Rick’s Quick Takes for October

Glass Hammer, Skallagrim – Into the Breach: Fred Schendel, Steve Babb and company return with the second installment of their multi-part “sword and sorcery” epic, begun on 2020’s Dreaming City. The music rocks hard and heavy, evoking everyone from Deep Purple to Mastodon (and yes, a fair amount of Rush), with just enough moody, ambient keyboard work to cleanse your aural palate before the next round of crunchy power chords. All this marvelously matches the grimdark vibe of the titular hero’s melodramatic quest for his lost love. (And a surprise lyrical callback to an earlier GH album sets up tantalizing possibilities regarding just who that lost love is.) To top it all off, new vocalist Hannah Pryor proves a major discovery, surfing Schendel and Babb’s gargantuan riffs with zest, grace and power to spare. Every bit as involving as Dreaming City, this fine album is a blast in every sense of the term. Order signed CDs, downloads and merch direct from Glass Hammer’s webstore.

Steve Hackett, Surrender of Silence: enter one legendary guitarist, shredding! Hackett lets himself off the leash here, laying down both his wildest compositions and his most hardcore playing in quite some time. The tunes can actually be a bit undercooked, their influences not always fully assimilated (‘Hmm, Prokofiev . . . wait, Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk”!?! . . . good grief, is that lick really “Theme from Exodus”???’). Nonetheless, Hackett’s swashbuckling solos atop Roger King’s widescreen orchestrations are irresistible as always; he and wife Jo serve up fresh sonic travelogues such as “Wingbeats” and “Shanghai to Samarkand”; and full-on burners like “Relaxation Music for Sharks” and “The Devil’s Cathedral” (featuring Hackett’s full band, including Nad Sylvan on vocals) never fail to thrill. Perhaps it’s not up to the towering heights of At the Edge of Light and Under A Mediterranean Sky, but Hackett’s latest is well worth your while. Order signed albums (CD, CD+BluRay combo, LP or LP+CD combo) direct from his webstore.

Isildur’s Bane & Peter Hammill, In Disequilbrium: Mats Johansen’s expandable international ensemble (including King Crimson’s Pat Mastelotto on drums this time) reconnects with Van der Graaf Generator visionary Hammill; two sprawling multi-movement suites result. The three-part title piece careens between hard-driving rock, off-kilter electronica, spastic percussion interludes and haunting chamber textures, as Hammill decries a post-pandemic world that was already primed for chaos. (“There’s no choreography, dance the Tarantella./In disequilibrium round and round forever we’ll go.”) In the four-part “Gently (Step by Step)”, Hammill supplies winningly vulnerable encouragement to face whatever the future holds; the band drapes his incantatory vocals in dizzying sonic collages that somehow always sound forlorn, no matter the timbre or tempo at a particular moment. This one definitely requires multiple plays to unfold its secrets, but it’s well worth the effort; the way IB’s devastatingly precise, multilayered processes track with the unpredictable contours of Hammill’s apocalyptic meditations must be heard to be believed. Order CDs and LPs (plus previous collaborations with Hammill and Marillion’s Steve Hogarth)at Burning Shed’s Isildur’s Bane store.

Tillison Reingold Tiranti, Allium – Una Storia: Perhaps Andy Tillison’s most light-hearted effort ever. Back in 1976, a teenage Tillison encountered (and sat in with) the obscure Albanian prog group of the album’s title at an Italian holiday camp — and it changed his life for the better. This lockdown-inspired “homage to a band whose day never came” easily goes beyond a mere tribute to Seventies Europrog, capturing the sheer joy and the heady freedom both Allium and the fledgling Tillison must have felt in those moments. Collaborating with Jonas Reingold (bass and guitars), Roberto Tiranti (vocals) and Antonio DeSarno (Italian lyrics), Tillison contributes some of his best, boldest keyboard work ever on three long, appealingly involved, frequently funky tracks — and plays all the drums! And you get both Tillison’s “Original Mix” (effortlessly conjuring up the period — I was roughly his age at the time) and Reingold’s “Respectful Remix” (which, bourgeois Philistine that I now am, I actually prefer). If you’re interesting in hearing the Tangent’s mainman just having fun, this is your ticket. Order CDs from Reingold Records.

Yes, The Quest: I’d argue that Yes, in any formation, hasn’t made an essential album since 90125. I’d also argue that, when Geoff Downes’ keys and Steve Howe’s sublime guitar really lock together, as on the opening “The Ice Bridge”, the results sound more like upper-mid-level Asia than the band they’re supposed to be in here. But if Yes fans can get past these discontents (as well as the numerous others they’ve accumulated over the decades), they may enjoy The Quest’s estimable (though not overwhelming) charms. Singer Jon Davison brings the requisite lyrical themes of self-actualization and environmental issues to the party; Billy Sherwood does his manful best to channel the spirit of Chris Squire on bass and vocals; and in the studio Alan White can still summon his classic drive, if not the power he had in his prime. The FAMES Orchestra add a dash of Time and A Word/Symphonic Tour luxury to the proceedings as well. While everything’s downshifted multiple gears from Yes’ most rambunctious, energetic — and it has to be said, creative — years this is an unquestionable step up from the appallingly bland Heaven and Earth, with its own modest appeal. I can see a track or two from this fitting nicely into the setlist when Yes finally can bring their long-promised Relayer tour to the Western Hemisphere. Order the album (in CDs, red LPs + CDs, CDs + BluRay combo, and CDs+LPs+BluRay deluxe boxset formats) from Burning Shed.

— Rick Krueger

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2021!

What new music and archival finds are heading our way in the next couple of months? Check out the representative sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below. (Box sets based on reissues will follow in a separate article!) Pre-order links are embedded in the artist/title listings below.

Out now:

Amanda Lehmann, Innocence and Illusion: “a fusion of prog, rock, ballads, and elements of jazz-blues” from the British guitarist/vocalist best known as Steve Hackett’s recurring sidekick. Available direct from Lehmann’s webstore as CD or digital download.

Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective and the Turtle Island Quartet, Absence: trumpeter/film composer Blanchard dives into music both written and inspired by jazz legend Wayne Shorter. His E-Collective supplies cutting edge fusion grooves, and the Turtle Island String Quartet adds orchestral depth to the heady sonic concoctions. Available from Blue Note Records as CD or digital download.

The Neal Morse Band, Innocence and Danger: another double album from Neal, Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette. No overarching concept this time — just everything and the kitchen sink, ranging from a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to brand-new half-hour epics. Available from Inside Out as 2CD, 2CD/DVD or 3 LPs/2 CDs

Trifecta, Fragments: what happens when Steven Wilson’s rhythm section turns his pre-show sound checks into “jazz club”? Short, sharp tracks that mix the undeniable chops and musicality of Adam Holzman on keys, Nick Beggs on Stick and Craig Blundell on drums with droll unpredictability and loopy titles like “Clean Up on Aisle Five” and “Pavlov’s Dog Killed Schrodinger’s Cat”. Available from Burning Shed as CD or LP (black or neon orange).

Upcoming releases after the jump!

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2021!”

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”

Progressive Music in a Time of Pandemic

In the era of Napoleon, the Prussian diplomat Klemens Wenzel Furst von Metternich coined the phrase, “When France sneezes, the whole of Europe catches a cold.”  Like all good clichés, it’s been re-purposed endlessly since the 1800s.  Which leads to today’s question: when the music industry of 2020 catches COVID-19, what does the progressive music scene come down with?

In the last few weeks, the toll of the current pandemic has been steadily mounting, with the postponement or cancellation of tours by Yes, Steve Hackett, Tool and Big Big Train (plus this year’s Cruise to the Edge) at the tip of the iceberg. 

The tale of Leonardo Pavkovic, impresario of MoonJune Records and MoonJune Music (Bookings and Management) is all too grimly typical; since the outbreak of coronavirus, eight MoonJune-booked tours have been cancelled at a loss of about $250,000 to the artists, with many more tours now in jeopardy.  MoonJune artists Stick Men lost 8 of 9 concerts in Asia, plus their US spring tour; touch guitarist Markus Reuter resorted to GoFundMe in order to make up for the loss of six months’ income.

So where’s the good news?

For one thing, the plight of progressive musicians has resonated strongly with their fans. Reuter’s GoFundMe goal was met in just over a day; Pavkovic has had a newly positive response to MoonJune’s digital subscription program and discount offers. (Full disclosure: I’m a digital subscriber and I love it!)  And now Bandcamp is getting into the act:

To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales this Friday, March 20 (from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets.

So (if your situation allows it), who can you support via downloads, CDs, LPs and merch bought on Bandcamp this Friday?  Well, you could start with four fine new albums I’ve reviewed this year:

Then move on to other artists well loved on this blog:

Best of all, the music keeps on giving.  Leonardo Pavkovic is already sharing details about his next MoonJune albums: a live set from Stick Men’s only uncancelled Asian concert, plus an album of improvisational duets by Markus Reuter and pianist Gary Husband recorded during down time in Tokyo.  And jazz-rock master John McLaughlin has made his most recent album (Is That So with vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and tabla player Zakir Hussain) available as a free download.

Whither the music industry in time of pandemic?  As with everything else, it’s way too soon to tell.  But, if all of the above is any indication, progressive music — due to the indefatigable, awe-inspiring musicians who make it — will survive.

— Rick Krueger

In Concert: Jon Anderson’s State of Independence

Jon Anderson, 1000 Hands Tour — 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, Michigan, August 8, 2019.

The crowd was surprisingly sparse — was every other music fan in town at Sarah MacLachan’s orchestral show?   Regardless, Jon Anderson lit up 20 Monroe Live Thursday night.  Backed by a blazing new band from around the world — four young guns plus four experienced veterans  — Anderson shone brightly throughout an evening of the expected Yes classics, solo career tasters and highlights from his new 1000 Hands, radiating joy and nailing every high note. A former governor of Michigan used to blab on and on about “relentless positive action”; this was two hours of the real thing.

After all, it takes serious confidence to kick off a show with your single biggest hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”.   It takes even more guts to go beyond recreating past glories — as Steve Howe’s version of Yes did so effectively in the same venue a year ago — launch your best-known music off in head-snapping new directions, and keep a crowd of die-hard fans on your side throughout.  But that’s exactly what Anderson and his merry band pulled off.

Continue reading “In Concert: Jon Anderson’s State of Independence”

To Hear His Wondrous Stories: Jon Anderson in Concert

Jon-Anderson-Band

The lights are dimmed. “Ocean Song,” the opening track from Olias of Sunhillow, plays in the background as the band members (eight in total) find their positions on stage. Suddenly, the guitarist strikes the familiar opening chords of “Owner of a Lonely Heart”: the show has begun. Seconds later, a diminutive man, clad in black, glides onto the stage. His voice, tinged with that distinctive Lancashire accent, is a bit raspier now, but his vocals are nevertheless clear and melodious. Jon Anderson the performer has not changed a whole lot over the years. And he did not disappoint last night.

The Yes catalogue is both diverse and extensive, and Anderson made some excellent choices: “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was followed by a jazzier version of “Yours Is No Disgrace” (Anderson has a woodwind and horn player accompanying him on tour). Also in the setlist, sandwiched between selections from his solo albums, were “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Sweet Dreams,” and an acoustic version of “Long Distance Runaround.” I must confess that I am not too familiar with Anderson’s solo work, so I was not as engaged with the songs he chose to play from his personal catalogue, but a few did capture my attention. Before transitioning into a dynamic performance of “Starship Trooper,” Anderson played two songs that had never been performed prior to this tour: “First Born Leaders”, a song he has been working on for some time (around thirty years), and “Come Up”, a previously unreleased song from the album he just recently finished, 1000 Hands: Chapter One. This new album was actually a project begun nearly thirty years ago, but was left forgotten in a box in Anderson’s garage until 2016. Considering the heavy-hitting talent that was featured on the first chapter—Ian Anderson, Billy Cobham, and the late Chris Squire, among others—it will be interesting to see where Anderson goes next with this project.

At 74 years old, you might imagine that a chap who has been performing on stage for nearly fifty years now might be a bit burnt out. Anderson indicated last night—as he performed in front of a small audience in North Las Vegas, Nevada—that this was not the case. I could not help but smile as I watched this man, who possesses still so much joie de vivre, dance and interact with his younger band members on stage. He had a smile on his face for the entire hour and a half show, from the opening piece to the grand finale—the fan favorite “Roundabout”—during which he brought his lovely wife Jane out on stage for a brief dance. Even a cynic like myself was not immune to the contagious enthusiasm and joy present at this concert.

Keep going strong, Jon! We at Progarchy wish you only the best.

Jon-Anderson-1000-Hands-Cover

Phish, Radiohead and YES: Live Concerts in Review



With 2018 coming to a close, Spotify users can now review their music history through a feature called 2018 Wrapped. This feature, which has been around for three years now, shows users cool statistics such as one’s number of minutes listened, most streamed songs and, based on one’s top artists and bands, one’s top genre. Although I rarely use Spotify for streaming, Spotify determined that my favorite genre was rock . . . and for good reason. Three of my favorite bands– Phish, Radiohead and YES– are all typically termed as rock bands. Yet, despite their collective grouping under the genre, these bands could not be more different. While listening to these bands alone demonstrates the vast variations which exist within the rock genre, nothing proves this more than experiencing each of these bands live. This year, I set out to do just that. 

I saw YES this summer at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati. One of the most acclaimed progressive rock bands ever, YES, in their 50th anniversary tour, continued to demonstrate their greatness. Although no founding members remain in YES (note: there are now two incarnations of YES and each had their own 50th anniversary tour: YES and YES Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman–this article addresses the former), its current members, including long time guitarist Steve Howe and Alan White, continue to evoke the features which led to YES’ distinctive sound–experimentation, harmony, and avant-garde lyrics. This commitment to founding principles made up for the lack-luster lights and atmosphere and resulted in a great show. While most of YES’ music does not quite match my tastes, I still hold tremendous respect for their contributions to music and am glad that I managed to see them live.

I had waited a long time to see Radiohead and this year I finally received the opportunity. I saw them twice this summer: first at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit and second at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati. Each performance was incredible in its own way. In Detroit, Radiohead displayed its incredible versatility, playing both driving, dissonant songs such as “2+2=5,” and softer, intimate songs such as “Fake Plastic Trees.” Their performance, coupled with mesmerizing lights and the incredible atmosphere of the newly renovated arena, made for an unforgettable experience. While some set-list similarities existed in Radiohead’s Cincinnati show, overall, they played a lot of different songs and gave almost an entirely different show. Since the show did not sell out, my brother and I managed to get closer to the stage and that made it all the more memorable. The coolest moment from the Cincinnati show, however, occurred when Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien both gave me a wave before exiting the stage. Radiohead closed out both shows with one of their more widely recognized songs– “Karma Police.” Hearing a stadium full of people sing along to this song was nothing short of magical. It was a moment I hope to never forget.

I saw Phish twice at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL. Although I had seen them live before, I did not truly appreciate the awesomeness of their live sets until this year. Many people label Phish as merely a jam band. While they do jam, they always change the structure and sound of their jams, making their music extremely interesting and fun. One never knows quite what to expect from them because of their vast number of songs and the improvisations made within those songs. Their musicianship always mesmerizes me. Phish also possesses some of the nicest, loyal fans and their concerts always feature incredible light displays. Overall, Phish’s live concerts always guarantee a unique, unforgettable experience (go to one of their live concerts and you will understand what I mean). 

While 2018 gave me some incredible memories, I look forward to 2019 and the new musical adventures that await. Although I love to stream music and follow my favorite bands and artists online, nothing truly compares to the beauty of live concerts. Music, after all, surpasses the boundaries of sound. It represents a spectrum of emotions and these emotions are best shared with other people.

Bryan’s Best of 2018

Earlier this year, I questioned whether or not 2018 was going to be a poor year for prog. It seemed like the the progressive rock community took a few months to stop and take a collective breath… but that was only the breath before the plunge. The second half of the year saw many excellent new releases. The following are some of my favorites from 2018, in no particular order (my top two at the bottom of this list are tied for first place).

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2018”

Live music prog extravaganza tonight at Vancouver’s Space Centre!

44305581_301424893783976_1512316207498264576_oDaniel James’ Brass Camel honours progressive rock legends tonight, underneath the unreal visuals of the HR MacMillan Space Centre’s 360 degree Star Theatre: Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, Rush, and more!

Video from the rehearsals is viewable here and here.

Buy tickets here.

Get the DJBC band’s new album here and also on iTunes.