Brand X – rare recordings

As a teenager I was a big fan of Genesis (and still am), and as a budding, slightly obsessive completist I sought out the solo material and extra-mural projects of band members as well as the group recordings (as much as my limited income at the time would allow). It was through this route that I had my first real encounter with Jazz Rock Fusion, in the guise of Phil Collins’ solo project, ‘Brand X’.

I was quickly blown away by the virtuosity, energy and inventiveness of Messrs Collins, Goodsall, Lumley Jones & Pert, with later contributions from Robinson, Giblin & Clark. This was exciting music, which took me to places that Prog rock didn’t, and I loved it (and it took me into the multi-faceted realms of more conventional jazz, too). I even managed to catch the band on tour in 1980 at Bradford University, sharing the bill with Bruford, which was a particular joy.

I was delighted to discover that some of the band’s rarer material had become more widely available recently. One was a live recording of a show the band performed in September 1979 at the Roxy, LA. Most of the material here is from the ‘Product’ album (the first of their recordings that I bought, and which they were promoting at the time), and the recordings are of a slightly poor quality, probably being audience-recorded bootlegs. There is a good interaction between band and crowd, with some attempts at Pythonesque humour in places (the band had Michael Palin write sleeve notes for ‘Do They Hurt’ in 1980), though there are some slightly annoying ‘whoops’ from the audience at times: throughout, the musicianship is first rate, as one would expect.

The other is a collection of early session recordings from 1975 & 1976 with early versions of tunes from their first couple of albums, and other material which never made the official releases. So we have ‘Dead Pretty’, which became ‘Born Ugly’; ‘Why Won’t You Lend Me Yours?’ which emerges as ‘Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You’ve Broken Yours Off Already)’; and an early version of live standard ‘Malaga Virgen’, which begins life as ‘Miserable Virgin’.

An interesting couple of collections, which give some insights into the workings of this great group of musicians.

And my concert of the year is…

No, no, no: this is not a post about choosing my favorite concert of 2013 out of fifty concerts attended—for the simple reason that I’ve not attended a single rock concert this year. Not one. (However, I did attend an organ concert a couple of months ago, and it was stunning. But that’s another post.) The fact is, I am one of those pathetic souls (I’m only being half-self-deprecating) who owns some 60,000 songs and has been to very few concerts over the years. In fact, I’ve attended so few relative to my love for music that the one concert that really stands out to me is one I missed: Jeff Buckley in Portland, Oregon, on May 8, 1995. I thought of going, but it was on a Monday night, I had to work early the next morning, I was newly married (and my wife wasn’t a Buckley fan)—and then Buckley drowned two years later. Rock concerts that stand out for the right reason—that is, I actually attended them—include Seal (1994), Martin Sexton (three times), Brandi Carlile (three times), and Def Leppard (1988). I’ve never attended a true prog concert, which probably should get me kicked off of Progarchy.com.

However, I’ve had better luck with jazz—my favorite musical form, when push comes to shove—having seen Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Brad Mehldau (twice), Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove, and Wayne Shorter in concert, all here in Eugene, Oregon, of all places. Eugene, the home of the University of Oregon (or Nike, if you will), does have some big names drop in on occasion—Elton John was here a couple of years ago, as was the Dali Lama, who did not sing—but not many. Portland is two hours away, but rarely has prog groups perform, as far as I know.

All of which to say that my concert of the year is going to be a solo Chris Cornell show in a couple of weeks at The Shedd, a wonderful and intimate venue (see here and here) all of five minutes from my house. And, yes, my wife is going with me, because she’s game for hearing Cornell with just an acoustic guitar; I doubt she’d go for a Soundgarden gig. This is Cornell’s second “Songbook” tour, and his performances on the first tour earned rave reviews, leading to the release of the “Songbook” album, which featured plenty of great Cornell tunes and some covers (“Imagine”, “Thank You”, and “Billie Jean” being favorites). Cornell is a triple threat: a great rock singer, a fabulous (if often under appreciated) songwriter, and a fine interpreter who likes to go into surprising territory at times, as his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” demonstrates (he first played it about ten years ago in Sweden). Those who have read my, ahem, detailed review of Soundgarden’s “King Animal” know that I find Cornell’s lyrics to be particular fascinating. A good example of the lyrical prowess is evident in a little known but intriguing Cornell song, “Scar on the Sky” from his second solo album, “Carry On”. Meanwhile, I plan to write about the concert, which will likely be free of prog but still long on great music.

As I fall I leave this scar upon the sky
A simple note for you, I’ll wait for your reply
And in your answer I’ll regain my will to try

So hover in the diving light
We will rip the night
Out of the arms of the sun one more time
Close your eyes and we will fly
Above the clouded sky
And over the dumbstruck world we will run

In these hills they wash the golden grains away
To the valley under all of this I lay
And may you dig me out unearthed and saved

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.

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)”