Progtoberfest: Day 3 Report

by Rick Krueger

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

Kinetic Element

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

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Continue reading “Progtoberfest: Day 3 Report”

Progtoberfest: Day 2 Report

by Rick Krueger

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

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

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The best musical tribute to Chris Cornell so far…

Back in March 1994, shortly after Soundgarden’s masterful Superunknown was released, Melody Maker‘s Everett True wrote a detailed and often insightful piece about the band on the road (in Tokyo, specifically). Chris Cornell spoke openly with True about his struggles with depression and fear:

“I write songs best when I’m depressed,” Chris tells me. “No one seems to get this, but Black Hole Sun is sad. But because the melody is really pretty, everyone thinks it’s almost chipper, which is ridiculous. Fell On Black Days is another one. Like Suicide is a perfect example.”

We’re they inspired by specific events?

“Fell On Black Days was like this ongoing fear I’ve had for years. It took me a long time to write that song. We’ve tried to do three different versions with that title, and none of them have ever worked. Someday we might do an EP…

“It’s a feeling that everyone gets. You’re happy with your life, everything’s going well, things are exciting – when all of a sudden you realise you’re unhappy in the extreme, to the point of being really, really scared. There’s no particular event you can pin the feeling down to, it’s just that you realise one day that everything in your life is F—–!”

Exhibit A for a “chipper” version of the huge hit is this snappy, big band-ish, “are you kidding me?” version by Paul Anka (yes, the same Paul Anka who wrote the lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”—one of the very few Sinatra songs I find annoying, even revolting). And in the past few days, understandably, there have been a number of singers and bands playing the song as a tribute to Cornell, who took his life on May 18th, after a reportedly ragged show at Detroit’s famous Fox Theater.

Continue reading “The best musical tribute to Chris Cornell so far…”

soundstreamsunday: “Gentleman” by Fela Kuti

gentlemanIt can look like a conspiracy, from the outside, to know what those of us in middle America grew up with musically in the 1970s.  Ensconced deeply in our Yeses and our Styxes and our REO-es and our Kansases, we often missed out on the larger view of the world, despite the delicious depths of what did come delivered over the airwaves.  Case in point: Fela Kuti.  The Afro beat.  I suspect even if you were a jazzbo soldiering on in the post-bop wonderland delivered in the ever-widening sidelong jams of Miles and Herbie and Pharaoh, there might be quite a gulf between such distinctly American cooking and a Nigerian self-trained sax player and polemicist who wielded the conch of Democracy for Africa.  Kuti’s mission, though, was a kind of a trojan horse.  It looks an awful lot like a super tight big band stomp, epic riffing over a relentless beat, and musically it is.  But pulsing underneath was a heat that Kuti, with an outsized personality and voice that all-too-easily drew fire from Nigeria’s governing elite, stoked with an enthusiasm that would eventually enflame his life in tragedy.

1973’s “Gentleman” is an early classic, the title track of a record where Kuti ironically declares “I’m not a gentleman at all.”  He doesn’t want anything to do with what that word means in a place where the gentlemen were in essence slaveholders.  It’s an open statement of discontent, of a desire for justice.  And it wouldn’t mean half so much as it does if his band didn’t burn the house down with their playing.  It’s here that the idea of world music takes shape, borrowing from blues and jazz structures of the African diaspora and feeding back on them — once you hear Kuti’s work it’s hard to imagine Soft Machine’s Third, krautrock bands like Out of Focus and Embryo, contemporary bands like Seven Impale, and even the greater part of British punk and American rap without it.  Kuti’s voice was loud, gruff, a rap that cried its flawed humanity atop a fury of horns and guitars and drums.  It’s serious shit and a party all at once.  Anger and joy and heartache.  Even if that conspiracy was true and the staid worldview of 70s America denied me Kuti, I’m hearing it now.  And I am still listening.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

soundstreamsunday: “The Köln Concert” by Keith Jarrett

keithjarrett2It’s 1975 and I’m nine years old.  I’m lying on my back in Reservoir Park, a small city block of grass and oaks next to the University of Utah.  In my head is a song that trips and travels as I run and play with friends.  It’s a vision of sound, a strong impression of bright sun and moving clouds, a feeling on my skin, a growing chill in the air.  Is it October? The song is a constant rhythm of consciousness and motion, a life in itself but also within me, as if I’m one of its many, many tributaries.

For some things there is no accounting or quantifying:  How much beauty? How much devotion? How wide the smile of god?

There are many details about the conditions under which Keith Jarrett performed his concert in Köln in January 1975, from the context of his blossoming solo and collaborative career on the heels of his epic work with Miles Davis, to the third-rate piano he was given on which to perform the show, to the fact he was exhausted and in a significant amount of physical pain for his hour-plus improvisation in front of a sold-out Opera House crowd.

Ultimately none of these details matter. The Köln Concert is a river, and, if there are miracles in my life, it’s that such depths continue to transport me.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

soundstreamsunday: “The Creator has a master plan,” by Pharaoh Sanders

pharaoh-sandersA deep blues, a call to enlightenment, a psychedelic spiritual of epic proportions, Pharaoh Sanders’ “The Creator has a master plan” rings with a disciplined clarity one might expect from a former John Coltrane collaborator and acolyte of spiritual jazz.  But if Sanders extends the Coltrane legacy to this recording, he also pushes open new doors, inviting across the song’s 32 minutes an ascent into a flowing, meditational free jazz where vocalist Leon Thomas shrieks and yodels along with Sanders’ sax, and the band lays down a freakout that in its joyful conclusion returns to the cradling peace of the main theme.  Mere months after participating in the sessions that yielded Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Richard Davis again is an anchor, working with fellow bassist Reggie Workman to drive the music in its soaring flight and underpin the caterwaul as the whole ship hits the heart of the African sun.  This is the sound of jazz taking back its rock and roll at the most essential level, and I think too a nod of respect to rock’s embrace of jazz in its great psychedelic experiment.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.