King Crimson’s Music Is Our Friend USA Tour

It’s been a long, long, loooong wait for King Crimson to reschedule their pandemic-postponed tour, originally planned for last summer. But as of today, there’s rejoicing in the air at Discipline Global Mobile:

We are pleased to announce the dates for the re-scheduled 2021 King Crimson tour of the USA. This is also a good moment to publicly thank all those who have worked so hard to make this tour possible. The dates have changed on an almost daily basis over the last six months as rules and restrictions have changed.

The California Guitar Trio will be appearing as a special guest for the first leg of the tour. King Crimson will be accompanied by the Zappa Band for the whole of the second leg of the tour from 22nd August – 11th September, and also for the concerts in Concord and Los Angeles on 5th and 6th August.

There are currently Royal Package places available at all these concerts. The Royal Package gives priority seating at the front of the venue, early access, special merchandise, and personal insights and answers from David Singleton and one of the band members. Anyone with an existing place reserved last year, who now needs to move to a different venue or apply for a refund, should contact iona@dgmhq.com.

Crimson manager David Singleton has much, much more on the headaches involved at his DGM diary. And Crimson founder/mainman/guitarist Robert Fripp has also reacted in characteristic fashion:

The Crimson Beast Of Terror has woken from its enforced slumbering and is venturing out to stomp flat the psyches of innocents not yet experienced in the hammering onslaught of King Crimson’s uncompromising pounding – bish! bish! bish! – before turning on a beat to jellify hearts with gut-wrenching passion and soul-squeezing epic unfoldings to remind us that we are all mere subjects in the unfolding drama of the universe’s unfathomable mysteries while simultaneously rocking out and having a great time bopping about with Tony and Bobby and Gavin and Jakko and Mel and Pat and Jezza too.

Tour dates are listed below; Royal Packages are available by clicking the appropriate link, and regular seats will go on sale soon. I look forward to entering the Court of the Crimson King for the 10th time on August 18 at Meadow Brook Amphitheater!

July 22, 2021 – Clearwater, FL – Ruth Eckerd Hall

July 23, 2021 – Delray Beach, FL – Old School Square

July 24, 2021 – St. Augustine, FL – St Augustine Ampitheater

July 26, 2021 – Orlando, FL – Dr. Phillips Walt Disney Theater

July 27, 2021 – Atlanta, GA – The Fox

July 28, 2021 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium

July 30, 2021 – Fort Worth, TX – Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium

July 31, 2021 – Cedar Park, TX – H-E-B Center

August 2, 2021 – Greenwood Village, CO – Fiddlers Green Amiptheater

August 3, 2021 – Sandy, UT – Sandy Ampitheater

August 5, 2021- Concord, CA – Concord Pavilion

August 6, 2021 – Los Angeles – The Greek

August 7, 2021 – Scottsdale, AZ – Talking Stick Ballroom

August 23, 2021 – Saratoga Springs, NY – SPAC

August 24, 2021 – Northampton, MA – The Pines Theater

August 26, 2021 – Canandaigua, NY – CMAC

August 27, 2021 – Lewiston, NY – Artpark Ampitheater

August 28, 2021 – Rochester Hills, MI – Meadow Brook Ampitheater

August 29, 2021 – Highland Park, IL – Ravinia

August 31, 2021 – Milwaukee, WI – Miller High Life Theatre

September 1, 2021 – Cleveland, OH – Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica

September 2, 2021 – Huber Heights, OH – Rose Music Center @ The Heights

September 4, 2021 – Holmdel, NJ – PNC Bank Arts Center

September 5, 2021 – New Haven, CT – Westville Music Bowl

September 7, 2021 – Philadelphia, PA – The Mann Center

September 9, 2021 – Forest Hills, NYC – Forest Hills Stadium

September 10, 2021 – Boston, MA – Leader Bank Pavilion

September 11, 2021 – Washington, DC – The Anthem

— Rick Krueger

Big Big Train, Common Ground

Well, this is a pleasant surprise:

30th July 2021 sees the release of Common Ground, the self-produced new album from Big Big Train released on CD via their own label, English Electric Recordings, and on double LP in a gatefold sleeve via Plane Groovy. The album will also be available as a Bandcamp download and on all major streaming platforms.

Recorded during the worldwide pandemic in 2020, Common Ground sees the band continue their tradition of dramatic narratives but also tackles issues much closer to home, such as the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band and the hope that springs from a new love.

Common Ground finds the band taking in wider musical and lyrical inspiration from artists such as Elbow, Pete Townshend, Tears For Fears, Elton John and XTC, as well as acknowledging their more progressive roots. As ever, Big Big Train will take listeners on a journey, be it waiting for the 5pm pandemic UK press conferences (The Strangest Times) to the library of Alexandria (Black With Ink) to the bottom of the ocean (Atlantic Cable).

Big Big Train has taken lyrical and musical inspiration from periods of history that are recognised as great leaps forward. Now with Common Ground, they are making such a surge themselves.

The title track is now available to stream at Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube:

Preorders for the Common Ground album and related swag are now available at:

And still there’ll be more in 2022:

The Common Ground tour will be Big Big Train’s most comprehensive set of shows to date and will conclude in the UK at the prestigious London Palladium.

For the UK tour Greg Spawton (bass, bass pedals), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) will be joined by Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), who contributes vocals to Common Ground, Dave Foster (guitars), who plays on two tracks on the new album, Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) and by a five piece brass ensemble led by Dave Desmond (trombone).

The band expects to announce North American tour dates shortly.

With all this in store after BBT was forced to cancel their 2020-21 touring, I could only think of the words of noted music critic, theologian and hobbit Sam Gamgee:

“Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”. . . “O great glory and splendor! And all my wishes have come true!”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

— Rick Krueger

Proggily Down the Stream . . .

A sign of Spring’s awakening? Two rather special sounding streamed concerts are coming our way:

The Pineapple Thief have decamped to a top sound stage studio and recorded, in drummer Gavin Harrison’s words, “the show that we were meant to do in Covid times (but had to cancel).” Nothing But The Truth will be available on demand from 6 pm this Thursday, April 22 to 6 pm on Monday, April 26. Since I was boneheaded enough to miss the Thief’s late 2019 tour of the States, I’m eagerly anticipating this one! Tickets are dirt cheap (under $25 US), with a variety of merch (including crew support t-shirts) also available. Details and ordering at TPT’s website.

Next month, Nick D’Virgilio mounts a livestream performance of his solo album Invisible (one of my faves of 2020) from his homebase of Fort Wayne’s Sweetwater Studios on Friday, May 14 at 4 pm. Virtual packages with prices ranging from $15 to $65 are available at Mandolin.

And looking ahead to the fall, Neal Morse’s annual Morsefest has already sold out its limited live seats — but virtual options for the two night festival on Friday-Saturday, October 8-9 (featuring the upcoming fourth album from the Neal Morse Band) are still available at Radiant Records.

— Rick Krueger

Got Live If you Want It!

As the demigods of the US postal service would have it (and OK, ordering from Amazon, Burning Shed and others had something to do with it), a lot of the CDs that have landed in my mailbox lately are live albums (or have a live element). “So whadid ya get?” Glad you asked . . .

District 97, Screenplay: the first live effort from the grassroots Chicago group intended for mainstream distribution, this double disc set is a comprehensive showcase for their gutsy blend of prog, metal and fusion. Disc 1 is a headlong romp through their fine album Screens, recorded onstage in the Netherlands; along with a new track, disc 2 serves up delectable live takes on their back catalog plus covers ranging from John Lennon (a snippet of “Jealous Guy”) through Bill Bruford (two tracks performed in my vicinity at Progtoberfest 2018) to King Crimson (with the late John Wetton on vocals). A perfect introduction for D97 newcomers, and a delightful celebration for fans already in the know. Available direct from the band.

The Keith Emerson Tribute Concert – Fanfare for the Uncommon Man: Five years in the making, this 2 DVD/2 CD combo pack, recorded at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theater two months after Emerson’s devastating suicide, is the best tribute to him I could imagine. Post-ELP collaborator Marc Bonilla wrangles a impressive rotating cast of star players through a setlist that captures both Emo’s audacious, aggressive swagger and his sophisticated, heart-wrenching lyricism. Toto’s Steve Porcaro (organ on “The Barbarian”), Emerson protege Rachel Flowers (piano on a complete instrumental version of “The Endless Enigma”), CJ Vanston (piano on “Take A Pebble”) and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess (multi-keys on a complete “Tarkus”) all shine in the keyboard chair; guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter turns Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” into a chicken-pickin’ delight. And when Eddie Jobson takes over Emerson’s iconic modular Moog synthesizer to play that solo on “Lucky Man,” the chills down my spine are unstoppable. Available direct from Cherry Red Records.

Peter Gabriel Plays Live: PG’s initial live album, restored to its original length and running order after far too many years in an edited version. Touring colleges and universities in the American Midwest to support the Security album, Gabriel and his backing players wove together high-contrast monochrome textures, brutally stark rhythms and chantlike volleys of vocals to conjure up an intense, ritualistic experience. Having seen this tour in the flesh, I can attest the album does a great job capturing the tour’s immersive, primitivistic grandeur — as well as including jauntier highlights from earlier albums and the goofy, otherwise unreleased “I Go Swimming.” Available direct from the artist or via Burning Shed.

Liquid Tension Experiment 3: Yeah, this one’s a stretch . . . but hey, the bonus disc of improvisations was recorded live in the studio! Initial opinion among fellow fans seems divided on the uncanny ability of John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Tony Levin and Mike Portnoy to pick up almost exactly where they left off 22 years ago. Do you prefer your progressive music to explore farther-out frontiers each time, or to dig deeper in a previously fruitful vein? Me, I get into both approaches — and while LTE certainly plows similar instrumental prog-metal furrows as on their first two albums, there’s plenty of jaw-dropping, face-melting, heart-wrenching, smile-inducing gold in them there grooves! Available from Inside Out and Burning Shed. Oh, and I’m confident you’ve never heard a version of “Rhapsody in Blue” quite like this:

— Rick Krueger

The Anchoress, The Art of Losing

A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.

Ascription for Psalm 102, King James Version

The Art of Losing, the second album by Catherine Anne Davies working as The Anchoress, hits where the listener lives. Lyrically erudite? You bet; Davies borrows the title from American poet Elizabeth Bishop, quotes a roster of literary titans from Julian of Norwich and C.S. Lewis to Margaret Atwood and Jorge Luis Borges in the liner notes, then depicted herself exhaling (vomiting?) her contribution to the conversation on the album sleeve. Musically sophisticated? Again, a slam dunk; beyond her compelling writing and powerful, nuanced singing, Davies plays most of the instruments with gusto, creates the unique sound world only a virtuoso producer could, and pulls influences from Depeche Mode to modern classicist Max Richter into the mix.

But that’s all secondary, picked up on repeated listens, trailing in the wake of this music’s overwhelming initial impact. Davies’ keenly honed portrayals of mayhem, trauma, loss and grief (reflections of her recent life) suck you into a maelstrom where happiness is barely a consideration. The question she seems to insistently ask on The Art of Losing is: how to endure?

How to endure being treated like a possession — by responding in kind? (“The Exchange”, duetting with Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield) How to endure in a world where the wicked and unjust prosper and even gain greater influence (“Show Your Face,” rocking like a truck full of bricks as Davies snarls the chorus)? How to endure the ache of separation, the innumerable endings that life inevitably brings (the uneasily propulsive title track and “Unravel”)? The preternaturally quiet “5 AM” arrives at the abyss: just piano, cello and Davies’ unflinching vocal, recounting incidents of domestic abuse, sexual assault and baby loss, implacably inventorying the damage that comes for no reason, beyond what others think you are or owe them.

Groping for a path forward, Davies broods on the nature of sacrifice in “The Heart Is A Lonesome Hunter”, then explodes on the fierce incantation “My Confessor”. “With the Boys” brings another hushed, apocalyptic reckoning, as Davies tallies up the price of her choices– and concludes the outcome has been worth it:

All of my life I’ve been waiting for something I might call my own
And learn to hold something inside
A voice unworn that gets a little louder when you laugh at me
And tell me not to speak

And she goes round and round
Chasing circles with the palm of her hand
She got to be good got to be certain if she wants to play
With the boys . . .

But I can’t and I won’t shut my mouth this time
Can’t control what you don’t know
What was it you were hoping for guarding all the doors?
Guarding all the doors?

The Anchoress’ answers to the inherent ache of life — of embodiment in a broken world where, seemingly beyond redemption, we choose to love things and use other people — aren’t cheap, easy or sentimental. But they are bracing and genuinely moving. At the end of The Art of Losing, endurance is the only viable solution (and quite possibly its own reward); the acceptance of time’s passage and the willingness to continue is the only possibility worth pursuing. Where the strength to do it comes from — yourself? Others? Someone you pour out your complaint to? — may remain a mystery. But by channeling her (and our) dilemma into 40 minutes of ambitious, unforgettable art-pop, Catherine Anne Davies has given us an undeniable gift. Open it for yourself and listen below:

The Art of Losing is available on LP and CD at Bandcamp and Burning Shed.

— Rick Krueger

Nad Sylvan: The Progarchy Interview

Born in California and raised in Sweden, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Nad Sylvan is a music lifer who formed his first band in 1968, toured for the first time in 1975 and signed his first record contract in 1983. With three eclectic solo albums already under his belt, Sylvan’s 2008 collaboration with keyboardist Bonamici Unifaun caught the prog community’s ear; it’s a stunningly fine pastiche that goes beyond superficial gestures to embody the musical soul of Genesis’ progressive period. One thing led to another from that point: Sylvan joining Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold in Agents of Mercy; his ongoing gig with Steve Hackett, providing a visually and vocally flamboyant focus for multiple Genesis Revisited tours since 2013; and the deliciously Baroque solo albums on Inside Out that constitute his Vampirate trilogy (2015’s Courting the Widow, 2017’s The Bride Said No and 2019’s The Regal Bastard).

Nad’s new effort Spiritus Mundi sees him joining forces with guitarist/songwriter Andrew Laitres to set poems by W. B. Yeats — including visionary classics such as “The Second Coming,” “Sailing to Byzantium” and “The Stolen Child.” This is a fresh, winning album, focused on Laitres’ acoustic guitar, shimmering orchestral colors — and Sylvan’s voice, ably navigating the spry melodies, inhabiting Yeats’ weighty words with grace, power and panache.

Nad Sylvan spoke with us last in 2019; after seeing him in concert with Hackett three times, it was delightful for me to chat with him about Spiritus Mundi and related topics. Recovering from a long day of shipping out preorders (roughly five times the amount he anticipated), Nad was nonetheless thoughtful, charming, and engaged throughout. The audio of our conversation is below, with a transcript following.

So, let’s talk about the new album, about Spiritus Mundi.  How did you decide on a direction after you finished the Vampirate trilogy?

You got that one right!  Vampirate — good!  It’s my own invention; think of the vampire and the pirate combined into one character.

Well, to make a long story short, I was approached by Andrew Laitres, who I’ve done this record with.  About two and a half years ago.  And he asked me if I would be interested to track my voice for a song of his that was gonna go on one of his solo records.  And that was a song called “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” which turned out to be a bonus track on The Regal Bastard, my previous album.

So I asked him, “could I use this for this album?”  ‘Cause I thought, it just went so well, it sounded so good, and I thought, “what a nice thing to use as a bonus track.”  And so he granted me permission to do that!

So after I’d finished the trilogy, I immediately came to “where am I gonna go now?  What should I do now?  I feel like doing something completely different.”  And then before you knew it, you had the pandemic as well come along.  And I thought, well, spiritus mundi means sort of “the spirit of the world,” if you like.  And that’s very much what we’re concerned about these days, more so than ever.  It’s also a quote from the first song, “The Second Coming.” Where he sings about spiritus mundi.  And it sounds so lovely, and it’s got some power behind those words.  And I thought “why not use that as a title?” 

And so I asked Andrew, “would you be keen to make a full album with these lyrics of Yeats?  Let’s write these songs together.”  I don’t have any prestigious thoughts about “I have to do everything.”  I’ve already proven that I can write, ‘cause I’ve done three albums already.  So he was enticed to go along with my idea, and then we started to work together – I would say it kicked off December of ’19.  So during the whole pandemic, as I returned home from the tour with Hackett about a year ago – I would say mid-March of 2020 — I’ve been completely absorbed by this work.  And it comes down to everything, even the artwork I’ve done for the album, so I could totally focus on this record, and I think it shows.  It just sounds and comes across as being a bit more mature this time.

Well, that was one of the things that struck me, that you’re using Yeats’ poems for lyrics, because that strikes me as an amazing challenge.  They’ve been set to music almost since the moment they were originally written.

Yeah, I know, but this was Andrew’s idea, you see.  I wasn’t even that familiar with Yeats’ poems; I’ve heard of him.  But once [Andrew] presented all his demos for me, I’d cherry pick: “Oh, this sounds nice.”  And we started to mold the songs together, like “maybe this bit should be restructured” or “maybe we should change these chords” or stuff like that.  It was very much a combined work effort.  So, yes, Yeats has been covered by The Waterboys, back in the late 80s, I believe.  But I didn’t even know that!  I just thought, “what lovely poems!  Let’s do it.”

Continue reading “Nad Sylvan: The Progarchy Interview”

Weekend Roundup 2: DIY Britprog

One indication of the absolute glut of recorded music available today: more of what I’ve whimsically labelled “DIY (for Do It Yourself, a la Peter Gabriel) Britprog” is available than ever. With Prog Magazine providing a megaphone and Big Big Train’s international impact paving the way, countless musicians from England have brushed up their chops, dusted off their home recording setups, and churned out self-released albums by the bushel in the past decade. Even as the chances of market penetration narrow in the age of Spotify and live lockdowns, an astonishing number of artists seem compelled to keep plowing the furrows first tilled by Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and their sundry heirs. The sheer amount of “meh” music that’s resulted notwithstanding, three recent releases (and a teaser of more to come) indicate there’s still enough fertile soil in that ground to keep yielding fresh harvests.

First up: Tiger Moth Tales’ The Whispering of the World from late 2020, for which TMT mainman Peter Jones stripped down both his writing and his usual instrumentation. Working with producers Robert Reed and Andrew Lawson, Jones eschewed multi-sectional tunesmithery and one-man-bandship in favor of a song cycle for voice, piano and string quartet. The result works like gangbusters! From the vigorous, propulsive opener “Taking the Dawn” through melancholy mini-epics like the title track, “Quiet Night” and “Waving, Drowning” to the grave, sweeping pop of “Blackbird” (no, not THAT one, but arguably as affecting) and the closer “Lost to the Years”, every track feels unpretentious, fresh and heartfelt. The semi-classical sonics mesh effortlessly with the compelling songcraft; Jones’ sensitive singing and lush piano playing weaves in and around the light and shade of the strings. Even better, the music proves the right medium for the lyrical message, as Jones narrates a cathartic passage through (in his words) “special or significant moments . . . coming to terms with both losing those close to us and our own mortality and place in the universe.” Sound a bit heavy? Well, yeah — but paired with Jones’ solo Quiet Room Session, The Whispering of the World is a sentimental journey well worth taking. Sample it for yourself, then order it on Bandcamp.

Continue reading “Weekend Roundup 2: DIY Britprog”

In Concert: Todd Rundgren’s Clear Humanity

With multiple attempts at a 2020-21 tour yanked out from under him, Todd Rundgren has pulled a fresh concept out of his back pocket in turn. In lieu of a one-off worldwide livestream, Rundgren kicked off the “Clearly Human Virtual Tour” on February 14.

Sporting a setlist focused on the ambitious 1989 album Nearly Human, Rundgren and his 10-piece band (including bassist Kasim Sulton and synthesist Gil Assayas from the 2018 Utopia reunion tour) are now midway through a 25-date residency in Chicago; original talk of limiting each show’s streaming market via “geofencing” quickly gave way to a few visual and verbal nods to a different city each night. Intrigued, I ponied up $40 for February 25’s “Indianapolis” show; for more cash, you could control what camera angle you were seeing, order the usual merch, have your face projected onto video screens the band can see, or even attend in person (the last option subject to being one of 19 people to pay VIP prices, then pass a COVID test within 72 hours of the show).

It’s a great concept: cutting down overhead by staying in one place, Rundgren has added a horn section (Steven Stanley on trumpet and Nearly Human sax man Bobby Strickland), three backup singers (Nia Halvorson, Grace Yoo and Todd’s wife Michele), guitarist Bruce McDaniel and second keyboardist Elliot Lewis to his usual rhythm section of Sulton, Assayas and drummer Prairie Prince. The musical results all night were pretty marvelous, ranging from a smooth purr to a raucous roar, with lots of guts and grace to spare. Pin-sharp after two weeks with the material, the band eagerly powered through most of Nearly Human plus selected classics from the 1970s (the 10-part vocalese in “Can We Still Be Friends” was downright awe-inspiring), a few Utopia tunes and later R&B-inflected gems (with the precision funk of 2nd Wind’s “Love Science” and the slow burn of “God Said” from 2004’s Liars proving especially effective). Rundgren’s occasional forays into lead guitar on his iconic green instrument “Foamy” were spaced out for maximum impact; the rest of the time he stalked the lip of the stage, strutting his stuff while the players did their thing. His obvious delight in his “nebbish as soul man” persona was utterly endearing — and once he shucked his suit jacket to reveal a bit of a pot belly and comfy athletic shoes, you were in on the joke as well.

The only weak link, for this show at least, was Rundgren’s voice. His melodies, especially on his soul material, are fairly fearsome, multi-octave constructions; they require a sturdy vocal instrument, a comprehensive range, consistent breath support, and lots of stamina! On this night, Rundgren’s bottom and top were strong, but a little phlegmy and forced, and the midrange between the two was unsteady to the point of outright disappearance at times — including during the opener “Real Man”. (l’ve had to sing for numerous worship services or concerts with a dry throat, sinus congestion or a cold, and I think that’s what may have been going on. Take it from me, it ain’t much fun.) Previous reports have found Todd in great vocal form on this tour (and Cirdec Songs’ Cedric Hendrix reported that he was up to snuff for the next night’s show); hopefully, this was a one-time glitch that some rest — or maybe hot tea and honey — fixed! And in my book, Rundgren earned “show must go on” bonus points for his perseverance in difficult circumstances.

In short, Todd Rundgren’s come up with an enjoyable cure for the no-concert blues — one that, even on a bit of an off night, was highly effective, impressive and fun! If it’s been too long since you rocked out in your favorite venue, I recommend you check out the remaining livestream dates for the “Clearly Human Virtual Tour” at NoCap Shows.

— Rick Krueger

Setlist:

  • Real Man
  • Love of the Common Man
  • Secret Society (Utopia)
  • Something to Fall Back On
  • Parallel Lines
  • Unloved Children
  • Love in Action (Utopia)
  • Compassion
  • Can’t Stop Running
  • The Waiting Game
  • The Smell of Money
  • God Said
  • Love Science
  • Feel It
  • Sweet
  • Change Myself
  • Can We Still Be Friends
  • Lost Horizon
  • Rock Love (Utopia)
  • Hawking
  • The Want of a Nail
  • Hello It’s Me
  • I Love My Life

What Game Shall We Play Today? Remembering Chick Corea (1941-2021)

You wouldn’t have had your Chick Coreas five years ago. Chick Corea doesn’t have to really dress up in blazer gear to get a wide following. It just goes to show you that it’s not a question of image these days. It’s more a question of the actual music.

Keith Emerson, Keyboard Magazine interview, October 1977

In late 1976, my older brother changed my life by giving me a copy of Keyboard Magazine. It was a pretty amazing periodical: in those days before digital sounds, computers and then-undreamt-of technology became the prevailing medium of modern music, Keyboard focused on the serious fun of playing and listening, mostly in interviews with pianists, organists and synthesists across a broad spectrum of genres, as well as in how-to columns and record reviews. That’s where Chick Corea, who cranked out a monthly “Keyboards & Music” column and whose remarkably frequent albums merited equally frequent cover stories, first caught my eye. And through the album My Spanish Heart, reviewed in that issue my brother gave me, he caught my ear as well.

“Armando’s Rhumba” from Chick Corea’s My Spanish Heart – with Jean-Luc Ponty on violin & Stanley Clarke on bass

More than a decade into his career, Corea had unquestionably paid his dues by the mid-1970s. Born into a musical family, gigging professionally in high school, and briefly pursuing classical studies at Columbia and Julliard, Corea jumped into the jazz world of New York City as both a sideman and a leader of striking originality (as on the seminal 1968 trio date Now He Sings, Now He Sobs). Which is when Miles Davis came calling: playing on Davis’ trailblazing In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, then launching the avant-garde quartet Circle, Corea consistently sought the cutting edge of the music. But an encounter with L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology movement abruptly shifted his perspective. As he said looking back,

The concept of communication with an audience became a big thing for me at the time. The reason I was using that concept so much at that point in my life – in 1968, 1969 or so – was because it was a discovery for me. I grew up kind of only thinking how much fun it was to tinkle on the piano and not noticing that what I did had an effect on others. I did not even think about a relationship to an audience, really, until way later.

Chick Corea, Artist Interviews.eu, 1994

That shift was palpable by 1972; in addition to the meditative Crystal Silence (an outstanding duet effort with vibraphonist Gary Burton), Corea was checking out more directly populist idioms. Teaming with bassist and lifelong musical compadre Stanley Clarke, he formed Return to Forever in 1972, traveling with lightning speed from the laid-back Brazilian vibe of Light As A Feather to the audacious jazz-rock suites of 1976’s Romantic Warrior. This version of RTF, also featuring Lenny White’s funky drumming and the flamenco-metal of guitar phenom Al DiMeola, even crossed over to the still prog-immersed shores of Great Britain:

Return to Forever on the BBC’s The Old Grey Whistle Test, 1976
Continue reading “What Game Shall We Play Today? Remembering Chick Corea (1941-2021)”

The Sound of Steven Wilson’s Muzak: Fifth Impressions of The Future Bites

[Sly and the Family Stone’s album ‘There’s a riot goin’ on’] is Muzak with its finger on the trigger . . . If you listen, you get sharper, and you begin to hear what the band is hearing; every bass line or vocal nuance eventually takes on great force.

Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock’n’Roll Music

Steven Wilson’s The Future Bites didn’t click for me until I stopped listening to it. Let me explain.

It was when I was playing TFB for the fifth time, as I was doing something else, that I finally heard it — almost as if the album was designed to catch you by surprise when you’re focused elsewhere or distracted. I found myself drawn toward the interplay of backing textures instead of the spare surface detail, zooming in on the ambience of the foundational grooves and pads instead of the gyrating vocal and instrumental leads. Instead of missing the rock rhythms, the power riffs, the extended structures and the virtuoso musical moments of Wilson’s previous efforts, I started digging into what was actually there. The minimalism — maybe even the monotony Bryan Morey detected in his review — becomes the message.

Which, whatever you may think of the results, is a pretty neat trick. So the thought struck me: is this latest release meant to work as background music, as much or more than as a foreground listening experience? When you turn the frequently static norms of today’s electronic pop inside out, is this what you get?

If so, it fits with more of Steven Wilson’s catalog than later adopters might think — sample the extended trance trip of Porcupine Tree’s Voyage 34, the forlorn, scratched-up drones of his Bass Communion efforts, even the symphonic disco of 2019’s No-Man comeback Love You to Bits if you doubt me. (Not to mention his remastering of vintage efforts by German synth wizards Tangerine Dream.) And it seems to me his new sound — a postmodern British upgrade of Greil Marcus’ concept? — is not just purposeful, but channeled for a purpose. After all, the man knows (and has lyrically railed against) the sound of Muzak. By embracing it here, he’s planting depth charges beneath our buffed-up virtual lives, triggering both our individual delight as we succumb to the age of the algorithm and our creeped-out, collective unease with the results. We may be having a good time amusing ourselves into financial and spiritual bankruptcy, but Wilson’s depictions of lost, alienated souls (by turns ironic, empathetic, furious, blackly hilarious) hold up a mirror — one with the caption “Limited Edition Deluxe Box Set Purchaser” across the bottom — and dare us to study the reflection as we spiral downward.

Continue reading “The Sound of Steven Wilson’s Muzak: Fifth Impressions of The Future Bites”