2019 Prog (Plus) Preview 2!

More new music, live albums, reissues (regular, deluxe & super-deluxe) and even books about music heading our way between now and Christmas?  Yep.  Following up on my previous post, it’s another exhaustive sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with other personal priorities — below.  Click on the titles for pre-order links — whenever possible, you’ll wind up at the online store that gets as much money as possible directly to the creators.

Out now:

Andrew Keeling, Musical Guide to In the Court of the Crimson King, 10/50 Edition: composer/musicologist/online diarist Keeling’s revision of his 2009 book (the first of a series acclaimed by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp).

Marillion with Friends from the Orchestra: 9 Marillion classics re-recorded by the full band, the string quartet In Praise of Folly, flautist Emma Halnan and French horn player Sam Morris.  Available on CD.

A Prog Rock Christmas: Billy Sherwood produces 11 holiday-themed tracks from the typical all-star cast (members of Yes, Utopia, Flying Colors, Renaissance, District 97, Curved Air and more).  Download and CD available now; LP available November 1.

 

October 25:

King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King (50th Anniversary Edition): featuring brand new stereo and surround mixes in 24/96 resolution by Steven Wilson.  Available in 3 CD + BluRay or  2 LP versions.  (Note that the new mixes will also be included in the Complete 1969  CD/DVD/BluRay box set, which has been delayed until 2020.)

Van Morrison, Three Chords and the Truth: 14 new songs from Van the Man, available in digital, CD or LP versions.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Colorado: the first Young/Horse collaboration since the 2012 albums Americana and Psychedelic Pill, available in CD or 2LP versions.

Continue reading “2019 Prog (Plus) Preview 2!”

In Concert: Nick Mason Pours Chicago a Saucerful

Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, The Chicago Theatre, April 4, 2019.

“After twenty years, I got tired of waiting for the phone to ring.”

Always quick with a quip, drummer Nick Mason tossed off that one during the first lull in his new band’s voyage through Pink Floyd’s early catalog.  Dryly diplomatic and subtly duplicitous (it’s actually been 25 years since Mason last played in North America, 14 since the Live 8 Floyd reunion), it was nonetheless revealing.

In recent years, Roger Waters has trotted his favorite era of Floyd (first The Wall, then a Dark Side of the Moon through Animals-based set) around the globe; David Gilmour toured his solo album Rattle That Lock, then decided to auction off his guitar collection for charity, keeping the door firmly shut on nostalgia following Rick Wright’s passing.  Mason, on the other hand, has dug deep into the history of the band he co-founded — prepping the massive box set The Early Years with Gilmour, then working on the touring memorabilia exhibition Their Mortal Remains.   So when Blockheads guitarist Lee Harris and post-Waters Floyd bassist Guy Pratt suggested a group focusing on the pre-stardom Floyd repertoire, Mason was itching to give it a whirl.

It’s a great idea.  Freed from the expectation of playing the hits, Saucerful of Secrets dives headlong into a rich stream of psychedelia, prog and pastoral balladry, setting back the clock to when Pink Floyd’s audience had no idea what was coming next.  And there’s something for everybody here: trippy blues barrages “Interstellar Overdrive”, “Astronomy Domine” and “One of These Days”; the whimsical Syd Barrett-led singles “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”, along with Barrett’s later, profoundly disturbing “Bike” and “Vegetable Man”; hushed, acoustic post-Barrett meditations like “If” and “Green Is the Colour”; the bludgeoning rock of “The Nile Song” and “Childhood’s End”; and extended free-form explorations of “Atom Heart Mother”, “Let There Be More Light” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”.

Tackling this wide range of material, the quintet was tight enough to keep the audience engaged, but loose enough to veer into clamorous group improvisation as the mood (frequently) struck them.  Pratt and rhythm guitarist Gary Kemp (best known as the main songwriter for Spandau Ballet) divvied up the lead vocals and drove the tunes forward, with Pratt cracking occasional jokes about absent Floyds during breaks; Harris spun off one obliquely creative solo after another on a bevy of guitars; Dom Beken captured Rick Wright’s spectrum of tasty keyboard colors and open chord voicings to perfection.

But ultimately, it was Mason’s show.  Sometimes damned with faint praise like “the best drummer for Pink Floyd,” his fine playing reminded me of Ringo Starr  (another criminally underrated drummer) onstage.  Self-deprecating about his lack of technique in interviews, Mason turns any limitations into assets by laying down an immovably solid beat, leaving plenty of space for his fellow players, and embellishing the grooves in simple, ear-catching ways (his malletwork on tom toms being the most famous example).   His reward?  Finally getting to play the gong on “Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun” for this tour. (Mason’s spoken intro: “Roger Waters is one of my best friends, a brilliant musician, a brilliant songwriter — and not good at sharing.”)

So unlike later Pink Floyd tours, including The Division Bell outing I saw in 1994, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets isn’t about the spectacle (though the light show was fabulous), or the star power.  Rather, it’s about the music — and about the accomplished crew of players that bring these neglected Floyd gems alive in the moment, headed by the drummer who’s somehow become the most stalwart conservator of his band’s legacy.  For the 3,000 appreciative fans that rewarded Mason and his compatriots with a tumultuous standing ovation, that was enough.

Setlist:

  • Interstellar Overdrive
  • Astronomy Domine
  • Lucifer Sam
  • Fearless
  • Obscured by Clouds
  • When You’re In
  • Remember a Day
  • Arnold Layne
  • Vegetable Man
  • If
  • Atom Heart Mother/If (Reprise)
  • The Nile Song
  • Green Is the Colour
  • Let There Be More Light
  • Childhood’s End
  • Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
  • See Emily Play
  • Bike
  • One of These Days
  • A Saucerful of Secrets
  • Point Me at the Sky

— Rick Krueger

A Deeper Shade of White: Notes on “The Beatles”

In the 1997 movie Men in Black, Agent K (aka Tommy Lee Jones) spoke truer than he knew:

This is a fascinating little gadget.  It’s gonna replace CDs soon.  Guess I’ll have to buy ‘The White Album’ again.

Fast forward to the 50th anniversary Super Deluxe edition of The Beatles — my copy is #0112672, if you’re interested — my fifth purchase of the 1968 album.  Following the first CD release in 1987, Agent K’s prophecy was swiftly fulfilled, with 1998’s “30th anniversary limited edition” (CD #0438243), then 2009’s mono and stereo remasters each promising better sound and a more complete listening experience.  So does this new box provide anything previous versions haven’t?  And does it shed any new light on the “White Album’s” ultimate stature, both in the Fabs’ catalog and in rock history ?

Continue reading “A Deeper Shade of White: Notes on “The Beatles””

Bon Voyage: Melody Prochet’s Fantastic Journey

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This summer saw the long-awaited second release from Melody’s Echo Chamber: Bon Voyage arrived after five stop-and-go and, at times, tortuous years. On its June 15 release date Melody Prochet (vocal, guitar, synthesizers, violin, viola) wrote on her Facebook band page,

Today is a day life forced me to give up waiting for… ‘Bon Voyage’ is a little monster I hope will find it’s home in some of your hearts and…if not soothe, will resonate somehow positively…

So it comes down to listeners interacting with this beast, a theme-park ride of a record, while the artist, one imagines, pulls the covers over her head. First off, it is little, clocking in at a compendious 33 minutes. But given its twists and turns, its density and scope, the brevity of the work allows repeat listens to work out its strange but satisfying logic.

As I told a friend: I can’t imagine a Syd Barrett or Brian Wilson or Todd Rundgren or Wayne Coyne not really liking this record.

Prochet (b. 1987, Puyricard, France) began working on her sophomore project and releasing tracks (e.g. “Shirim”) in 2013. Rumor has it she threw away some of the material. Then last year she was involved in an undisclosed accident resulting in serious injuries. Her fans despaired until Bon Voyage was dropped in time for the summer solstice.

Melody’s Echo Chamber (2012) was readily classified as “psych pop.” But for those who tire of musical taxonomies Bon Voyage is as open borders as they come. The opening track “Cross My Heart” begins with composite acoustic guitar chords followed by a swelling string arrangement, a mid ’60s Wilsonish verse, then a beat box section folding into a flute and percussion-driven jazz passage embellished with some fanatical bass lines. The lyrics here, as throughout the album, flow freely between English and French. We’re escorted back to the opening chords for a reprise of the main (?) verse and a riff-laden, cinematic flourish.

As soon as “Breathe In, Breathe Out” drops a power rock groove the listener’s head-bobbing is interrupted by a trance section before the track accelerates again to its finish, the opening themes reworked but almost unrecognizable in the sonic whiplash.

Prochet cites composer Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992) as a favorite, and perhaps what we catch on this record are flecks of his emphasis on color and unusual time signature.

The first of two foci on this record is “Desert Horse,” pairing a dark Middle Eastern groove (including on old Black Sabbath riff) with a bright but plaintive chorus,

So much blood
On my hands
And there’s not much left to destroy
I know I am better alone

…except the isolation that birthed this record finds its emotional epicenter in the epic “Quand Les Larmes D’un Ange Font Danser La Neige.” Ironically it’s among the more conventional and readily accessible tracks on the album, even at seven minutes. Imagine the Bee Gees not taking that disco detour…

[spoken word] …it comes through the window like a whistle or a whisper under the bed and little children think that the monster —

Angels, aching
Keep smiling
Ain’t no karma, only love
To punish those with rotten heart

Good to have Melody’s Echo Chamber back — and this creature on the loose.

“Eight Miles High” — Three Views

The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” was released as a single on March 14, 1966, eventually reaching number 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.   Influenced by Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass album, it was one of the first (if not the first) glimmerings of psychedelic rock.  And thus a progenitor of prog?  I think so.

Check out three views of this pioneering tune for yourself.  First, a Byrds promo appearance lip-syncing for an unknown TV show.  Note David Crosby’s brilliant outfit, complete with Russian hat:

Of course, “Eight Miles High” has been covered numerous times.  Back in 1988, it was the one of the key tracks on To The Power of Three, the collaboration of Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Robert Berry.  How Eighties is this?  Check out Berry’s headless Steinberger bass!  Emerson’s keytar!  Palmer wielding a Dynacord electronic drum controller at the front of the stage!  Plus the, uh, dancers “playing” snare drums in the background.  Goodness!  (Though it does serve as a reminder that Robert Berry releases his posthumous collaboration with Keith Emerson, 3.2: The Rules Have Changed, on August 10.)

Three years later (ouch) in 1991, “Eight Miles High” was one of the cover tunes on Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s album Spin.  Since their 1981 version of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” had snagged number one on the British single charts, Stewart and Gaskin had been bringing a thoroughly proggy attitude to the synth-pop duo format.  Spin is no different, mixing quirky originals with fresh takes on Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog,” Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia,” Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” — and the Byrds.  One bonus feature of the album: the precocious pre-Porcupine Tree percussion of Gavin Harrison.  Check out the spectacular drum fill that kicks off this version!

Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s new album Star Clocks, featuring “eight Dave Stewart originals alongside a cover of an iconic 1960s song,” is out on August 17.  Pre-order it at Burning Shed.

Bonus track: Stewart & Gaskin’s samurai/Beach Boys/cathedral bells version of “It’s My Party,” with special guest video appearance by … Thomas Dolby?

— Rick Krueger

Soft Machine: The Psychedelic Years

The seminal British collective Soft Machine were many things in their history — psychedelic pioneers, proto-progressive rockers, avant-garde explorers, always bobbing and weaving in the borderlands between jazz and rock.  One thing they were not was stable; by biographer Graham Bennett’s reckoning, the Softs had 24 separate line-ups during their original run of 1966-1984!  As the band’s current incarnation embarks on a 50th anniversary world tour and releases the new Hidden Details album, I’m listening to their studio catalog along with selected live recordings, tracing the long, strange road they’ve traveled from then to now.

Per the band’s new website,

Soft Machine were formed in mid-1966 by Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals), Kevin Ayers (bass, guitar, vocals), Daevid Allen (guitar) and Mike Ratledge (organ) …

This first Soft Machine line-up became involved in the early UK underground, featuring prominently at the UFO Club, and subsequently other London clubs like the Speakeasy Club and Middle Earth. .. They also played in the Netherlands, Germany and on the French Riviera.  … Upon their return from their sojourn in France, Allen (an Australian) was denied re-entry to the United Kingdom, so the group continued as a trio, while he returned to Paris to form Gong.

The archival recording Middle Earth Mastersone of a fine series from Washington DC’s Cuneiform Records, captures the remaining trio a month after Allen’s departure.  Easing in with relatively conventional (though absurdist) pop tunes like “Clarence in Wonderland” by Ayers, the Softs quickly slip the reins.  Wyatt repetitively chews on the words of “Hope for Happiness” like they’re an Indian raga, the trio kicks into a high-energy riff — and Ratledge takes off.  With his Lowrey organ run through a fuzzbox and a Marshall stack, he bashes out speedy pyrotechnics, grinding harmony pads, and distorted pitch-bent chords; underneath him, Ayers and Wyatt slip and slide from sparse grooves through splattery swing to bludgeoning stop time.  Ratledge’s solo “Disorganization” is even wilder, a tornado of phenomenal technique, overdriven amplification, and rhythmic attack echoing free-jazz pianist Cecil Taylor.  Then the Softs slam into another extended medley, kicked off by the goofy, minimalist “We Did It Again” (four words, one riff, six minutes), climaxing with a clattering drum solo and feedback all around before Wyatt winds down with a hushed falsetto benediction.  Cliche though it might be by now,  in 1967 sets like this were a serious trip.

Sharing management with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Softs gained a support slot on that band’s 1968 North American tour.  Between tour legs, they piggybacked on studio time for Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland to record an album for ABC/Probe, with Tom Wilson (Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground) producing.  While the record sat in the can, lots happened: Andy Summers (yeah, the future Police guitarist) joined, only to be summarily fired at Ayers’ insistence; then Ayers himself quit after another US tour, feeling the Softs were heading towards playing (shudder) jazz. Wyatt remained in the States, Ratledge returned to England, and the band seemed finished — the perfect moment for ABC/Probe to release the first album!

Continue reading “Soft Machine: The Psychedelic Years”

1969: A Blast from the Past

“Well it’s 1969 OK all across the USA
It’s another year for me and you
                                      Another year with nothing to do”  — 1969, The Stooges

I was 7 going on 8 in 1969.  But my brother was ten years older — and Detroit was a prime location to explore rock as it turned psychedelic, then progressive, still with plenty of punk attitude.  Our cousin from Lansing was about the same age as my brother — so they did a fair amount of concertgoing together.

The other day, out of the blue I got a letter from our cousin, reproduced below with my random thoughts interspersed:

Dear Cousin Rick,

I’m sending along a copy of the program from the festival I attended in the south of England summer of 1969.  I thought you might it interesting.

plumpton festival program(Hmmm … The 9th National Jazz and Blues Festival.  Waitaminute: Pink Floyd?  King Crimson?  Peter Hammill performing solo before the first Van Der Graaf Generator album? Yes?  The Who?  Keith Emerson with The Nice?  Not to mention Soft Machine and Pentangle?  And he was there? Doggone straight I find it interesting.  Please continue, cousin!)

I’d seen both The Who and The Nice at the Grande Ballroom in the spring before.  The Who played the entire Tommy opera both times.  The Nice as I remember had some kind of revolving organ at the Grande.  At the Plumpton fest they closed the show on Sunday backed by a large orchestra.  At the final song the stage opened and a regiment of bagpipers marched off the stage and into the crowd.  Those were heady times.

isle of wight 1969There’s also a copy of the Isle of Wight festival flier which I missed as it was the weekend which we were heading home.  Such fond memories.

(Bob Dylan & The Band?  The Moody Blues?  More from King Crimson, The Who and Pentangle?  Stop torturing me, cousin!!!  Actually, no — please continue as I wrestle with envy and wish Doctor Who’s TARDIS was real.)

The day we arrived in London the Rolling Stones played in Hyde Park celebrating the life of Brian Jones who had just passed.  Couldn’t quite get there but almost.  (Another King Crimson show!!)

I’d like to hear more about your music blogging/reviews.    P.S.  We didn’t arrive at the fest until Saturday so we missed all the Friday acts.  Booo!

Fortunately, the sounds of the Plumpton Festival aren’t completely lost in the mists of time; I plan to direct my cousin to Soft Machine’s and Pink Floyd’s sets online, and send him a copy of King Crimson’s set.

detroit rr revival 1969And talking with my brother later, I heard the story of how he and my cousin somehow got permission to go to the 1969 Detroit Rock’n’Roll Revival (with the MC5, Chuck Berry, Dr. John, The “Psychedelic” Stooges and many more acts) the night before my sister’s wedding.  Maybe I should rethink missing Yes’ 50th Anniversary Tour when it hits Grand Rapids.  Not to mention Wayne Kramer’s MC50 Kick Out the Jams 50th Anniversary Tour and Soft Machine’s world tour coming to Progtoberfest IV

— Rick Krueger