Send us your music!

Dear Artists, Groups, Record Labels, Engineers, Producers, Managers, and assorted Fellow Humans,

We the Progarchists absolutely love music.  Indeed, we consider it one of the finest things in the world.  Please let us review your work.  We’re dropbox, email, and mail friendly.  If you send us something, I promise we’ll consider your trust in us a sacred one.  We will treat your work with all due respect.

Though we specialize in progressive and art rock, we feel qualified to review anything classical, rock, jazz, or blues related.  Sacred music is fine as well.

For email notices, inquiries, news, etc., please contact us at bradbirzer@gmail.com.

For actual, physical, tangible mail (yes, we still love CDs and vinyl), please use the following:

Brad Birzer/editor

Progarchy

6 West Montgomery

Hillsdale MI 49242 USA

We also love interviews.

 

Yours,

The ProgarchistsProg7 - Version 2

Our Progarchist Week

GlassHammerPerilous2012borders_001Just in case you missed any of this, we had yet another brilliant week at Progarchy.  Dr. Nick and Alison Henderson reviewed the new Steve Hackett album, Genesis Revisited II (Insideout).  Tad Wert posted about guitarist Michael Hedges.  Chris Morrissey reviewed (briefly) one of his favorite albums of the year, the debut album from Flying Colors, and he posted about the excellence of Mike Portnoy.  I had the great privilege of interviewing Blake McQueen of Coralspin.  Ian Greatorex (doesn’t everyone want an ubercool last name such as Greatorex?) looked at the past of Beardfish.  Roger O’Donnell remembered his time recording Disintegration with The Cure.  Jazz legend, Dave Brubeck, passed away, the day before turning 92.  Carl Olson offered a nice review of his career.  Finally, our Englishman, turned-Kiwi, Russell Clarke, explained why Big Big Train allows him to remember, fondly, his homeland.

Forthcoming, more reviews of Steve Hackett (at least one more, maybe two) as well as a review of the forthcoming King Bathmat.  Several (if not all!) Progarchists will also be explaining our “best of 2012.”  Lots and lots to come before 2012 is done.

On a personal note, I’ve spent much of my free time this week, going back through the myriad interviews with the various members of American prog demi-gods, Glass Hammer.  There’s plenty of quotable material from these guys.  My favorite, though, comes from a 2002 interview with one of my oldest friends, Amy Sturgis.  In response to one of her questions, Steve Babb stated: “We were attempting to repackage progressive rock (which we though had long since vanished) as fantasy rock.”

Continue reading “Our Progarchist Week”

The catholicity of jazz (with an idiosyncratic list of jazz albums for people who don’t like jazz)

davebrubeck_progarchyThe following was originally written in May 2011 for the Insight Scoop blog. I’ve decided to share it here as a very modest homage to Dave Brubeck, who died this morning, one day shy of being 92 years young. It sounds like Brad has more about Brubeck on the way. Anyhow, here goes!

I just read a fun post, “The Catholic Roots of Jazz?”, by Joe Trabbic on the “End of the Modern World” blog, and wanted to blather about it for a bit. Joe writes:

Jelly Roll Morton was a key figure in the early development of jazz. Some people even regard him as the first real jazz musician, the man who brought together various musical forms into the new thing that we now know as jazz. Jelly Roll’s real name was Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe and he was raised Catholic, but the dissolute life that he began leading as a teenager, when he secretly took a job as a piano player in a New Orleans brothel, quickly made his Catholicism unrecognizable. But who knows the hearts of men save their Maker?

He goes on to mention early jazz giants Dominic “Nick” LaRocca and Louis Armstrong, and then remarks upon Dave Brubeck, one of the finest (and longest-performing) jazz pianists, saying, “Well, if jazz didn’t have anything Catholic about it, why did one of the greats of later jazz, Dave Brubeck, decide to enter the Church of Rome?”

He admits he is having fun with it, but the two questions are interesting: “Does jazz have Catholic roots?” and “Is jazz Catholic?” The first one, it seems to me, is bound up to a large degree with the history of jazz, which is a complicated matter. But it is pretty evident that jazz, to put it rather simplistically, has roots in both the European cIassical tradition and very American forms of music—ragtime, blues, early country, spirituals, gospel, dance music, etc.—harkening back not only to New Orleans, but Chicago, New York, Texas, and a variety of other places, especially throughout the southeastern United States. Elijah Wald’s How The Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music (Oxford University Press, 2009), offers a fascinating and slightly iconoclastic version of that history, especially in the first seven chapters. Jazz was, in the beginning, very much dance music, and was usually associated with a less than upstanding life-style. And that image was hardly helped in the 1940s and ’50s when many jazz musicians came under the spell of heroin and other drugs.

One of my heroes, G. K. Chesterton, had nothing good to say about the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s. I beg to differ with him, but I’m sure it was an unusual and even jarring thing for the Englishman to hear. It was a music filled with great energy, imbued with a beguiling combination of rawness (sometimes sexual in nature) and sophistication (often classical in origin), being both very rhythmic and melodic, with an ever-increasing harmonic complexity. I own dozens of books on jazz (and close to 11,000 songs classified as “jazz” on my iTunes), and they all agree that defining “jazz” is a very difficult matter. Barry Ulanov was one of the first great jazz critics (he was also a Catholic scholar—more on that in a moment), the author of A History of Jazz in America (Viking Press, 1954) and A Handbook of Jazz (Viking, 1960). He wrote, in the latter book, “The harder one listens to jazz, the more one hears European rather than African influences—the folk songs of England, Scotland, and Ireland, of France and Germany and even the Balkans, rather than the music of the jungle and the coast settlements from which the slave ships came.” Continue reading “The catholicity of jazz (with an idiosyncratic list of jazz albums for people who don’t like jazz)”

Dave Brubeck, RIP

ImageWell, I’ve been working on a piece on Dave Brubeck–focusing on Time Out and Time Further Out–for over a month now, and it’s still not ready.  Today, he passed away.  Amazingly, he would have been 92 tomorrow.  What a brilliant artist.  Rest in Peace, Mr. Brubeck.  How many minds did you boggle during your life?  Thank you.

Yes, A Floydian Rush to Jazz!

I’ve been buried with real work and real reality, but I do have grand designs for review posts of the new Soundgarden CD, “King Animal”, which released today, and Stephen Lambe’s book, Citizens of Hope and Glory: The Story of Progressive Rock, which I’ve almost completed reading (very short review: 4.5 stars out of 5, recommended). In the meantime, in my unrelenting quest to show the many wonderful connections between prog and jazz, here are three covers of prog classics, performed by the trio, Bad Plus (band site).

For those who aren’t familiar with Bad Plus, the trio—Reid Anderson, Ethan Iverson and David King—has made its name by being, in two word, distinctive and controversial. Part of their distinct (and controversial, to some) approach has been to cover tunes that aren’t a part of the usual jazz canon. For example, have you heard many true jazz covers of ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, Heart’s “Barracuda” (with singer, Wendy Lewis), or Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”? No, I didn’t think so. And those covers, in my opinion, are excellent; they not only get your attention but they reveal aspects and possibilities in the original songs that weren’t obvious before. And it is done with a winning mixture of intensity, fabulous interplay, respect for the material, sly humor, and some “out there” moments. The Guardian puts it well when it describes the trio in this way: “If the Coen Brothers put together a jazz trio, perhaps it would be like this, the comic and the dramatic rolled together.”

And how about the fact the trio titled its 2007 album, “Prog”? Fabulous! Here, then, are Bad Plus covers of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”, Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, and Yes’s “Long Distance Runaround”:

Like Radiohead? Like jazz?

Then you don’t want to miss what I think is the best jazz album of Radiohead songs to be had: “Tribute to Radiohead” (2010) by Amnesiac Quartet. Don’t let the pedestrian title fool you: this is not muzak or some sort of cash-in project. Led by pianist Sebastien Paindestre, the French quartet also includes soprano saxophonist Fabrice Theuillon, bassist Joachim Florent, and drummer Antoine Paganotti. There are just five songs—”Everything in its Right Place”, “Morning Bell”, “A Wolf at the Door”, “Sail to the Moon”, “I Might Be Wrong”—but each is, I think, a perfect interpretation of the original tune, equally languid and intense.

Three things stand out. First, the use of soprano saxophone is inspired, as it has a yearning tone, occasionally agitated rhythm, and acrobatic runs that are very Thom Yorke-like (I don’t know that a tenor sax would have been nearly as effective). Secondly, the attention to detail is wonderful: the drums and bass present a whirling complexity and propulsive energy that constantly move and coil and dash around behind Theuillon’s wonderful lines, and the electric piano brings a welcome warmth to the proceedings. Finally, this is very much a band effort, focused on the songs, not simply using them as vehicles for solos. It succeeds fabulously. As John Barron notes in his AllAboutJazz.com review, “With a tight ensemble sound and exceptional soloing, Amnesiac Quartet maintains the inherent beauty heard in the music of Radiohead while tapping into seemingly unlimited potential for future improvisers interested in unique source material.” Here is the band in 2007, playing “I Might Be Wrong”:

This, That, and Steve Wilson talks jazz (and much more)

First, my thanks to Brad for taking my brain drizzle and turning it into cyber sunshine. Brad’s energy and get-it-done approach is astounding!

I’ve been blogging for almost ten years now, first as editor of Envoy magazine (Catholic apologetics) and, since 2003, as editor of Ignatius Insight (Catholic books, theology, history, etc.) and additionally, since late last year, as editor of Catholic World Report. (I’ve also written two books and am working on three more at the moment.) Over the years I’ve written a number of posts about music, several of them lists of my favorite albums of the year. For example, here is a list of my favorite 68 albums of 2011. But I’ve long mulled over the possibility of a forum in which I could simply throw out my .02 worth about this or that album, artist, or musical whatever without worrying about puzzling readers or perplexing those who pay the bills. In fact, the folks at Ignatius Press have always been incredibly supportive of my excursions into musical commentary, despite the fact I am about as qualified to write about music as Lady GaGa is qualified to write and perform music. But some—well, most—of my opinions and musings about music are far, far better suited for a blog such as Progarchy. Here’s hoping I don’t wear out my welcome too soon!

Anyhow, I plan to write an incredibly self-indulgent, noodling, bombastic, and yet oddly homespun post (think “Queen II” meets “Song for America”) very soon about my musical tastes and such, but for the moment am content to point to a long and most interesting article about Steve Wilson that was recently posted, of all places, on one of the more popular jazz sites, AllAboutJazz.com. My two big musical loves are jazz and prog, (in that order), and so it was gratifying to read an article that considers Wilson’s impressive body of work in the light of jazz. Here is the opening:

There was a time when progressive rock really meant what its name suggested: progressive music, music that pushed the boundaries of what rock music was, often by integrating elements of classical music and jazz into the mix. Milestone groups ranging from better-knowns like Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and Van der Graaf Generator all provided the opportunity for musicians to apply their diverse musical upbringings to create something that Chuck Berry and Bill Haley couldn’t possibly have envisaged when they first began playing the music that would come to be known as rock ‘n’ roll. Lesser-knowns like Hatfield and the North, Caravan, Soft Machine and Gong further explored the nexus of electrified music with the aesthetic and, in some cases, the language of jazz; even groups like Procol Harum and Fairport Convention were considered to be progressive artists, as they looked to incorporate classical music, in the case of Procol Harum, and traditional British folk music, in the case of Fairport Convention.

Four decades later and, if anything, progressive rock has experienced a revival that may not sell the kinds of records it used to back in its late- 1960s/1970s heyday—before the advent of punk rock turned many of its fans fickle and they deserted it in droves and made it into a niche music- -but it has resulted in an unexpected resurgence of interest, thanks in part to the power of the internet in creating global communities joined together by common interests. This new golden age has seen, alongside a bevy of new acts, the revival of many legacy acts, some still capable of creating new music that stands alongside their 1970s classics, like Van der Graaf Generator, others capitalizing on past glories but ultimately proving to be mere bloated shadows of their former selves, like Yes. Rather than suggesting music that’s progressing, in many ways progressive rock has fossilized into a series of subgenres that, rigidly defined and proprietarily protected by their fans, may be great music but all too often function with both feet firmly planted in the past—rather than having at least one of them stepping forward into the future—forgetting what the music is really supposed to be about.

Steven Wilson, since going solo after 20 years of fronting Porcupine Tree—a group that began as a solo project in the most DIY sense of the word but later became a group when the guitarist/keyboardist/singer/writer needed a band to play his music live— pines for the days when progressive rock music meant more than stylistic pigeonholing. Since his first solo recording under his own name, 2009’s Insurgentes (Kscope), he’s progressed in leaps and bounds. 2011’s Grace for Drowning (Kscope) was a major compositional statement, one which also reflected Wilson’s experiences as the de facto surround-sound remix “go-to guy” for groups like King Crimson, as well as his recent work with Jethro Tull, Caravan and Emerson, and Lake & Palmer.

But Grace for Drowning was more than a leap forward for Wilson as a writer and performer; his subsequent 2011 and 2012 tours in support of his two solo recordings have seen the formation of a band that brings a whole new language, a whole new vibrancy and a whole new degree of unpredictability to his music. It isn’t jazz—it isn’t even, as some fans say, “jazzy”; but with a group whose collective resume includes work with everyone from Soft Machine Legacy to Miles Davis, Wilson has a group whose approach to the music irrefutably speaks with the language of jazz, albeit in a more progressive-rock context. If progressive rock has, for its fans, often been a gateway drug to jazz, then perhaps it’s time to consider the reverse, and let jazz become a gateway drug to progressive music.

And here are two later quotes that jumped out at me:

When people talk to me and they ask me what my influences are, I mention people like Abba and The Carpenters, and the kind of reaction I get sometimes is a chuckle or a sarcastic kind of ‘knowing.’ And I’m not being sarcastic, I’m not trying to be postmodernist, and I’m not trying to be ironic. I think those records are extraordinary. Abba’s Arrival (Polar, 1976) is just as extraordinary as any progressive rock or so-called serious record. And I think that Nick is totally like that, too; he gets just as much buzz from playing with Nik Kershaw as he does with Steve Hackett as he does with John Paul Jones as he does with Kim Wilde as he does with me, and I like that about him—this complete lack of musical snobbery.” …

“I’ve never been particularly interested in pure jazz; I don’t dislike it, it’s just not my thing. But I love jazz hybrids. I love music that has elements of jazz, whether it’s the ECM catalog or progressive rock bands like Magma, Crimson, Tull and some of the Kraut rock bands. But that idea of combining music seems to be less easy to do these days. I think part of the reason—the same problem, probably, that was always there—is how do you sell music that is not generic?”

Read the entire piece at AllAboutJazz.com.