In our casually audiophile age of 96 kHz/24 bit BluRays and 180-gram virgin vinyl, it may be hard to comprehend what a difference digital recording made when it came of age in the late 1970s. I remember cueing up Keith Jarrett’s Concerts: Bregenz, München and being blown away as much by the background silence, the clarity and depth of the piano sound, and the extended dynamic range as by Jarrett’s freewheeling improvisations. The compact disc was still in the future — but at that point, after suffering through muddy, distorted mass-produced pressings of way too many albums, it seemed like that future was all upside.
Classical record companies were the most fervent backers of digital recording from the beginning; the prospect of “perfect sound forever” made both corporate executives and their target demographic (single men with money or credit to burn — surprise!) salivate in anticipated ecstasy. Certainly, as I built a classical collection during graduate school, the word “Digital” on the front cover of a record always counted in its favor.
That’s one reason I picked up the album pictured above. Another reason: I’d already heard some fine Mahler recordings by the young conductor Simon Rattle, precociously helming the scrappy City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. And there was one more burning question: was Benjamin Britten right about Ralph Vaughan Williams?
Over the last several weeks, Neal Morse has announced that his venerable INNER CIRCLE club is going exclusively digital.
To state that this infuriates me would be going way too far. To state that I’m unhappy, however, would not be an exaggeration.
Not only have I been a proud INNER CIRCLE member for years, but I’ve also got my own Neal Morse display in my office–in all of its tangible (yes, TANGIBLE) and technicolor glory.
Do I want downloads? No. I don’t want downloads from Neal Morse or from Glass Hammer or from The Tangent or from Riverside or from NAO or from Big Big Train.
As far as I’m concerned, sadly, Neal Morse’s INNER CIRCLE is done. Whatever it was (and, it was brilliant), it’s over.
I’m so tired of the world moving toward nothing but digital. We (or, at least I) love prog because everything is so well done–the lyrics, the music, the playing, and the art. I want an album or a CD or a DVD or a blu-ray. A down load is just not cheap, but, frankly, tacky.
Mr. Morse, please, please, please reconsider this.
As many of you probably already know, Mike Portnoy–drum and compositional demigod–turns 50 in April. Mike, Happy Birthday! We love you, man!!!
I’ve had the great privilege of seeing Portnoy live many, many times, and it’s never anything but an absolute treat. For 25 years, Mike has been driving prog rock forward and bringing to the fans, delight after delight. My wife (who has gone to all of the concerts with me) agrees completely.
This entire two-hour episode of Progarchy Radio is dedicated to the inspired genius of Mike Portnoy. I play the entire twelve-step suite as well as music from Flying Colors, Big Elf, Transatlantic, the Neal Morse Band, Yellow Matter Custard, and the Morse-Portnoy-George Cover-to-Cover project.
A fired-up and ready-to-rock Neal Morse Band kicked off its 2017 Similitude Of A Dream Tour last night at RockeTown in Nashville, TN. They performed the entire album before an ecstatic crowd, most of whom knew every word of the 2-disc magnum opus.
This was a different kind of show than Neal and his band mates have performed before. It’s clear that they want the album as a whole to take center stage, and not the musicians themselves. For instance, Neal did not even address the audience until after Shortcut To Salvation, which was in the second half of the set. Mike spoke briefly before Freedom Song. Other than those breaks, the focus was entirely on the songs.
The performance began with a darkly cowled Neal singing Long Day off to the side, illuminated with a handheld light. Then the entire group exploded into Overture, and we were off on an adventure through all kinds of trials and tribulations. Throughout the show stunning videos complemented the songs, and Neal wore various masks and outfits.
As a group, Neal, Mike, Randy, Bill, and Eric have melded into a mighty musical force. When Randy George and Mike Portnoy lock into their groove, the result is ferocious thunder. Eric Gillette has matured into an extraordinary guitarist and vocalist (give him more lead vocals!), and Bill Hubauer’s keyboards and vocals are always rock-solid. Neal, of course, is the consummate showman – singing, pulling off amazing guitar solos, and mugging for the crowd before every keyboard showcase.
But the real star of the evening was The Similitude of a Dream. Everything was done in service to the tale of a pilgrim on a spiritual journey – one that went from the City Of Destruction through doubt, fear, confusion, sloth, and battle until he reaches the shining city on a hill. When I first heard TSOAD, I liked it, but I wasn’t knocked out – it was just too sprawling a work for me to take in. After last night’s performance, I get it now. It all holds together as a unified work of art, and it is a beautiful allegory.
Highlights of the show were So Far Gone, where everyone takes a turn on lead vocals; a very moving Breath of Angels, which ended the first half; Shortcut to Salvation; a heavy Man in the Iron Cage; an all-acoustic Freedom Song; and the concluding Broken Sky/Long Day. By the end, everyone was wrung out and happy.
For an encore, the band tore through rip-roaring renditions of Momentum, Agenda, and The Call. Lasting nearly three hours, it was a very satisfying evening. The boys travel to Seattle and other parts west before heading up to Canada and then over to Europe and Israel. If there is any way you can catch this show, do it – it’s an amazing visual and musical experience.
I wasn’t too adventurous in my listening this year – maybe because artists I’m already familiar with released so much good music that they kept me busy!
Here’s what I liked in 2016 in the world of prog:
10. Yes: Tales From Topographic Oceans (Blu-ray ed.)
Technically not a 2016 release, but with Steven Wilson’s 5.1 mix, this is a new album to my ears. This has everything a Yes fan could ask for – versions of TFTO that include the original mix, a radio promo, a “needle-drop” vinyl transfer, an instrumental version, in addition to Wilson’s new mixes – literally hours of music. A sometimes maligned work gets its proper release, and it really shines.
9. The Mute Gods: Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
I love Nick Beggs’ blend of 70s – era FM rock with snappy songwriting. Turns out he’s much more than one of the best bassists ever.