Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Gates Of Delerium

Over the years the one form of music I have probably listened to more than any other is prog rock. Even during The Punk Wars, when I had a heavy Clash/NME/John Peel fixation, I would occasionally, under cover of darkness, and when no-one was looking (or listening), play the odd Yes or Genesis album, heaven forfend!

I've recently been listening to Procol Harum and it occured to me who were the bands that sowed the seeds of prog without being or becoming prog themselves?

Prog in my opinion is the merging of three or more styles to create something entirely different. I put the case that the first fully formed prog band, emerging out of seemingly nowhere were Van Der Graaf Generator, releasing their strangely strange but oddly normal debut Aerosol Grey Machine in January 1969. For some obscure licensing reason this LP was not released in this country, so the mantle of the first UK prog band to release an album in this country falls to King Crimson, who with their amazing October 1969 debut put an early definition on the genre.

So here's my guesses, in no particular order. You will notice that there are no American bands in this list, as imo, the Yanks never really "did" prog did they? He asks, waiting to be shot down in flames.....Ok, you've got Iron Butterfly, who are the closest I can think of, but they were basically bludgeon riffola morphed into acid rock. I mean "In A Gadda Da Vida" although 20 minutes long is hardly prog is it? Butterfly Bleu (which I love by the way) from their 1970 album Metamorphosis is as close as they got. But that's after my 1969 deadline.

Procol Harum
With their 1968 sophomore effort Shine On Brightly introduced the world to the 20 minute song cycle, "In Held 'Twas In I". With Keith Reid's verbose but interesting lyrics and Gary Brooker's R&B meets classical inspired tune smithing, along with Robin Trowers' acidic guitar breaks here is the first true proto-prog epic. Believed to have insprired the writing of Tommy and other rock operas.

The Moody Blues
Days Of Future Passed (1967) & In Search Of The Lost Chord (1968) both qualify as proto-prog efforts, the former being the first group/orchestra collaboration. It's probably only the pop leanings of Hayward & Lodge that stopped this band turning into a veritable prog monster. This band also discovered the early prog instrument of choice, the mellotron, hiding in a bush in Aston, Birmingham. They took it home, fed it, and the rest is history!

The Pretty Things
1968's S.F. Sorrow is credited as being the first concept album, and were it not for record company cock ups would have been released a year earlier, and given the right promotion could have given the ubiquitous Sgt Pepper a run for its money. If you've not heard this you should search it out. An underrated masterpiece imo.

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
Their one self titled LP (1968) contained the keyboards of Vincent Crane (later of Atomic Rooster, and, briefly, Dexy's Midnight Runners would you believe!), the man who wrote Fire. The LP is full of weird effects and strange time changes. Great stuff. The booming baritone of Mr Brown went on to grace Kingdom Come who released three prog classics in the early 70s. Well worth checking out.

The Nice
Ars Longa Vita Brevis (1968) moves on from their psych beginnings and gives us a template for prog based on corrupted classical music. Responsible for unleashing the "waste of talent and electricity" (John Peel) that was ELP on the world. Never a truer word said.

Mentioned in dispatches:
The Zombies - Odyssey & Oracle (1968). Pop-psych masterpiece from the band that morphed into mid table proggers Argent.
Ian Carr's Nucleus - although not releasing an album until 1970, thus falling short of my 1969 cut off, deserve a mention for having most of the UK jazz-prog alumni passing through its ranks at one time or another.
The Edgar Broughton Band - Wasa Wasa (1969). more psych blues than prog, gave birth to free form wig outs later popular at the more jamming based end of the prog spectrum (Man, Hawkwind, Gong etc)

No doubt there are omissions here, feel free to add any you can think of....

PS - But worrabout Pink Floyd you may ask? Well, I reckon they invented space rock, a different kettle of fish from prog rock. Look no further than Interstellar Overdrive & Saucerful Of Secrets. I mean, you wouldn't call Hawkwind prog would you? Ok, I'll admit that some of the second disc of Ummagumma and the track Atom Heart Mother  are probably prog, but Floyd then turned into what we now call classic rock. Dark Side Of The Moon altho' obviously a brilliant album has very little that's prog about it. The only track in a time signature that may be classed as unusual is Money, the instrumentation is by and large conventional. I'm not knocking it, I love the album, just don't think it fits in with my definition of prog. I'm probably in a minority of one, but who cares!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

My Brother The Wind - Twilight In The Crystal Cabinet

This 6 track album was recorded on analogue tape over the course of 2 hours of improvised jamming by Nicklas Barker, the guitarist from the mighty Anekdoten, along with Mathias Danielson (Makajodama) - Guitar, and Ronny Eriksson - Bass, Tomas Eriksson - Drums.

Some of it reminds me of Man at their most spaced out, 70s Hawkwind, Amon Duul 2, T2 and Bevis Frond also come to mind as does King Crimson (on the aptly titled Precious Sanity). The title track is a gossamer thin wafer of music - a thing of almost ethereal beauty. Shame it's the shortest track on the album.

The final track Death And Beyond takes off into the outer limits with some mighty fine soloing. A really nice piece of wigged out space rock for the freaks.

2010 is turning out to be a good year for improvised space rock what with this and the 30 minute plus epic by Frogg Cafe "At The Table Of The Leptons" on the download album On The Lillypadd. Buy both, turn out the lights and trip off into the far reaches of the universe!

3.5 out of 5

Unfortunately unavailable on

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Frogg Cafe - Bateless Edge

From the state of New York come the marvellously diverse Frogg Cafe. Formerly a Zappa cover band, they released their eponymous debut in 2002. Bateless Edge released last month is their 4th studio album proper, and easily their most ambitious effort to date. Here's the line up for this album:

- Bill Ayasse / violin, viola, mandolin, hand percussion, vocals
- Frank Camiola / electric guitar, banjo, string bass
- James Guarnieri / drums, glockenspiel, orchestral percussion
- John Lieto / trombone and bass trombone
- Nick Lieto / lead vocals, piano, keyboards, trumpet, flugelhorn
- Andrew Sussman / electric bass, cello, acoustic guitar

Guest musicians

- Sharon Ayasse / flute (3, 4, 5, 6, 8)
- Dennis Lippe / electric guitar (1, 7)
- Dee Harris / indian slide guitar, tambora (1)
- Nitim Mohan / tabla (1)
- Vessela Stoyanova / marimba (1, 4, 5, 6)
- Michael Kollmer / marimba, xylophone (3, 8)
- Jon Preddice / cello (3, 8)
- Steven Sussman / clarinet, bass clarinet (4, 5, 6, 8)
- Steve Kastikas / keyboards (4)
- Mike Kauffman / alto and tenor saxophones (8)

You may expect from that that a complex sound will evolve, and you would not be disappointed! 
The album consists of eight tracks spanning 77 minutes, so there are no off the cuff pop tunes here matey! The highly personal lyrical themes touch on child adoption and the 9/11 tragedy, the latter is also apparent from the artwork. This is done sensitively where it could so easily have been seen as mawkish to those of us detached by thousands of miles, not to mention our countrymen regularly returning home in boxes from Afghanistan as a consequence - anyhow, that's not a debate for these pages.
The first track Terra Sancta deals directly with 9/11 and is lyrically very moving. Musically it's a great piece of orchestral ensemble playing, which at times in the main theme if comparisons have to be made reminds me of Kashmir, in that it carries a similar sense of foreboding. There's a great guitar break about 8 minutes in backed by scat piano, the main theme returning at the end but in a more optimistic vein. A great arrangement and an awesome start to the album.

Following this is an instrumental Move Over I'm Driving, which after the intense first track calms things down a little. there appear to be no added musicians on this track, but the group themselves give another fine show of ensemble playing. Some nice time signature shifts and arpeggio violin work flows smoothly into subtle jazz guitar noodling and trumpet blowin'and is a fine piece of work. There sure are some highly competent musos in this band....

Next up is Pasta Fazeuhl. Fans will know that a lot of the band's more improvised work ends up being named after types of pasta, and this one invents a new Teutonic strain. Get your local Italian restaurant to patent it lads! This one apparently started life way back in 2003 after seeing Magma play live and is described as "not in the style of Magma....(but) in the spirit (of).." The band stamp their own jazz-classical style on this "tribute", if that's the right word. Less angular than Magma, who I have always struggled with to be honest, this excursion into weirdness has a touch of Sun Ra in there somewhere too, which is no bad thing. Around 5 minutes in the cacophony halts abruptly, and a cyclical bass riff is slowly built on by violin, guitar, drums and gradually builds into a very strange sometimes almost Crimsoid section, in who knows what time signature! Weird but good.
On first hearing I found this one hard work, but repeated listens have made me appreciate just what great players FC are.

Now we have the centre piece of the album - Under Wuhu Sun - a 20 minute epic split into 3 parts. Another highly personal lyric from Andrew Sussman based on "Wuhu Diary: On Taking My Daughter Back To Her Home Town In China" by Emily Prager, and on his own family's experiences in their trials and tribulations adopting their daughter from China.
Starting with a slow theme, the sad emotive song of the first part is followed by a nice guitar break that lifts the mood while still remaining introspective. The instrumental second part opens with a chugging riff, followed by a slower quieter but still intricate piece of ensemble playing and forms a bridge to the concluding third part. The opening of the final section is the most Zappaesque instrumentally, but still retains the by now recognisable Frogg Cafe style. A nice clarinet followed by trombone (I think) solo comes in at around the 3 minute mark leading to a nice bubblingly fluid guitar noodle - mmmmm, nice!
I've only had the opportunity to listen to this track a few times but it's already in danger of becoming my favourite piece by the band.

Following this is From The Fence, the only track with lyrics not by Andrew Sussman. This time writing duties are taken by Nick Leito, and they are more ambiguous than his band mate's. The song could be interpreted in a number of ways, suffice to say the protagonist seems to be unable to make up his mind which way to turn. Whether personally, politically, emotionally I can't say, I'll leave that up to you. This is also the straightest "song" on the album, not that it suffers in any way for it. Quite uplifting, it must be in a major key (don't hold me to that)!

The final track Belgian Boogie Board was originally written for 2 clarinets and 2 electric basses and has now had all manner of extraneous instrumentation added and fair belts along with joyous mischief for its 10 minutes.

All in all this is a highly ambitious work and is deserving of far more attention than it will inevitably receive. How on earth the band find time to write the songs and complex orchestral arrangements, and oversee the recording in tandem with their day jobs and the usual stuff of daily life, families etc, is beyond me. If their was any justice they should be able to at least make a living from this astounding music.

Amazingly unavailable on!!!/group.php?gid=121351975299&ref=ts
A very rare 5 out of 5 ********************************

2019, the insanity grows...

Odd title for an annual music review, but them's the times. With these words I aim to provide you with an escape from the creeping madne...