Sunday Jazz – Benjamin Croft’s “Far and Distant Things”

Benjamin Croft Far and Distant ThingsBenjamin Croft, Far and Distant Things, Ubuntu Music, 2021
Tracks: Overture (1:13), Far and Distant Things (6:13), Brock (4:47), S.A.D. (Spatial Awareness Disease) (6:21). Tudor Job Agency (6:25), S&R Video (5:07), The War Against Loudness (6:17), How Not To Win The Nobel Peace Prize (6:17), Than You, That’s What I Wanted To Know… (5:35), St Gandalf’s (1:55), The Cashectomy (6:25)

I don’t listen to as much jazz as I should, probably because it is such a diverse genre that I barely know where to begin. I’ve always enjoyed jazz music in live settings. I think the genre excels when played live because it is a highly experimental genre, allowing room for improvisation. When I was in college I loved attending the concerts put on by the faculty jazz band. They were always so much fun. I think I enjoy jazz for some of the same reasons I enjoy progressive rock, which obviously is heavily influenced by jazz. At its most basic, the technical musicality in jazz keeps me interested. 

UK musician Benjamin Croft’s Far and Distant Things has been such an enjoyable CD to listen to over the past month and a half. Croft wrote and arranged all the tracks on the album, and he also played all of the keyboards. In addition to Steinway and Yamaha grand pianos, Croft plays a whole list of various synthesizers and keyboards, thus bringing in a bit of a prog texture to his jazz record. Perhaps those elements are why he sent us his CD for review, but regardless of why, this is an excellent album. At any rate, the artwork is certainly prog, featuring cover art (and other artwork on the CD and in the packaging) by Hugh Syme. 

Beyond Croft on keyboards, the songs have a revolving cast of characters, with Tristan Mailliot or Laurie Lowe playing drums on most of the tracks, except for “St. Gandalf’s,” which features Chad Wackerman. Flo Moore and Henry Thomas share bass guitar duties on the record. Guitars and on the album are played by a few guests, as are the wind instruments. Garthe Lockrane’s flutes on “Overture” and “Brock” are really quite something. It brings in that element of classic progressive rock as well as a fresh classical texture.

As is typical in jazz, there’s a lot of soloing on each track – keyboards, guitar, bass, trumpets, flute. Not each one of those on every track, but you get my meaning. The playing is smooth and easy to absorb. Some jazz can be overpowering, but Far and Distant Things sets you right at ease. The drumming and bass create a smooth yet complex rhythm throughout the entire album. The interplay between piano, keyboards, and the various wind instruments is quite pleasant. 

“How Not To Win The Nobel Peace Prize” is an interesting piece in the way it shifts over the course of the track. It starts off as a more typical jazz song before speeding up and morphing at the end of the song into more experimental territory before fading out. It’s a shame it fades out, because I wanted to hear where they were going. The title of the track, along with others on the album, hints at a bit of sarcasm, which I can always appreciate. 

Benjamin Croft – Far and Distant Things Music Video – YouTube

There are some rock moments on the record. “Far and Distant Things,” featuring Frank Gambale on electric guitar, is perhaps more rock than it is jazz, especially when you take the synths into account. “Tudor Job Agency” has its jazz moments, but the guitar, played by Barry Finnerty, has a Clapton-esque vibe to it. There is also a passage of some incredibly fast drum beats that add a rock element to the song.

Give Benjamin Croft’s Far and Distant Things a listen for a laid back Sunday afternoon or evening. Or for any day of the week. The music is exceptionally well-written and equally well-performed. It brings me back to simpler times when I could enjoy a live jazz show without worrying about… well all the things we seem to worry about these days. This instrumental album will take you a world away, if only for an hour.

Dream Theater Announce “Distance Over Time” Album, 2019 North American Tour


I’m interrupting a summer (now gone) of digging deep into the recently-released Dave Matthews Band album, the two excellent Southern Empire albums (do pick them up), and my autumnal tradition of listening to all that is Big Big Train to report what’s been making the rounds on this midterm Election Day in America: Prog metal kings Dream Theater have announced a new album, “Distance Over Time,” which will be released 22 February, 2019.

The band will then hit the road for a North American tour starting in March, and while concertgoers will no doubt be treated to newly-released material from “DoT” (or, as a nod to Rush, should it be “d/t?”), the highlight of the tour will no doubt be the news of the band celebrating 20 years of their landmark album, “Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory.”

A short teaser from the forthcoming album, which was produced by guitarist John Petrucci and with sweet artwork by Hugh Syme, can be heard here:

Here are the “Distance Over Time” tour dates for America and Canada. The band also plans to follow the U.S. dates with a show in Mexico City in early May.

March 2019
20 – San Diego, CA
21 – Los Angeles, CA
22 – Los Angeles, CA
24 – San Francisco, CA
26 – Denver, CO
28 – St. Paul, MN
29 – Chicago, IL
31 – Milwaukee, WI

April 2019
2 – Detroit, MI
4 – Toronto, Ont.
5 – Montreal, Que.
6 – Quebec City, Que.
8 – Boston, MA
9 – Oakdale, CT
10 – Red Bank, NJ
12 – New York, NY
13 – Upper Darby, PA
15 – Washington, D.C.
17 – Nashville, TN
22 – Charlotte, NC
23 – Atlanta, GA
24 – Orlando, FL
26 – St. Petersburg, FL
27 – Jacksonville, FL
29 – Dallas, TX
30 – Houston, TX

May 2019
1 – Austin, TX

While I initially gave a solid review of their previous release, “The Astonishing,” I’ve since given it few listens when compared to the albums that came before it, especially the song-oriented releases (rather than concept albums). I don’t know that any information about the tracks on “Distance Over Time” has been made public, but I’m fairly certain that given the scope of “The Astonishing,” DT would likely return to a song-oriented effort on the next one, so I’m very much looking forward to hearing what’s next from the gang.

The Art of Rush, Hugh Syme: Serving a Life Sentence

Review of ART OF RUSH, HUGH SYME: SERVING A LIFE SENTENCE, written by Stephen Humphries (2112 Books, 2015), with a brief essay by Neil Peart.

The first book by Stephen Humphries.
The first book by Stephen Humphries.

In a week, my family and I move back to Michigan.  It’s been an incredible year in Colorado, and we’ll be very sad to leave this rather textured slice of heaven.  The year went by all too quickly.  As you can imagine, the house is in chaos, and, at many levels, so is my life.  Books here, cds there, my brain across the street, six kids and one cat feeling the “unsettlement” of the moment.

This is a long and convoluted way of writing. . . .

I should’ve reviewed THE ART OF RUSH a month ago.  It’s written by a truly gifted music journalist and critic, Stephen Humphries (a graduate of Hillsdale College in Michigan).  I have nothing but respect for Humphries, and the more I read him, the more I like him.  He’s opened my eyes to my own biases against certain artists, and he’s more than once made me rethink some dogma I’d already decided and locked away, presumably (at least at the moment of decision) forever.  THE ART OF RUSH, amazingly enough, is his first book, though he’s been publishing articles and reviews for almost two decades.

And, of course, it’s designed and illustrated by one of the most gifts men in the visual arts today, Hugh Syme.

I certainly don’t want to get into an us vs. them situation, but let’s say that where Roger Dean is beautiful, Syme is diverse and eclectic.  Dean has spent a lifetime exploring consistency in his art, while Syme has worked with and in every artistic endeavor and genre imaginable.  Dean is classic, and Syme is romantic.  Dean is a perfectionist, and Syme is an explorer.

Everyone recognizes a Roger Dean painting anywhere–whether it’s residing on a Yes album or stolen by a major Hollywood producer.  Probably only James Marsh (Talk Talk) is as distinctive as Dean, though Dean is better known.

THE ART OF RUSH shows exactly why Syme is not as distinctive as a Dean or a Marsh.  He’s too (damn!) interesting to be distinctive.  Whether it’s a font, an image, or an idea, Syme tries anything.  And, crazily enough, it always works!

As is well known, Syme’s first cover for Rush was 1975’s CARESS OF STEEL.  Peart liked and appreciated Syme so much, Syme has designed very album (inside and out) since.  This means he’s been a part of Rush only a year less than Peart himself.  And, the two men get along famously.  Syme possesses the wonderful and uncanny ability to make the ideas of Peart–a radical individualist, perfectionist, and explorer in his own right–visual and successfully so.

The book, produced by 2112 Books, comes in three versions: tall, grande, and venti.  Just joking–with apologies to Starbucks.  No, it did come in three versions when released in May, but the Rush Backstage website only lists the cheapest one now.  A $99/272 page hardback, coffee table style.  Believe me, it’s well worth the $99.

I could be wrong, but I think it’s ONLY available at the Rush Backstage website. comes up with nothing when I searched for it there.

THE ART OF RUSH is as beautifully crafted (and as heavy!) as you’d expect from Syme.  The binding, the pages, the design. . . all perfect.  Peart provides a short but kind introduction, and Humphries provides all the words thereafter.

My version also came with an LP size card-stock poster celebrating forty years of Rush.  Whether this is normal or not, I’m not sure.  But, I am sure that the ART OF RUSH is a glorious thing to own and to linger over.  It is a piece of perfection, in and of itself.

Me, struggling to lift this thing.  It must weigh the same as at least 4 MacBooks.
Me, struggling to lift this thing. It must weigh the same as at least 4 MacBooks.

The Art of Rush by Hugh Syme: On Sale tomorrowush,

Art-of-Rush-slipcaseSheesh, this looks gorgeous.  And, to make it even better, the narrative is written by one of the best music journalists anywhere, Stephen Humphries.

The Art of Rush is a 272 page coffee table book that delves into the 40 year relationship with Rush and their longtime artist and illustrator Hugh Syme. The stunning book begins with a foreword penned by Neil Peart, and contains original illustrations, paintings, photography, and the incredible stories behind each album that he has designed with the band since 1975.

Preview: Clockwork Angels #4 (Comic)

If you’re into Rush or comics, you should check this out.  If you’re into Rush and comics, you must check this out.

A nice five-page preview of the fourth (of six) issue.  Story by Neil Peart and Kevin J. Anderson, artwork by Nick Robles (and Hugh Syme).



Neil Peart: The Most Endangered Species

Some songs just scream “let me reach perfection.”  

Every note, every pause, every ebb, every swell, every silence, and every word just gravitates towards its right place.  It’s as though the cardinal and Platonic virtue of Justice becomes manifest, real, and tangible in this world.

There probably are very few perfect tracks—tracks that never grow old and never cease to cause wonder.  From the 70s and 80s the following immediately spring to mind as candidates: The Battle of Evermore, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Close to the Edge, In Your Eyes, Thick as a Brick, Cinema Show, Take a Chance with Me, Echoes, and The Killing Moon.

Of all of these great possibilities from those two wild and wholly decades, the one song that comes closest to attaining perfection, such as perfection is understood in this rather bent world, is Natural Science, the final track on Rush’s Permanent Waves.

Well, at least in my humble opinion.  Ok, not so humble of an opinion.

Rush PW cover

Unobjectively Rushed

In a number of previous posts here at progarchy and elsewhere, I’ve talked about my love for all things Rush, perhaps even putting myself in a position in which I simply can’t be objective about them.  Frankly, at age 46, I’m tired of trying to be objective about the things I love.  In fact, I want to be subjective.  Really, really subjective.  I want to spend the rest of my life promoting things of excellence and beauty, and not wasting my time analyzing what I don’t like.  I want to explore how various forms of art have shaped my own life, how they’ve guided me, how they’ve given me strength and comfort, and how best to pass on such nuggets of insight to my children and my students.

So, purely subjectively: I’ve always thought of Neil Peart as the older brother I never had—the cool kid with all the great ideas and, equally important, the guy with all of the good friends.  Most importantly, however, Peart has always had the courage of his convictions.  What an appealing combination of qualities.  Creativity, intelligence, integrity and perserverance.

As much as any person in my life I’ve never met (from Plato to St. Augustine to Friedrich Hayek to T.S. Eliot to J.R.R. Tolkien), Peart has profoundly shaped my view of the world.  I’ve known this since the spring of 1981, when, as a seventh grader, I first encountered Moving Pictures.

And, coming from a very (happily) nerdy and intellectual family which encouraged a love of music as much as it encouraged a love of reading and writing, I started writing my own first little essays on Rush while still in high school.

Perhaps my professors in college shouldn’t have allowed me to do this or encouraged me, but I did get to help lead a discussion on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, using the song “Tom Sawyer” to explain the significance of the end of Twain’s novel.  The end of that complex novel tries to examine the motivations of Huck and Tom as they decided whether or not to free Jim from his enslavement.  Their humanity tells them one thing, but their cultural upbringing tells them another.

I also, as I’ve mentioned before, wrote my major paper for my sophomore liberal-arts core course examining the philosophy of Neil Peart, using nothing but the lyrics of Grace Under Pressure.  Sadly, I don’t have a copy of that paper any longer, though I might attempt to reconstruct it at some point.

Rush 1980 by Todd Caudle

Natural Science

I can identify almost every single moment in my post-1980 life with a Rush album—noting when I first encountered that album, how it shaped my own thoughts, life, and actions, and what else was going on in my life at the same time.  Certainly, Rush has served as the soundtrack of my own existence for over three decades.  Strangely, the one album in Rush’s entire catalogue I can’t place perfectly—at least when I first encountered it—is Permanent Waves.  I’m guessing that I first heard it shortly after Spring 1981, but I’m not positive.  It just seems to have always been “there.”  There, meaning my life.  This is impossible, of course, as I was 11 when the album first came out, but it does seem to have an uncertain yet certain position in my memory.

I still regard the entire album as a work of artistic intensity and creative genius.  There’s a confidence that exists in every note of this album that had not yet appeared in Rush’s music.  Don’t get me wrong—up to Permanent Waves, Rush had always possessed audacity and integrity.  But, they’d not possessed this level of confidence before.  Songs such as Anthem—so openly declaring confidence—reveal youthful anxiety.  But, the personal aspects of Permanent Waves, such as in “Free Will,” carry with them a rather clear maturity.

To my mind, none of the songs carry as much confidence, however, as does Natural Science.  Originally, as is well known by Rush fans, Peart had hoped to write a saga, epic, or edda about the Court of King Arthur and especially about the character of Sir Gawain.

I had also been working on making a song out of a medieval epic from King Arthur’s time, called ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. It was a real story written around the 14th century, and I was trying to transform it while retaining it’s original form and style. Eventually it came to seem too awkwardly out of place with the other material we were working on, so we decided to shelve that project for the time being…with the departure of ‘Gawain’ we had left ourselves nothing with which to replace him!…something new began to take shape. It was the product of a whole host of unconnected experiences, books, images, thoughts, feelings, observations, and confirmed principles, that somehow took the form of ‘Natural Science’…forged from some bits from ‘Gawain’, some instrumental ideas that were still unused, and some parts newly-written. – Neil Peart, “Personal Waves, The Story Of An Album” [taken from:]

Though I don’t know this for certain, I assume that Peart was still in a bit of a myth/fantasy/Tolkien stage as he considered the lyrics for this song.  Best known by the world for his fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien was in his professional life the leading scholar of the medieval literature of Beowulf, Sir Gawain, and others.  In the late 1970s, Tolkien’s publisher attempted to capitalize on success of The Silmarillion by re-publishing almost everything Tolkien had ever written, including his academic work, repackaged for a popular audience.

Many of the ideas in Natural Science, at least musically, also came from a “mass of ideas called Uncle Tounouse” [Popoff, CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE, 76;; and

At 9 minutes, 17 seconds, “Natural Science” consists of three parts: Tide Pools; Hyperspace; and Permanent Waves.  These might have also have been titled, less poetically, Nature; Science; and Integrity.

In Part I, “Tide Pools,” Peart offers a vision of community.  Each person is born into a myriad of factors.  As the great Irishman, Edmund Burke, once said before Parliament: “Dark and inscrutable are the ways in which we come into the world.”  Each person is born into a family, an environment, a language, a set of morality, a religious system (even if atheist), etc.  Each of these factors shapes and delimits our very beings, and we must—from our earliest infancy—learn to move from one realm into another.  From, for example, our family to our school.  We must transition, we must bridge, we must understand, and we must integrate our experiences.  Such a world of communities brings us security, but it might also allow for an insular kind of inbreeding and sloth.  Looking at all of the connections and interactions, though, overwhelms us.

Wheels within wheels in a spiral array,

A pattern so grand and complex,

Time after time we lose sight of the way,

Our causes can’t see their effects.

Part II, “Hyperspace,” reveals how insane an integrated, uniform culture might before.  Peart’s vision of conformity here is not of a communist or fascist variety, but instead of a capitalist, consumerist variety.  It might metastasize uncontrollably.

A mechanized world out of hand.

Computerized clinic

For superior cynics

Who dance to a synthetic band.

In their own image,

Their world is fashion.

No wonder they don’t understand.

Part III, “Permanent Waves,” brings the story and listener to a stoic resignation, a realization that one must somehow and in some way recognize the limits as well as the advantages of an insular natural community and a hyper collectivist consumerism, brought together by (I presume) colossal bureaucracies of corporations, educational systems, and governments.

The true man, whatever the odds against him, will survive.

The most endangered species,

The honest man,

Will still survive annihilation.

Forming a world

State of integrity,

Sensitive, open and strong.

These are quintessentially Peartian themes, and he will return to them again and again in his lyrics.  “Subdivisions,” for example, offers almost all of the same sentiments, but it does so in lyrics that are much more direct.  The lyrics for Natural Science remain far more poetic than intellectual, far more artistic than philosophical.  And yet, they are poetic, intellectual, artistic, and philosophical all at once.

They are. . . well, Peartian. Very Peartian.

Signals Cover

Words of Friendship and Wisdom

In the summer of 1987, having completed my first year of college, I returned back to my hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas.  It was one of the best summers of my life, as all of my high school friends were home, and I had the best job possible—I was the overnight DJ at a local radio station.  In my mind, this really was the last year of my youth.  I didn’t realize that at the time, but I do now.  It was also, though, a summer of immense upheaval.  The following school year, I wouldn’t be returning to the University of Notre Dame.  Instead, I moved to Innsbruck, Austria, for a year.  At home, a number of domestic crises would lead to a divorce.  As much as I loved my mom, I needed to get away from the home front quickly.  All of this added up to a summer of craziness, me being a little more wild than I should have been.

Trying to get me back on track, one of my two closest college friends sent me a letter toward the end of that summer.  Inside, written on rice paper, neatly folded, were the lyrics to Natural Science, with a note of encouragement.

I carried that piece of folded rice paper with me—tucked in my wallet—for about two decades. It’s very hard to put into words what Peart’s thoughts in “Natural Science” did for me.  “Natural Science” did for me in my 20s and 30s, what “Subdivisions” had done for me at 14.  They gave me no easy answers or platitudes, but honesty and courage.  They got me through many, many tough times, never failing to remind me that right has absolutely nothing to do with winning or losing.  Right, instead, has to do with being right.  Nothing more, nothing less.  We do the right thing not for advantage, but merely and simply because it’s right.  It’s not subjective.  It’s either right, or it’s not.  It’s not partially right or almost right.  It’s either right, or it’s not.

Sometimes, we just need a big brother or a friend to remind us of these things.

Neil Peart, moral philosopher, “sensitive, open, and strong.”



For more from Progarchy on Rush

The first Rush album reviewed by Craig Breaden

A review of A Farewell to Kings by Kevin McCormick

A review of Power Windows by Brad Birzer

Kevin Williams on Clockwork Angels Tour

Brad Birzer on Clockwork Angels Tour

Erik Heter on Clockwork Angels Tour Concert in Texas

A review of Vapor Trails Remixed by Birzer

A review of Grace Under Pressure by Birzer