The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Three): Polyphony

Although the name of this band refers to a musical texture defined by two or more lines of independent melody, I want to call your attention first to the album artwork, which is among the most beautiful I have seen in any genre of music. According to a review on Prog Archives, the artist wanted to show the “four elements of the universe subsiding toward an energy force which was ‘polyphony’.” The rich detail on the cover provides the perfect complement to such a complex album. With elements of ELP, Atomic Rooster, Jimi Hendrix, and Deep Purple, Polyphony seemed poised for success, but like so many other talented bands of the day were instead lost in the shuffle, and Without Introduction remained their only release. Here are my thoughts on the four tracks:

“Juggernaut” is a fitting title for the opening piece, which hits with a burst of keys and guitar right from the start. If Jimi Hendrix had joined ELP to form HELP (rumor has it he nearly did), it would probably sound like this piece. The interplay between Glenn Howard’s slide guitar and Craig Massey’s organ is excellent – and intense. It actually reminds me a little bit of Boston’s “Foreplay,” the lengthy introduction to their superb “Long Time.” We don’t get any vocals until after the nine-minute mark, and they may remind some listeners of Nad Sylvan, Progarchy’s favorite Vampirate.

The next piece, “40 Second Thing in 39 Seconds” is a brief experiment with a Moog synthesizer. It’s a bizarre piece, but considering what Emerson did with the Moog, it would be music to many a progger’s ears.

“Ariel’s Flight” is the longest piece on the album and, despite featuring more vocals, nevertheless remains dominated by Howard’s raw guitar and Massey’s deft work on the keys. Martin Ruddy’s pounding bass and Chris Spong’s steady beat on the drums are also superb; the rhythm section on this album is not to be ignored.

The closing track, “Crimson Dagger,” also opens with a blitz of guitars and keys but transitions to a smoother, psychedelic soundscape about three minutes in. This piece also features the strongest vocals on the album, including some solid backing vocals by all members except the drummer. Unfortunately, the song ends rather abruptly, but this is one of the album’s few weak points.

It’s too bad Polyphony was little appreciated in their day, as their debut album suggests they could have contended with some of prog’s heaviest hitters. Lovers of symphonic and “classic era” prog rock will especially enjoy this hidden gem, but it will no doubt appeal to many in the prog world.

Stay tuned for number twenty-four!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Nineteen): Touch

Featuring vocals reminiscent of Ian Gillan and keys that may call to mind (dare I say it?) Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson, Touch produced one of America’s early progressive rock albums – and one of its finest. Yet despite having fans and supporters such as Kerry Livgren, Jimi Hendrix, and Mick Jagger, Touch remained relatively obscure, as bandleader and keyboardist Don Gallucci refused to tour the album. Unfortunately, that spelled the end for the band, and they never released a second album. Thankfully, we have an impressive selection of songs from their lone effort. Here are some of the highlights:

“We Feel Fine,” a rollicking opener of a song, makes for a fine introduction. Jeff Hawks immediately puts on display his impressive vocal range, but Gallucci shines on the organ, and Joey Newman gets to show off a little bit on guitar.

The Beatles come to mind upon hearing “The Spiritual Death of Howard Greer,” an acid-rock epic that tells the tale of a sad stick in the mud. It may remind listeners of “A Day in the Life” or a darker version of “The Diary of Horace Wimp.”

Odysseus and his crew may disagree, but “Down at Circe’s Place” is a wonderful tune and the most psychedelic piece on the album. An instrumental (although there are some spacey wordless vocals courtesy of Hawks), the tune opens with a catchy piano riff and features a wonderful cacophony of sound at the climax – sans guitar: Gallucci’s keys and John Bordonaro’s percussion drive the madness.

The second and final epic on the album, “Seventy-Five,” is the strongest and most progressive track. Hawks can shriek like Gillan or croon like Greg Lake depending on what is called for; it is an impressive vocal performance to say the least. Newman finally earns a spot front and center to display his talents on guitar, and he does not disappoint.

This is not an album to ignore: the musicianship is top-notch and the overall quality something you will not typically find in some of these older, more obscure releases. It’s time to give Touch a go.

Stay tuned for number twenty!

Seasons, Jimi Hendrix, and the Virgin: Jammin’ in the Kingdom with Chris Cornell

And I’m lost, behind
The words I’ll never find
And I’m left behind
As seasons roll on by

Thus far, 2017 has been a rather amazing year when it comes to rock and prog.  PROG magazine is back and better than ever.  Thank the Good Lord for Jerry Ewing.

The music releases–already and forthcoming–this year are nothing less than stunning.  Big Big Train has released the finest of the band’s career, and The Tangent’s new release has yet to come.  Steven Wilson is coming out with a progressive pop album, and newspaperflyhunting and Bjorn Riis have, as with BBT, released the best thing either’s written and done, thus far in their respective careers.  There’s a new Anathema that is pretty good, and Steve Hogarth seems, at the moment, unstoppable with Marillion as well as with Isildur’s Bane.

Now I want to fly above the storm
But you can’t grow feathers in the rain
And the naked floor is cold as hell
This naked floor reminds me
Oh the naked floor reminds me

As I type this (having just returned from a conference on libertarian thought in 1840’s France), I have just received in the mail two grand packages.  The first I opened is Steven Wilson’s remix of Jethro Tull’s SONGS FROM THE WOODS.  The second is Aryeon’s signed five-disk ear-book, THE SOURCE.  Honestly, I’m not sure how to react with anything that would be regarded as decorous.  I’m a 13-year old boy, at the moment, just having had my first listen of MOVING PICTURES.

Holy schnikees.

Continue reading “Seasons, Jimi Hendrix, and the Virgin: Jammin’ in the Kingdom with Chris Cornell”

soundstreamsunday: “1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

jhas02Jimi Hendrix’s mystery is something not quite capture-able as an iconographic or intellectual thing.  Even knowing some of the details of his background — from his emergence on the chitlin circuit to his being shepherded to London by Chas Chandler — doesn’t explain the lightning the man conjured.  The scant year and a half that Hendrix and his Experience released their three albums (May ’67-October ’68) encompassed a sea change in rock music that saw a full embrace of Dylan’s lyrical approach and of Hendrix’s instrumental creativity.  It went beyond the firepower, to the belief, the true faith, in what the electric guitar could ultimately offer to rock and other music.  Hendrix refracted his surroundings, adding to his electric soul and blues the emerging British fascination with distortion and eastern scales, and beamed them into the very brains of rock and jazz.  Since September 18, 1970, his is a persistent ghost, THE example of a technically skilled player and writer who, as importantly, brought imagination and soul and heart to the act of making music.

Electric Ladyland is Hendrix’s great work, mid-wifed by hard-won artistic and financial independence.  As double albums of that era tend to, it sprawls, spinning with ambition, noble failures, and grand successes.  He’s using the studio as an instrument, stretching the ideas cycling through him.  Some of his most radio-friendly hits appear on Electric Ladyland (“All Along the Watchtower,” “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” “Crosstown Traffic”).  But buried in the middle, on side 3, is the album’s jewel and centerpiece, “1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be),” a proto-prog epic on the art of walking away from the nonsense humanity inflicts upon itself, “not to die but to be reborn, away from the land so battered and torn.”  The music is a wild, left-field, Bolero-paced march where Hendrix overlaps his guitars and basses like a string section, affecting oceanic waves and surf, with sympathetic playing by steadfast Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell and flautist Chris Wood (on loan from Traffic).  In it are sonic echoes from “Third Stone from the Sun” (from 1967’s Are You Experienced?) and thematically Hendrix continues to mine the problem of Earth-boundedness.  Of being contained in a place that doesn’t seem to fit.  And even as Hendrix’s music transcends and transports, his real and continued gift is the mirror he holds up to those of us 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.