Progtoberfest: Day 3 Report

by Rick Krueger

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

Kinetic Element

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

IMG_4264

Continue reading “Progtoberfest: Day 3 Report”

All our Yesterdays

All our Yesterdays

Released today on the small but mighty Bad Elephant Music label, All our Yesterdays is Discipline front man and songwriter Matthew Parmenters third solo release, following up 2008’s Horror Express.
Parmenter is a unique talent, and I will put it out there straight away that this album will be a Marmite album to many, there will be people out there who love this work, and people who will find it too idiosyncratic and left field for their tastes.
This however is not a bad thing, it’s wonderful as a reviewer to receive an album that grabs you by the back of the neck from the get go, and if you’re wondering where my tastes fall, I am firmly in the former camp. Basically I love this record.
I will admit now that whilst I’ve heard of Discipline and of Matthew Parmenter, this is the first time I have ever heard any of his music, and when my bank manager hangs their head in despair as I investigate his intensive back catalogue I can only blame David Elliott and BEM for introducing me to this music.
The album itself is performed entirely by Parmenter (with only Discipline drummer Paul Dzendzel playing on 4 tracks) so to all intents and purposes it is a truly solo work, and yet Parmenters virtuoso playing and complex arrangements make it sound like he’s backed by a full band.
There are shades of Peter Hammill/Van Der Graaf Generator on this album, (another artist/band who are uncompromising in their musical vision as Parmenter) particularly on the keyboard and piano driven Digital with some fantastic vocal work which brings mid-seventies Hammill to mind, again not a criticism as Matthew Parmenter is as creative and original musical visionary as Hammill is.
The impressive title track, showcases Parmenters musical talents, with a blistering guitar solo, and his fantastic vocal range is entirely taken from the works of Shakespeare, and I can just visualize him performing this on stage, pouring his heart out into the ether.
The BEM website encourages you to listen in full as this musical work is ‘best experienced as a single, all-encompassing musical odyssey’, normally as I’m a contrary Yorkshireman I ignore all listening instructions and get into the record in my own way, but BEM are right, this is an immersive experience, and whilst it sounds good booming through the stereo, it sounds even better on headphones, sat by a swimming pool in Fuerteventure drinking a cool beer (guess what I listened to on my holidays?)
In all seriousness, the musical dynamics are designed for an intimate listening experience, and the arrangements fall somewhere between the epic sound of early Queen (particularly on dramatic opener Scheherazade, and the powerful I am a Shadow) and the classical music meets rock of Jon Lords 1970’s solo work. Whilst the keyboard and piano driven work on the brooding and sinister All for Nothing acts as a backdrop for Parmenters impassioned and powerful vocals, whilst the sax that kicks in brings Van Der Graaf Generator back to mind.
Meanwhile the piano driven pop of Stuff in the Bag showcases another side to Matthews talent, as he goes from dark to light with a quick mood change that should jar, but fits seamlessly into the record as a whole. Whilst the closing epic Hey for the Dance brings the record to a fantastic close, with Parmenters vocals and the folk influenced closing coda culminating in a genuinely uplifting piece of music, that launches into an extended rock fade.
Listening to the arrangements, the depth and power that is present throughout this epic work, its hard to imagine that there isn’t a full band in the studio and an orchestra hiding out somewhere as well, it’s a testament to Parmenters skill and vision that his concept works throughout from start to finish.
I hesitate to refer to the works on this album as songs, as they are more like movements in a musical symphony, harking back to the days when progressive rock meant moving forward and pushing the recorded form to se how far you could get away with and how creative you could be with the medium,
A lot of contemporary bands on the scene have certainly forgotten the true meaning of progressive rock, Matthew Parmenter hasn’t.
He has released a contemporary concept album, as fresh and original as anything I’ve heard so far this year, and yet clocking in at around the 40 minute mark it never overstays it’s welcome, and would easily fit on one side of a C90 tape to pop in your walkman.
Like I said earlier this Matthew Parmenter is a unique talent, and this album isn’t going to be everybody’s pint of bitter, however I would rather hear a record that is striking, original and polarises opinion than a record that just sits there and you think ‘Well, it’s alright innit?’
This is an astonishing piece of work, and to all of you who’ve pre-ordered it and are waiting for the thump at the letterbox, you are in for a real treat my friends.

Poor Richard’s Inconsequential Idea

Heaven knows I admire Richard M. Weaver.ideas

The great Southern scholar and philosopher hails from my neck of the woods.  He grew up in Weaverville, NC, just up the road from my mother’s people in Leicester.  His Southern Essays is a book I hold almost as closely as the Bible; it reminds me of who I am and where I come from.  It introduced me (before Russell Kirk) to my early American political hero, that colorful, bull-whip cracking intransigent, John Randolph of Roanoke, with his special blend of “social bond individualism.”  Weaver shaped my understanding and thinking in ways that will ever remain with me.

His most famous book is Ideas Have Consequences, a tour de force in traditional conservative thought and social commentary.   Weaver saw the rejection of universals as the harbinger of a disordered mind and disordered society.   Symptomatic, in his view, were certain elements of pop culture, notably jazz music.  On this score, just as Randolph broke with Jefferson, I have to break with the great intellect.

Edward Feser wrote a fantastic 2010 blog post that took Weaver’s ideas on jazz to task.

Weaver and I agree that it was a catastrophe to abandon realism about universals, to deny that things – including, most importantly, human beings – have essences which define an objective standard of goodness for them. But realism comes in different forms, and the different forms have different moral, theological, cultural, and political implications.

Feser draws a distinction between Platonic and Aristotelian philosophies and finds Weaver defaulting to a Manichean view of music.

[Weaver] tells us that jazz is a mark of modern civilization’s “barbarism,” “disintegration,” and “primitivism.” Why? His reasons seem to boil down to four: First, jazz evinces “a rage to divest itself of anything that suggests structure or confinement” and an eschewal of “form or ritual”; second, its celebration of the soloist’s virtuosity is a mark of “egotism” or “individualization”; third, its appeal lies in “titillation” and its themes are often “sexual or farcical,” appealing to the “lower” rather than “higher centers,” so that it fails to raise us to “our metaphysical dream”; fourth, it is “the music of equality.” Obviously, what he says about jazz applies also to other elements of modern pop culture.

Let’s consider Weaver’s concerns in order. First, it is, of course, by now a commonplace that to accuse jazz of formlessness or lack of structure is the height of superficiality. From swing to bop to modal jazz to fusion to acid jazz, it does not take much listening to discern the order underlying even the freest improvisation. Even free jazz has structure, though as I indicated in my previous post, it is so abstract that it can (in my view, anyway) only ever be of purely intellectual rather than aesthetic interest. It is hard not to see in Weaver’s criticism the Platonist’s impatience with the messiness and complexity of the real world, a desire for all form or order to be simple and evident enough to be accessible from the armchair. As the Aristotelian realizes…to know the essences of things we actually have to get our hands dirty and investigate them empirically, in all their rich detail. If the structure of jazz is complex and unobvious, it is in that respect only mimicking the world of our experience.

To which I say, “amen.”  Certainly this applies to progressive music as well.  Perhaps none combined fusion elements better than a band that came up in Weaver’s back yard, the Dixie Dregs.  Begun as a lab project at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, the Dregs engaged one another in complex musical conversations that exemplified a flair and swagger secured in its own kind of social bond individualism.

At least I have to believe the audacious John Randolph would have celebrated the Dixie Dregs, even if Richard Weaver would have been freaked out.

So here’s to ideas and their consequences — to getting our hands dirty —  from the appropriately titled Dregs of the Earth.