compositions (“Matrix”, “Windows”), standards (Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica”, “My One and Only Love”) and in-the-moment improvisations (the bulk of the original album and the additional session tracks included here). Laced with snatches of iconic Corea moments to come, this is also a solid, satisfying record in its own right.

Rickie Lee Jones, Buried Treasures. You can argue that Jones was always a jazz singer, even on her folk-inflected debut smash and her cinematic follow-up Pirates. (And hey, if Bob Dylan can sing songs made famous by Frank Sinatra . . .) Reunited with her original producer Russ Titelman and fronting a wonderfully sympathetic instrumental quartet plus horns, Jones lovingly leans into ten classic pre-rock songs, her inimitable voice gently caressing the melodies, her sparky gift for bringing the words and sentiments she sings to life blissfully intact. Hushed and intimate, but with rough edges in all the right places, Buried Treasures lives up to its title – and then some.

Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra, Lightning Dreamers. The latest from Chicago’s headily progressive jazz label International Anthem. Take trumpeter/composer Mazurek’s programmatic depictions of South American landscapes married to the free-form poetry of Damon Locks; add Gerald Cleaver and Mauricio Takara’s sturdy, hip-hop inflected percussion, Jeff Parker’s liquid post-rock guitar, and the atmospheric keys of Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez; then run the whole thing through a mixmaster of electronic treatments. Listen to this music with open ears, and you may come out the other side looking at the world around you with new eyes, too. A celebratory, cathartic experience.

This month’s veteran (cosmic?) rockers:

Jethro Tull, RökFlöte. After his revisionist take on the Bible on last year’s The Zealot Gene, Ian Anderson turns his gimlet eye on the old Norse gods, with 12 new songs that portray that mythology’s pantheon and flesh out present day cultural parallels — all in strict poetic meters, no less! The music is welcoming and nimble, often reminding me of classical or Celtic tunes I can’t quite place; Anderson’s flute work is wickedly sharp and his back-up band (including new guitarist Joe Parrish-James) give each tune plenty of oomph. And while Anderson can’t attack this material with the vocal gusto and range he had in Tull’s heyday, he’s learned how to cannily work with his limitations to pull the listener into each vignette. Reminiscent of the Songs from the Wood/Heavy Horses era of Tull, this will charm long-time fans while holding open possibilities for broader appeal.

Stephen Stills, Live at Berkeley 1971. The latest fuel for my ongoing Crosby Stills Nash & Young fixation. No wonder they called Stills “Captain Many Hands”; two-thirds of this archival set feature the man holding an audience of 3,500 spellbound with just his voice, guitar, piano and banjo (oh, and David Crosby chipping in harmonies on two songs). Which makes the impact of the full band finale even stronger, as a six-piece group plus the Memphis Horns power Stills’ singing to soulful heights (while sounding remarkably proggy in the 7/4 section of the epic “Cherokee”). With impressive tunes spanning a broad spectrum of roots music and superb musicianship throughout, this set offers a valuable chance to hear a now-underrated American master at his best.

The Who with Orchestra, Live at Wembley. In 2019, I attended the first concert of Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend’s foray into playing with a full-blown orchestra; recorded six months afterwards, this double set is now released in advance of The Who taking their symphonic show across Britain this summer. The bugs of that opening night had definitely been ironed out by the time they got to London; the orchestral backing on their “greatest hits plus a couple new tunes” set hits hard consistently, reaching majestic heights on the extended suite from Quadrophenia. And if Daltrey and Townshend’s voices are showing their age at long last, their gutsy commitment to the material triumphs over any moments that reveal the wear and tear. Still, the highlight of the show for me remains the duo’s acoustic duet on the evergreen “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, with Townshend supplying an introduction that pokes holes in any lingering political pretensions: “You provide the [expletive deleted] activism; we’ll provide the soundtrack.”

Box Set of the Month:

Blackfield, An Accident of Stars – 2004-2017. Customer service alerts first: the “limited one-time pressing” of this CD-based set, collecting Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen’s first five albums under the Blackfield banner plus live audio and video is already sold out, though Amazon and indie stores like Michigan’s Dearborn Music are listing stray copies as available. Oh, and there’s a technical glitch with the included BluRay, which won’t play in American and Asian players. (Though purchasers can get a free replacement BluRay via press@snappermusic.co.uk) All that aside, Blackfield made a whole bunch of gorgeously doomy art pop in those 13 years, with Wilson and Geffen’s vocals adding salty, sour, spicy notes to their melancholy, string-laden soundscapes. While the debut Blackfield album is still my favorite, albums II and V really aren’t that far behind in quality – and there’s good stuff to be found on the lesser albums as well (all available individually through Burning Shed or Bandcamp). So if this piques your curiosity, go for selected highlights – or the complete set! (But be forewarned — KScope has announced a similarly limited box of early Pineapple Thief albums for June release, and a set of Wilson’s No-Man albums with Tim Bowness is rumored to be in the works. So start saving your shekels now . . .)

–Rick Krueger

Rick’s Quick Takes from March

“Delays, delays!”

Marvin the Martian, “Hare-Way to the Stars”

(A quick note: for new releases, order links are embedded in album titles; online playlists/previews/etc. follow reviews when available. For catalog albums, playlists are linked with titles.)

Once again, I get to second a positive review from Bryan — this time of Fauna, the new release from prog-metallers Haken. Wildly creative, I found this to be the British sextet’s most appealing effort since 2016’s Affinity, stirring in flavors of fusion, postmodern pop, funk, reggae, electronica and even opera alongside one heavy yet tuneful chorus after another. Whether on the short, sharp shocks of “Taurus” and “Lovebite” or the extended journeys of “Sempiternal Beings” and “Elephants Never Forget”, Ross Jennings’ vocals soar, Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall’s guitars crunch, Peter Jones’ keys fill what few sonic crevices remain, and rhythm section Conner Green and Raymond Hearne thunder. Play it loud — but look out for multiple, exciting curveballs on every track!

Last month also saw the release of two live albums from veteran bands who’ve made it through the pandemic back to the stage:

Van der Graaf Generator’s The Bath Forum Concert (a CD/DVD/BluRay set) documents the venerable trio’s 2022 return to action; tackling an ambitious setlist that spans their entire career, guitarist/pianist/singer Peter Hammill is as declamatory and vehement as ever, organist Hugh Banton covers the aural spectrum between cathedral and crypt, and drummer Guy Evans locks into or disrupts the grinding soundscapes as the spirit moves him. The beautifully filmed video shows VDGG working hard and watching each other, opting for the flow as they feel it rather than relying on clinical precision; warts and all, this is refreshingly in the moment, a strong show that captures the band’s existential angst and humanistic idealism in full.

Two years after their 2020 Far Eastern tour collapsed around them, King Crimson satellite band Stick Men returned to Japan and blew away any cobwebs that might have accumulated at Osaka’s BB Live venue. The resulting album Umeda showcases avant guitarist Markus Reuter, multi-bassist Tony Levin and percussionist Pat Mastelotto at their aggressive, angular best; whether on long-standing improvisational frameworks “Cusp”, “Schattenhaft” and “Swimming in Tea”, newer compositions “Ringtone”, “Tentacles” and “Danger in the Workplace” or Crimson classics “Red”, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Pt. II” or “The Sheltering Sky”, these guys are frighteningly good, whether working up a hair-raising din or backing off for spacey, unexpectedly lush interludes. A great introduction for newbies and a must for fans.

Plus, in February and March the recorded music industry resumed cranking out deluxe box set reissues and compilations — apparently the market of Boomers (like me) with more money than sense isn’t tapped out yet:

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes from March”

Rick’s Quick Takes for February

Transatlantic’s The Final Flight: Live at L’Olympia is a worthy souvenir of the latest — and last? — tour by our favorite “more never is enough” classic-prog supergroup. Over three hours, Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, Pete Trewavas, Mike Portnoy and sidekick Ted Leonard play every possible note of their ultra-epic The Absolute Universe, plus generous chunks of the band’s first three albums (sorry, Kaleidoscope fans). You might notice some rough edges in Morse’s singing despite a few preemptive downward key shifts, but Transatlantic still delivers the goods without fail — the jaw-dropping ensemble work, knockout solos, choral counterpoint, head-spinning transitions and heart-stopping climaxes just keep coming. And if this is their swan song, thanks for 20+ years of over-the-top thrills and spills are well past due!

Rick Wakeman’s latest album, A Gallery of the Imagination, is less a conceptual effort (like The Six Wives of Henry VIII or even the recent The Red Planet) than an impressionist suite based on a overall musical approach (as on his Piano Portraits releases). As such, Wakeman’s strong suit — spacious melodies decorated with arpeggios aplenty, then rocked up via finger-busting solo work — is here in abundance, with appropriately sturdy backing by The English Rock Ensemble. But be prepared — the line between prog and middle-of-the-road pop is remarkably thin at times, especially when sentimental lyrics like “A Day Spent on the Pier” are declaimed with stagey brio by vocalist Hayley Sanderson. If you can deal with that, there’s plenty to enjoy here.

Simon Collins and Kelly Nordstrom (best known in the prog world for the Sound of Contact album Dimensionaut with Dave Kerzner and Matt Dorsey) veer in a heavier direction with their new project, eMolecule’s The Architect. The initial blasts of electronica-laced prog-metal, amped up with gusto by Nordstrom, slot in beautifully with the dystopian sci-fi narrative, but it takes a while for Collins’ trademark vocal inflections to peek through the robotic audio processing. Ultimately, the light and shade of “Beyond Belief” and “Awaken” (a ballad in the Phil-to-Simon family tradition) and a building sense of Floydian atmospherics provide the contrast needed for eMolecule’s well-executed sound and fury to fully connect.

I stumbled across the British post-rockers Plank via 2014’s excellent Hivemind. After tackling animals and insects as their previous subjects, the trio widen their horizons here, returning after 9 years for their new concept opus The Future of the Sea. This is a stunning set of limpid, gorgeous instrumentals, weaving elements of psychedelia, prog and math-rock into textures of massive breadth and heft (whether the big guns are being held in reserve or out on parade at any given moment). The closing 6-part suite “Breaking Waves” is a full-on, monolithic delight that mounts to a shattering, satisfying climax. Give this one a try!

The ongoing passing of rock legends tends to direct me toward their most recent releases, especially if I’d dismissed them on initial notice. Thus, when David Crosby died in January, I bit the bullet and picked up his Lighthouse Band’s CD/DVD Live at the Capitol Theatre. Ignoring this beauty, released late last year, was a mistake; it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, even moving document of Crosby’s late career renaissance, here shown in collaboration with Snarky Puppy bassist Michael League and singer/songwriters Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. Yes, the man’s voice is a shadow of its former self here — but so is his legendary ego; this lovely set may be more of a team effort than Crosby, Stills and Nash (& Young) ever was. The jazz-inflected songwriting, the hushed vocal blend, the lovely sense of understatement and space all make this delicate music blossom and take root in the heart. This tour came to West Michigan on Thanksgiving weekend of 2018; hearing this set, I’m sorry I missed the show! Yes, it’s that good.

I wish I could say the same about 18, the collaboration with Johnny Depp that turned out to be guitar legend Jeff Beck’s swan song; even putting aside Depp’s recent notoriety, there’s a mismatch of tone that makes the album a puzzling listen. Though Beck’s rich melodicism is as compelling as ever, his soaring aesthetic keeps bouncing off the consistently lugubrious song selection and morose vocals from Depp. Usually I’d be all over an album that ricochets from Motown and the Everly Brothers to Killing Joke and The Velvet Underground, but the eclectic selection simply refuses to cohere. Some glorious moments (instrumental takes on the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk” and “Caroline, No”, the John Lennon cover “Isolation” that closes the album on a solid footing), but Beck’s light and Depp’s dark cancel each other out far too often for the music to take wing.

In the meantime, the past month has seen multiple first-rate releases in the jazz (and jazz-related) world:

From out of left field, Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price teams with guitarist/songwriter Vilray Blair Bolles for I Love A Love Song! This second duo effort pairs Price’s well-honed jazz and pop sensibilities with whimsical Vilray originals in the Great American Songbook tradition. Well-upholstered arrangements from a finely tuned large combo and a boxy yet lush recorded sound set up the retro feel; but ultimately it’s Price’s subtle, in-the-pocket sense of swing that sells the music, often breezy and melancholy at the same time.

Piano legend Brad Mehldau has never hesitated to incorporate rock songs into the jazz canon; with Your Mother Should Know, he makes a program of Beatles tunes (plus David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” — it originally featured Rick Wakeman on piano!) sound not just obvious, but inevitable in the idiom. Above all, this is fun, albeit often of a serious stripe; from the headlong boogie woogie of “I Saw Her Standing There” through the thickened harmonies of “I Am the Walrus” and hovering balladry of “Here There and Everywhere” to the stretched-out gospel of “Baby’s in Black” and the ecstatic extended solo of “Golden Slumbers”, Mehldau’s instincts for where to take these songs by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison are unerring, his invention refreshing and often astonishing, his technique impeccable. Absolutely worth a listen, whether you’re a Fabs fan or not.

Are improvisational Australian trio The Necks “jazz”? Hard to say; but while their music resists categorization (or even description), their latest release Travel is as attractive a summation of what they do as anything. Four pieces of music, each one made from scratch at the start of a day in the studio, building from a minimal idea that gains momentum, complexity and impact through repetition and variation of ideas, dynamics and sounds. “Signal” rambles, “Forming” smolders, “Imprinting” shimmers and “Bloodstream” flares up for a riveting double-album journey. Is it world-inflected rock? Ambient jazz? Something else? I frankly don’t care; I just know that after an online listen, I had to buy it. (And kudos to Vertigo Music of Grand Rapids for having it in stock!)

P.S. In the “blast from the past” department, I’ve spent a surprising amount of time reveling in the swagger of Cheap Trick’s Dream Police, a widescreen slab of power-pop brilliance from 1979. And sticking my toe in the deep waters of Guided by Voices last month led me to their slam-bang “best of” compilation from 2003, Human Amusements at Hourly Rates. Both highly recommended if you wanna rock!

— Rick Krueger

Rick’s Quick Takes for January

Starting out with a burner from 2022 that just arrived due to the ongoing vagaries of overseas shipping: Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad connects with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra for the conceptual Maternity Beat. As on her previous collaborative jazz-rock projects Ekhidna and Tempest Revisited, Mollestad’s writing runs the gamut, from thrusting dash through tribal fusion getdowns and chamber interplay to a glorious finale that ratchets up to a blazing climax. And her playing is as creative and involving as ever, ranging from the gutbucket blues and skronky feedback of “Do Re Mi Ma Ma” to the gliding, Jeff Beck-ish boogie of “All Flights Cancelled” and beyond. Another winner from this impressive musician that grows more immersive the more you listen.

Even with his relocation from New York City to Toledo, Spain this year, impresario Leonardo Pavkovic has kept MoonJune Records churning out first rate albums that consistently ride the cutting edge of possible musics. In the most recent batch of MoonJune releases, Sonar guitarist Stephan Thelen returns with Fractal Guitar 3, another winning album of intriguing compositions that create harmony and structure via the interaction of cyclic time and minimalist melodies; touch guitarist Markus Reuter teams with multi-instrumentalist Tim Motzer and drummer Kenny Growhoski for Bleed, a bold, grungy set of abstract pieces drawn from free improvisation; Anchor & Burden (Reuter’s “European supergroup” featuring drummer extraordinaire Asaf Sirkis) weighs in with Kosmonautik Pilgrimage, monumentally turbulent full improv with Lovecraftian artwork and titles to match its swirling, heavy vibe; and Duo Atanatovski (a Slovenian father and son on guitar/cello and winds) team with a rhythm section for the radiant Liberté Toujours, an album of soaring, propulsive jazz that I guarantee will lift your spirits. The best way to catch all the action on MoonJune is a yearly subscription at Bandcamp.

On a whim (admittedly nudged by a recommendation from allmusic.com), I checked out Guided by Voices’ brand new La La Land and was instantly captivated. The brainchild and main musical vehicle of Dayton Ohio guitarist and singer Robert Pollard, the band is known for its insanely prolific output (the current lineup has released 14 albums in the last 5 years), slamming home musical earworms laced with whimsical, elusive lyrics aplenty in a devil-may-care blend of the British invasion, low-fi punk-pop and just the right amount of psych-prog garnish. In the past, GbV’s releases lacked a certain quality control, but recent albums seem to be all killer, no filler: here the air-tight riffs lodge directly in your pleasure centers; Pollard reels off irresistible chorus after irresistible chorus in a delightfully mannered, indeterminate accent; and expansive efforts like the pretty acoustic tune “Queen of Spaces” and the off-kilter, multi-part build of “Slowly On the Wheel” offset the short, sharp shocks of the opening “Another Day to Heal” and the Beatlesque “Ballroom Etiquette”. Well worth exploring, but mind stepping too far into the whirlpool …

I’ve got to agree with Bryan that Riverside’s latest, ID.Entity, is a strong contender for “best of the year” status, even this early in the game. This is hooky, hard art-rock (metallic around the edges) with a compelling sense of ebb and flow — not to mention plenty of high-power guitar and keyboard heroics. What makes the blend especially savory here is Mariusz Duda’s vocals; wistfully edgy, drily sardonic and bluntly dismissive by turns, his melancholy meditations on a divided world with no place left to hide grab and shake you, whether you want to see the pictures he’s painting or not. Definitely up to Progarchy’s favorite Polish proggers’ high standards, with the potential to rope in fans of a recent vintage — like me — as well. (Need to catch up on Duda and company? The 2021 online compilation 20 – The Shorts and the Longs might be your ticket.)

Always ready to bring a bit of reconfigured retro flash into here and now, Andy Tillison has opened wide The Tangent’s vaults for an old-school “triple-live” album, Pyramids, Stars and Other Stories. The release kicks off with a soul-stirring 2004 set, as the original lineup (including Roine Stolt) powers through early classics like “The World That We Drive Through” and “The Music That Died Alone”. Add a substantial serving of later songs and instrumentals performed by equally gifted lineups on the 2012 UK and the 2017 US tours (the last of which I was privileged to see at Chicago’s Progtoberfest), and you have 2 1/2 hours of back-catalog gems delivered in grand style. I gleefully gulped down the whole thing in one sitting; Tillison’s non-stop compositional eclecticism and his unquenchable penchant for speaking (well, singing) his mind delight from beginning to end, and his compatriots step up to match his commitment throughout. On their game, The Tangent’s devotion to music and their appeal to our consciences point us to the best of what we are and what we can be; here, they hit peak form throughout, with any rough edges only adding to their appeal. This generous set is both a first-rate introduction for new listeners and an essential item for hard core fans. In addition to purchasing the album through the usual outlets, you can still support the band directly and pre-order a limited number of signed copies here.

— Rick Krueger

In Concert: A Night of Michigan Prog Metal

Entransient Album Release Party with Imminent Sonic Destruction and Paradigm Shifter, The Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids Michigan, January 14, 2023

I gotta admit, it was first-class fun to reconnect with fellow members of the (extremely informal) West Michigan Prog Posse, checking out three homegrown bands at this local 400-capacity venue.

First up was the Grand Rapids-based Paradigm Shifter, self-described as “an instrumental Metal band taking influences from Hardcore and Progressive metal.” This young trio had chops galore and plenty of decent ideas packed into titles like “Hammer Down” and “Primal Fear”. To this old-codger-in-training, it reminded me (in a good way!) of surf music like “Wipe Out” and “Pipeline” — though played with droptuned, heavily distorted 7-string guitars. The band’s current limitations (computerized drums, extended re-tuning covered by pre-recorded interludes) certainly aren’t impossible to overcome, and if they took their guitar hero posing a trifle too seriously — well, haven’t we all at one time or another? Changing pace for “Leap of Faith”, a rap-rock finale with guest vocalists that sounded like a Linkin Park comeback, Paradigm Shifter was a solid opener, offering something for everyone in a remarkably youthful crowd.

Imminent Sonic Destruction, a Detroit progressive metal band of 15 years vintage, was up next, with the melodramatic oratory of British sci-fi author Michael Moorcock ringing in our ears. Gleefully self-aware as they took the stage, ISD quickly cued us in that their music is completely over the top, and that they’re in on any potential silliness right along with us. Ping-ponging between extravagant, multi-part headbangers, complete with cookie monster vocals (“With Death This Story Ends”, “The Fog”) and tightly harmonized, symphonic power ballads (“Solitude” and the title track from their latest album The Sun Will Always Set) guitarists Tony Piccoli (also a game lead vocalist) and Scott David Thompson (a key harmonizer), bassist Bryan Paxton (doing the growls), keyboardist Pete Hopersberger (pleasingly prominent in the mix vocally and instrumentally) and drummer Pat DeLeon (also of Motor City proggers Tiles) provided one pile driving good time!

And then there was the evening’s hosts Entransient, who I’ve written about previously, both live (opening for Thank You Scientist and Bent Knee at the Pyramid Scheme) and on record (their fine new album Ghosts in the Halls) Tonight, they opted for a slow build, starting with an acoustic mini-set — complete with cello — before firing the big guns. Their consistently sharp songwriting had the broadest range of the night’s bands, as guitarists Nick Hagen and Doug Murray, bassist Matt Schrauben and drummer Jeremy Hyde whipped up a compelling blend of light & shade. And while it took vocalist Scott Martin a few tunes to get the measure of the room, he swiftly hit peak form, belting out new tracks like “Parasite” and “Synergize” along with setlist standbys like “The Weight of Things”. Plus, in the night’s coolest moment, the band played “Take What’s Left” from their debut album — featuring Hagen’s dad Tom, on the most metal clarinet solo I am ever likely to hear.

In between bands, the talk at our table turned to that evergreen topic, the future of progressive music in general and progressive rock in particular. One of my friends made two points: 1) the genre has to take root amongst younger generations for it to prosper, and; 2) the heavier edge that Fate’s Warning and Dream Theater brought into the mix is probably a core component in that future prosperity. Based on the strong performances by all three of the night’s bands and the demographics of the 150-175 people at the show, I have to agree; the heavy is here to stay!

— Rick Krueger

Kruekutt’s 2022 Favorites

A few notes before I dive in: items I’ve reviewed here are linked to the relevant Progarchy article via the artist/album title; If I didn’t review an item here or elsewhere, it’s marked with an asterisk (*) — but I hope the capsule description and listening/order links will encourage you to check it out!

My favorite new music of 2022:

  • Dave Bainbridge, To The Far Away: A thrilling, ravishingly beautiful album about love, longing, hope and a future. Lyrics of rich simplicity cradled in a lush orchestral blend of rock, prog and Celtic folk. My interview with Bainbridge is here.
  • Big Big Train, Welcome to the Planet: what turned out to be BBT’s final effort with the late David Longdon consolidates the widened horizons of Grand Tour and the intimate subjects of Common Ground, casting an epic light on the everyday glory of family, community, joy and loss.
  • Cosmograf, Heroic Materials: Elegiac in its evocation of past achievements, urgent in its contemporary call to action, breathtaking in its poised blend of fragility and strength, Robin Armstrong’s latest is a riveting listen.
  • The Flower Kings, By Royal Decree: TFK’s third double album in a row, this is the sound of Roine Stolt and company refreshed and revisiting their optimistic roots, soaring on the wings of one marvelous melody after another. As much a joy to hear as it must have been to create.
  • Mary Halvorson, Amaryllis & Belladonna: free jazz guitarist Halvorson hits a major label with two albums — teaming with a boisterously simpatico sextet on Amaryllis, then dancing atop and around modern classical textures from the Mivos Quartet on Belladonna. Audacious and engrossing, this music will open your ears real good!
  • Dave Kerzner, The Traveller: confident, appealing songwriting with hooky yet sophisticated melodies and structures, Kerzner’s best, widest ranging vocals to date and perfectly judged contributions from a stellar guest list. Letting his new songs sell themselves and keeping proceedings to the point, he both satisfies us and leaves us wanting more. 
  • The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Cold As Weiss: An immediately accessible reboot of a classic jazz trio format. Organist Lamarr, guitarist Jimmy James and drummer Daniel Weiss are thrilling players who never fail to make their instruments sing. Funky, catchy bite-size tracks with great individual playing and razor sharp ensemble. 
  • Marillion, An Hour Before It’s Dark: The front half of Los Marillos’ latest has more swagger than they’ve mustered in a while; the back half’s meditative downshift climaxes with the sweeping smashcut finale “Care,” as power chords and massed choirs climb heavenward. Unique as anything in their catalog, and another thoroughbred winner.
  • Pure Reason Revolution, Above Cirrus: this fifth album reveals PRR at their best, consistently upping their game to the next level. For every moment of blissful harmonies and glidepath atmospherics, there’s an equal and opposite moment of feral guitar/drum slammin’ — and when they layer the two together, look out! Well worth buckling up for the ride.
  • The Smile, A Light For Attracting Attention: A Radiohead side project worth your while. Thom Yorke overflows with apocalyptic dread; Jonny Greenwood’s off-kilter instrumental instincts are keener than ever; Tom Skinner’s skittering beats relentlessly drive the grim, lush soundscapes forward. Music for our contemporary dystopia, irresistibly sucking you in.
  • Tears For Fears, The Tipping Point: Roland Orzbaal & Curtis Smith’s catchy-as-always comeback goes for catharsis via unstoppable rhythms, unforgettable choruses and naked vulnerability on every single track, Devastatingly gorgeous, uncompromising art-pop that will haunt you long after every listen.
  • And my Top Favorite of the year — Wilco, Cruel Country. A double set that detours from Jeff Tweedy’s thoughtful dad-rock toward Nashville and Bakersfield, the tactile interplay of the band and Tweedy’s quizzical, empathetic probes of societal alienation elevate this to an album of genuine tenderness and subtlety, gathering strength and heart as it unrolls. After a digital-only release this year, it’s finally coming out on LP and CD January 20!

My favorite reissues of 2022:

  • The Beatles, Revolver Special Edition*: No Revolver, no Sergeant Pepper — no prog? Regardless of what ifs, the Fabs’ great leap forward of 1966 was brilliant in its own right, dragging pop headlong toward the avant-garde. Here it gets a subtle yet effective remix, with fascinating studio outtakes framing the cutting-edge results.
  • Tim Bowness & Giancarlo Erra, Memories of Machines: an irresistible mix of unflinchingly intimate art-rock and lowering ambient backdrops. Ten years on, original arrangements and track lengths are restored, Erra’s textural work is inched forward — and as always, Bowness breaks your heart with his ringing couplets and his stoic voice.
  • My Top Favorite Reissue of the year: Robert Fripp, Exposure/Exposures. The guitarist’s 1979 return to active duty after a post-King Crimson sabbatical, binding together a disparate set of songs and guest artists with his innovative ambient Frippertronics. Whether by itself or as part of a gargantuan box set that chronicles Fripp’s entire “Drive to 1981,” it’s a wild, worthwhile listen in and of itself, while providing distinctive previews of coming attractions.
  • Marillion, Holidays in Eden Deluxe Edition*: my introduction to the band (I first saw them live on the US tour promoting the album), Holidays was partially a product of record company pressure for hit singles, but it also has plenty of Marillion’s trademark ambition, power and lyricism. A fresh remix complemented by exciting live shows on both audio and video.
  • Soft Machine, Bundles*: Add blazing young guitarist Allan Holdsworth to one of the pioneering British jazz-rock bands, stir in quirky compositions by keyboardists Karl Jenkins and Mike Ratledge, and stand by for fireworks! This fresh reissue also includes a hot live set featuring Holdsworth’s successor John Ethridge (still active with the Softs today).
  • Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Super Deluxe Edition*: The album that put Wilco on the map (after they were dropped by their label), YHF mutated from Americana through dream-pop to electronica-tinged folk-rock as band members and producers came and went. Eight discs that copiously chronicle the recording process, plus blistering two live sets.

My favorite (re)discoveries of 2022:

My favorite live album of 2022: Big Big Train, Summer Shall Not Fade*. Equal parts power and grace, BBT’s 2018 headlining gig at Germany’s Night of the Prog may be their best live release yet. Playing to their largest crowd ever, David Longdon commands the stage; Greg Spawton and Nick D’Virgilio provide a muscular foundation; Dave Gregory, Rikard Sjobom, Danny Manners and Rachel Hall serve up one delightful moment after another. Bryan Morey’s review nails it; this is indispensable.

My favorite rock documentary of 2022: In The Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50*. The most unconventional band of the last five decades gets the most unconventional documentary possible. Crims past and present weigh in on “living, dying, laughing, playing and rocking out”, with Robert Fripp providing the ever-present focal point in a particularly puckish fashion. There’s also a deluxe edition with live Crimson video (both in the studio and at 2019’s Rock in Rio festival) and four bonus CDs of soundtrack cuts, rarities, etc.

My favorite books about music of 2022:

  • Vashti Bunyan, Wayward: Just Another Life to Live. Singer-songwriter Bunyan’s unlikely late-60s odyssey from Swinging London to the Hebrides forms the heart of this evocative narrative. Laboriously traversing the heart of England, she gains understanding of the natural world, of human kindness and cruelty — and of her own sturdy inner core.
  • Dan Charnas (with musical analysis by Jeff Peretz), Dilla Time: The Life And Afterlife Of J Dilla, The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm*. In Charnas’ telling, Dilla emerges as an innovator who laid down new paths for neo-soul and conceptual hip-hop, via his subtle yet unsettling variations on previously straight-up rhythms. Peretz’s equally innovative graphic depictions of rhythmic innovations across the decades buttress the page-turning narrative.
  • Robert Fripp, The Guitar Circle*. More a philosophical tome than a how-to book, though still remarkably practical, Fripp’s highly conceptual explanation of his process (as unfolded in Guitar Craft courses and Guitar Circles) won’t be for everyone. But those who dig in will grasp where this eternally questing musician is coming from better than ever before.
  • David Leaf, God Only Knows: The Story of Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys And The California Myth*. The third edition of Leaf’s lifework chronicles The Beach Boys’ journey from surf-rock through eccentric art-pop to the dead end of nostalgia, then sidesteps to Wilson’s solo comeback, culminating in the completion of his masterwork Smile. Not in the least objective, but comprehensive, even-handed toward the rest of The Beach Boys, and heartfelt.
  • Grant Moon, Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Band. How BBT became a prog powerhouse — through sheer bloody-mindedness, growth in craft and a keen ear for musical contributors — is the tale told in this richly detailed bio/coffee table tome. Both a celebration of the music made and an unflinching look at the price paid for a dream.

And in closing . . .

If you’re interested, check out these recordings I played or sang on that were released in 2022:

— Rick Krueger

The Progarchy Interview: Aaron Emerson and Chris Welch on Keith Emerson

Rocket 88’s new biography of prog pioneer keyboardist Keith Emerson has been getting a lot of attention in these parts. Last week it was my privilege to talk with Chris Welch (the venerated British music journalist who assembled the new book) and Keith’s oldest son Aaron. Their reminiscences of the man and their insight into putting together a unique kind of biography made for an animated, engaging, enjoyable conversation! A full transcription follows the video.

So, it’s great to talk to Chris Welch, legendary music journalist, and Aaron Emerson, son of the even more legendary keyboardist Keith Emerson, regarding the new book that Rocket 88 is putting out!  I’m waiting for my hard copy, but I’ve also seen a preview copy, and it’s just a sumptuous book, with so much wonderful insight and information.  So, my first question is: how did this new book come about, and where did each of you become involved in the process of putting it together?

Chris Welch [CW]: Shall I start, Aaron?

Aaron Emerson [AE]: Go ahead, yeah.

CW: Great.  I was approached by the publisher last year, Rocket 88, and they told me about – they do some wonderful other books on rock music; you’ve probably seen them.  And the format they wanted was interviews with all the family and fellow musicians.  And the idea was to do a real portrait of Keith’s life.  And that was the best way to do it, in the words of the people that knew him best.  My job was to assemble the interviews, do all the talking and recording the interviews, and that took a long time, actually.

And of course, it’s quite emotional talking to family members about their loss, about their husband, their father, grandfather and friend.  So was quite an emotional process, I have to say.  But I was glad I did it; I was very proud and pleased to see the result, actually.

Aaron, do you have anything to add to that?

AE: Many years ago, my dad released a biography called Pictures of An Exhibitionist.  And it was up to that point.  And I know he was always wanting the story to continue.  And when we were going through, selling things like  – in the attic there was so much of pictures and newspaper clippings that he’d kept all these years, and all stored up.  And when the idea was brought up, I thought it was a great idea to put it all together like a coffee table book.  So, it’s like a biography, but everyone gets a chance to talk about their experience with Dad, and how his life effected them.

So, you hear many stories, and put together with many pictures not seen before, which I thought was a nice thing to do.

Yes, the results, as I said – it’s a gorgeous book.  Aaron, you and I talked a bit about who you talked to, and who you may have inadvertently missed talking to.  But my other question is, what was the range of reactions when you asked people about Keith Emerson?

AE:  Everyone jumped to do it!  Everybody wanted to join; everybody wanted to have a chat and talk.  There was just too many people; we got everyone in there, and everyone’s got lovely things to say. Go ahead, Chris.

CW: I was very surprised to talk to Jeff “Skunk” Baxter in particular, who obviously was famous for his work with Steely Dan.  I remember interviewing him years ago.  And it was great to know that he formed a friendship, a relationship with Keith when they formed a band [The Best] that played — only in Tokyo, I think it was.  A great sort of a supergroup that they’d got together. 

And he was full of praise for Keith, and called him the greatest keyboard player in the world!   Coming from someone from his background, his reputation, that was a great tribute, I thought.  It was great to hear an American musician praising a British musician, because American musicians tend to be the groundsetters, the pacesetters, and the best in the world anywhere.  But for him to say Keith was one of the best is really nice!  I was very impressed.

I remember at the tribute concert I have the video of, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter did this amazing chicken-pickin’ solo on “Hoedown”, which was absolutely perfect for the context!   But as you say, the worldwide respect [Keith] had as a musician is so core to, I think, his long-lasting appeal. 

Chris, you got to know Keith beginning in the 1960s as I understand, just as the progressive tendencies on that British rock scene were accelerating.  What, in your view, was his ultimate influence on that scene?  What kind of role did he carve out for himself?

CW: In that era, the early rock scene in the 60s — there were a lot of keyboard players in that stage in London, where I was based.  There were bands like the Graham Bond Organisation and Brian Auger’s Trinity, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.  So, the Hammond organ was very popular, but mainly as a kind of jazz instrument, rhythm and blues.  When Keith came along, he introduced so many different facets to using the Hammond organ to introduce classical music.  He was a master of all of that!

So, the combination of his feeling for rock and roll, jazz, blues and classical music, this was quite new and refreshing, I thought.  And it came to a head with The Nice, which I saw in its very early days, actually.

I could tell you a quick story about the first time I met Keith.  Whenever you’d meet Keith, he always had a piano somewhere near him!  Surrounded by keyboards and pianos.  The piano was the central point of his life.  When I first met him, it was in a flat in Earls Court in London — in David O’List’s flat, he wasthe guitar player in The Nice.  The first time I met him, he didn’t say anything; he just sat down at the piano and played [Dave Brubeck’s] “Blue Rondo a La Turk”.  That was the introduction; that’s the way he talked to people was through the piano!

Of course, he was quite shy, actually, a quite shy person.  Hard to believe when you saw him leaping about onstage.  But he could be quiet.  But we always got so very well!  That was our first meeting; he played me the piano.

Let me ask one more quick follow-up.  From The Nice, he moved on to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which was probably, at least in terms of worldwide fame and impact – I guess to call it the height of his career is the best I can come up with, though I don’t think it’s adequate.  Did that period, especially the early 70s where it seemed like ELP could do no wrong – did that period change him at all?  How did he cope with what I imagine was a great deal of added pressure?

CW:  In a funny way, I think ELP gave Keith more confidence.  He was growing frustrated with The Nice, because he had all these ideas.  And they were great musicians and all friends.  Keith hated the idea of breaking up The Nice, but it was something he felt he had to do, if only to express all the ideas.  He wanted to be a composer as well as a man famed for jumping about with knives and a dagger! [Laughs]

That wasn’t Keith at all really – he was really into composing, writing, creating music, tackling ideas that other people had.  He had great respect for the great classical composers.  Eventually they accepted him, the ones that were still alive!  Living composers like Aaron [Copland], the man who wrote “Fanfare [For the Common Man]”.

Yes, to have the respect of Copland and [Alberto] Ginastera, I’m sure was incredibly fulfilling for him.

CW: Yes, so, that’s what Keith wanted.

AE: “Creole Dance” [by Ginastera] is one of my favorites.  When I saw him play that, it was a fantastic song!

Yes, I heard him do that live with [Greg] Lake and [Cozy] Powell and it was mind-blowing.  Aaron, you had a very different experience.  Your first impression of your dad, well, was as your dad!  I guess I have to ask you overall, what was he like as a father?

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