Friday, 31 May 2013

Concerto grosso (New Trolls, 1971)

One of the most successful classical-rock contaminations in prog history was undoubtedly this 4 movement and 16 minute suite by New Trolls. Please note this is also known as Concerto Grosso N. 1, because New Trolls got back to this title in 1976 (Concerto Grosso n. 2). More recently. with the band split in two different groups, they resumed the idea twice, with Concerto Grosso - The Seven Seasons (2007) and Concerto Grosso n. 3 (2013) not to mention a Concerto Grosso Trilogy Live (2007).  To be honest, this first Concerto Grosso is a two fathers' son, being the group and composer-director Luis Enriquez Bacalov equally involved in the project. The baroque atmosphere and orchestration is naturally completed by the band's rock instruments and vocal harmonies and this is the main reason of its huge success.

The original cover.

Every movement (or tempo) has got its own temper, so that the listener goes through the Allegro effervescence, the Adagio sweetness, the Cadenza - Andante con moto springy tunes, finally, the Shadows abandon and experimentations. This last movement, dedicated to the memory of Jimi Hendrix, is perhaps the most interesting passage of the suite, with all its early '70s flavours. I like the whole lot, every moment of it, every change, every musical stunt in it. Being a real masterpiece (Ok, IMHO...) it is surprisingly mild and friendly, like all the good ol' things are.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

One of A Group (Cressida, 1970)

When I hear someone saying it's impossible to write and perform a prog song lasting less than five or six minutes I immediatly think of this excellent song by Cressida, a group that only released two albums and never got the attention they deserved. In 3'38" this proto-prog fivesome did and gave everything: a catchy melody including verse and chorus, two different instrumental passages, a guitar solo, a piano solo, a hammond organ intro, a very good vocal performance and all the inspiration sources you need, from classical to jazz music.

Cressida: just another obscure and long forgotten band?

To say the truth, all the first Cressida album is a treat, but if I had to suggest one single song from it as a taster, well, I'd say "One of A Group". This is not only for the above listed reasons, but especially for another capital point: that is invention. Yes, there is invention in this song, a creative strenght I rarely observed elsewhere, an optimism that perfectly represents the beginning of an era.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Xanadu (Rush, 1977)

This formidable 11 minute track is from "A Farewell to Kings", released by Rush in 1977. It desplays all you're expecting in a Rush song: power, sudden tempo changes, lush guitars, beating bass, plenty of percussions. I could roughly divide "Xanadu" in three parts, the first one being a 5 minute instrumental section - almost a track by itself - in which all the main riffs and themes are presented or sketched and many changes occur in tempo, instrumentation and mood. You'll find here atmospheric moments and also epic tunes, acoustic sounds along with electronic experimentations: this song introduced synths in Rush music, anticipating the band's further evolution.
One of the best Rush albums...
 ...and one of their strangest covers.
Then the sung segment comes in, with a very passionate Geddy Lee's performance, also graced by short and effective epic walls of sound. The last part begins with a long and beautiful electric guitar solo and ends up with a weird, slow tempo finale. I won't forget the lyrics - written by Neil Peart - inspired by Coleridge's opium influenced poem Kubla Khan, describing Xanadu, the summer palace of the famous Mongol king Kublai Khan. The band try to depict in words and music this fanciful place, in the wake of Romantic era symphonic poems, an attempt that will return in their following records. There's a bit of everything in this track, but even so you'll find an inner coherence and an original sound in it... in short, you'll find Rush in it. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Pilgrims (Van Der Graaf Generator, 1976)

Van Der Graaf Generator's songs are hardly appreciated the first time you listen to them, but this song - the opening track of "Still Life" - immediately stroke me. Peter Hammill offers here a stunning performance, varying his voice's tone, volume and mood many times and perfectly melting his cries and whisperings with Hugh Banton's organ.

VDGG in a mid '70s photo.

Those two "instruments" (as we can really consider Peter's voice an additional instrument) keep going on up and down the scale, alternating soft verses and epic choruses. Of course, Guy Evans emphasizes all that with an increasing waterfull of drums and cymbals.  So, when David Jackson's sax replaces Peter's vocals, the songs is ready for its majestic finale. Even the lyrics are more optimistic than usual for VDGG, including weird notions like hope, future, awakening and union. An unforgettable end exciting experience... oh, yes, I forgot to add this: IMHO.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Jerusalem (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1973)

How many grandiose and technically awesome tracks ELP created in their career! How maany suites and rapsodies, revisited classical compositions, stunning experiments... but when it comes to choose just one song from their vast repertoire for my own pleasure, I can't help picking up this short and fascinating one, the opening track of "Brain Salad Surgery" album.

The iconic cover art for "Brain Salad Surgery".

Why is that? I think it's because there's a mysterious aurea in it, partly due to Keith Emerson's organ, partly to the lyrics, a William Blake's poem originally called "And did those feet in ancient time", partly to the music, a baroque hymn written by the victorian composer Hubert Parry. But there's something more, of course. The trio transformed this hymn without betraying its soul: they added a special strength and a martial pace, a devilish atmosphere, that's somewhat in tune with Blake's poem. Simply perfect, IMHO.

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Evening Wind (Satellite, 2003)

Some years ago a friend of mine, a classic prog fan, asked me about neo-progressive; he had just heard some Marillion and wanted to know more. I submitted this song to his attention and he was positively surprised. Satellite is a Polish band founded by members of split up Collage (there's somenting about them too in this blog), especially by drummer Wojtek Szadkowski, who also signs most of the new band's songs. Their music is exactly what neo-prog is or should be: lighter than pure synphonic rock but never trivial, never too easy or poppish. "The Evening Wind" opens the first album by Satellite, called "A Street Between Sunrise And Sunset" - wow, the title itself is a challenging one! - and is a 12 minutes well written and well performed track, obviously IMHO.

You can't be wrong: this is a Mark Wilkinson's art...

The vocal themes are pleasant and rather fast tempo, keyboards provide some anthemic riffs, often duelling with guitars, while the rythm section always sustains and diversifies the track pace. Some changes from fast to low tempo are very good and remind me of best IQ's songs, with a stronger accent on airy melodies. In addiction to this, there are intriguing lyrics about the difficult transitions from sorrow to hope we all experience sooner or later. This song is like a riviving whipping of chilly breeze, the Evening wind we sometimes welcome as an old friend at the end of the day.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Prisoner (Eight by Ten) (Spring, 1971)

One of the bastions of early prog, Spring certainly were. Their only and self-titled album released in 1971 opens with this Majestic song, full of strong sensations and different inspirations. The vocal theme is rather r'n'b oriented, but the arrangements and the instruments involved are fully progressive, with that warm vibration so typical of the late '60s.

This was the Spring of prog...

Keyboards play a very important role in giving a profound and sometimes rough taste to the track, also graced by a splendid vocal performance by Pat Moran, owner of a deep and sensible voice. Some instrumental interludes enrich the song but never break its coherence. And above all, every time I listen to this track I breathe the sweet smell of progressive rock birth.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Song within A Song (Camel, 1976)

I think this song represents the quintessential Camel's sound. All their typical elements are there: slow and melancholic melodies, dreaming guitar solos, wind instruments and keyboards at their best, fair tempo changes, vocal harmonies (some don't like them, I know...). All, as I said, and something more: I like here very much Andy Ward's drums: his creative patterns and his work on cymbals give to this song a crisp and lively soul. And what about the finale? Some say Camel often fail teir closing sections, I don't know that, but they certainly don't here: a little pleasant jig and some effective key arabesques perfectly carry out the task.

The cover and the music within really are as one.

The lyrics are about going to sleep and dream and leaving off the world and its problems. They're not precisely a literary masterpiece, but they fit in the song very well. If you like - as I do - the soft side of prog and dislike trivial songs, this is for you.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Visan i sommaren (Kaipa, 1978)

A very short song, maybe not among the most famous ones from Kaipa, but a perfect example of the fusion between progressive atmospheres and nordic folk elements this Swedish band perfectly knew (and sometimes still knows today). It's an aerial ballad made of wind and water, woods and ground. Don't expect here the intricate plots you'll easily find in so many other Kaipa's songs; just enjoy the calm and unswerving melody, the gentle touch of a guitar on the splendid but plain keys work. 

Kaipa in 1978. Roine Stolt was 22... far before the Flower Kings days.

The lyrics (in Swedish) perfectly fit in the music, giving an ecstatic description of an early summer sunset and as song's title means "Summer's ballad", we needn't go into further details. If I decided to present  today this song instead of all the "perfectly prog" songs I also like in the "Solo" album it's because it's made of the stuff the dreams are made of. And it lasts the time the dreams last.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Halloween part I (Pulsar, 1977)

If you like dark and mysterious tracks, with a sad atmosphere and lots of 12 string guitars and keys, this is your track! I adore the slow, foggy, lunar sound of this suite from the French band Pulsar, leading me through a ghostly land, where childhood and evil walk side by side. This first part of "Halloween" includes four movements: "Halloween Song", "Tired Answers", "Colours of Childhood" and "Sorrow in My Dreams", being the first two instrumental tracks and the first one an adaptation of the Irish traditional "Londonderry Air". The child's spoken intro is also fascinating. The background sound is provided by Jacques Roman's keyboards (mostly synths and mellotron), but other acoustic instruments enrich the suite and draw its special, somber flavour: vibes, timbal, flute, piano, cello, violin, clarinet and so on.

Doesn't this cover say it all?

The lyrics (in English) add some more nostalgy and fear, suggesting bloody secrets hidden under the purity of childhood. So, you have idyllic scenes lake this one:

Gentle dreams in fading blue
Summer dusk in golden green
Feeling turned to season hues.

And such disturbing pictures:
Rumbling waters underneath
Gleamed with many dizzy whirls my head spins
Bulging eyes staring at me
Chilled my spine, their spell holds me tight.
This composition requires a taste for classical inspired prog, but believe me when I say that it touches me each time I listen to it. 

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Canto nomade per un prigioniero politico (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, 1973)

If I had to suggest one word to describe this BMS' track, this would be refinement. All is carefully planned, arranged and set up in a stunning 15 minute suite. In spite of all this accuracy, the Canto is a touching song, an emotional journey guided by Francesco Di Giacomo's sensitive vocals. There's an extraordinary range of sensations and musical genres (classical, jazzy, melodic...) and an intricate plot involving all instruments, especially keyboards, of course, with an original use of synths. Last but not least, there are beutiful melodies, among which the wonderful main theme. 

A rural photograph of BMS.

But this song is more than just Nocenzi brothers' Keys and Di Giacomo's voice: Marcello Todaro's guitars are everywhere, sometimes gently hidden in the background and sometimes out on the foreground, while Pier Luigi Calderoni provides ever changing and often unusual percussions. I can't skip some words about the beutiful Italian lyrics, a political prisoner's chant full of nostalgy and proud, but also a song against war and injustice. After all, the album was titled "Io sono nato libero", meaning I was born free, a plain manifesto. Well, did I justify my opening word refinement? I hope so.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The Space (Marillion, 1989)

This is the last track on the first Hogarth's era Marillion album. And it's one of the nicest tracks from this band, so full of tension and vibrations. H sings it eagerly and all the melody's parts are beautiful: a stretched verse, then a strong bridge, finally what seems to be the bombastic chorus.  But, wait a moment, what a surprise: after an atmospheric instrumental passage, here comes the real chorus, sung with a shrill, piercing voice.

Season End came with a cover by Bill Smith Studio.

I highly recommend the live versions of the song, where this surprising finale is further expanded and enriched. Hogarth himself often explained the lyrics of this song are about indifference and incommunicability of human experiences, something he wondered about seeing a tram in Amsterdam crushing a car without even noticing what was happening. Maybe we're all like that tram, going on our way and unable to realise the surrounding world and lives and when we see all that, when we get through our ego, we are overwhelmed by a frightening sense of wonder. I like this song and I can't help shivering each time I listen to it.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Fisherman (RPWL, 2012)

I better like to wait some time after a new release to definitely decide a song is worth of a presentation in my blog. This case is differente, because I immediatly liked all the album "Beyond Man And Time" by the German band RPWL and especially this delicious 16 minute track. It'a rather short suite in three movements, being the first and the third the same song and theme and the second a long and fascinating mostly instrumental down tempo. Never mind the Pink Floyd or Porcupine Tree smell... it smells so good I don't care where this perfume is coming from.

Thank you for the music, RPWL.

Actually, this track has some magic inside, as I think you need it in order to mix some classical and genuine prog rock with a perfectly up to date electronic music without giving birth to a Frankenstein's creature. RPWL succeed in this task thanks to a suspended atmosphere and a very careful musical architecture. In both music and lyrics I feel an inner sea and its depths, a desperate search for love and self-consciousness. If this seems too much for a song, I'm happy to inform you that all this track is an example of measure and good taste. A miracle? Maybe.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Brother of Mine (Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, 1989)

The short adventure of ABWH in the world of prog produced one wonderful album including many good songs. "Brother of Mine", for example, is a 10 minute mini-suite in three movements full of good music, rigorous performances and a lot of fantasy. The reduced duration of each movement not only doesn't harm the artistic merits of the track, but even magnifies the splendid harmonies, the enthralling solos and the very good themes by the foursome.

Roger Dean's art for ABWH.

Basically, this is a yes song, but lighter and brighter; it's an intricate plot, but without any presumption, open to the listener. Jon Anderson sings with a special delight his own lyrics about universal friendship and spiritualism and also the musicians seem to enjoy their job very much, so that a positive atmosphere emanates from the track. Chris Squire, the owner of the trademark "Yes" is not there, but I daresay Tony Levin isn't exactly beginner...

Monday, 13 May 2013

Zarathustra (Museo Rosenbach, 1973)

One of the most ambitious and successful suites in the Italian Prog scene, "Zarathustra", the 20 minute title-track of a legendary album released in 1973, is divided into five movements and is worth more than one careful listening. The first virtue of this song is its rich flavour, coming from many inspiration sources, all perfectly melted in an original, misty and somewhat dark style. Harder and softer moments set up a carefully built and variously structured composition, supporting complex lyrics based on Nietszche's masterpiece "Thus Spoke Zarathustra".

This is the cover art of "Zarathustra".
A controversial one back in the 70s.

If the architecture of this song shows classical influences and melodies play an important part in it, you'll find more up-tempo passages than usual in other Italian prog suites and also a greater fluidity, so that each change comes as a surprise. All the members of the band are Worth of a special mention, but I'd like to point out Giancarlo Golzi's emphatic and original drums. Unfortunately, this masterpiece belongs to the sole band's album. A short career that leaved a big trace.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Envy (Magenta, 2004)

"Seven" was and still is my favourite album by Magenta. Rob Reed, Christina and friends don't conceal their aim is to make some more music in the wake of their prog masters, the likes of Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd and so on. Nonetheless, they have their own style, like in this beautiful song. This style is based on Christina's pure voice, but also in some celtic musical elements and in the spiritual vein of Steve Reed's lyrics.

"Seven" dark cover art.

"Envy" is part of a concept album exploring the seven deadly sins; really it is a well structured down-tempo and keyboards driven song, that Christina sings extremely well with her priestess-like voice. Some Genesis quotes are perfectly mixed with an airy atmosphere, somewhere in the middle between Pink Floyd and Clannad. The band became very popular after this CD. I do think they deserved this.  

Saturday, 11 May 2013

In A Glass House (Gentle Giant, 1973)

The title track of the Giant’s fifth album is one of the best is one of the richest and most intriguing prog tracks I've ever heard. All the album is a very ambitious one, but this song is an evergreen favourite. Played with basically acoustic intruments, not only this 8 minute song displays an astonishing variety of instruments, many complex plots and beautiful choral arrangements, but it's an astonishing exemple of what progressive rock is.

Gentle Giant's line-up for "In A Glass House".

All genres melt here: prog, classical, jazz, baroque and plain rock follow one another in such a natural way one understands musical genres are but a make-believe and this is another little miracle by the Giant. Some passages (especially the violin ones) are simply perfect and even if Kenny Mennear's voice isn't up to Phil Shuman's, this intricate fast tempo song really is one of the most acclaimed standards of the band. What else should a poor prog fan ask for?

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Narrow Margin (IQ, 1997)

Here's the ending suite of IQ's double CD "Subterranea", released in 1997 and followed by a world tour almost entirely dedicated to the live performance of this concept album. It's a 20 minute track written and performed according to the most traditional prog rock standards. Is this a good reason to ignore it? Well, my friends, please let's sit down and talk it over. "The Narrow Margin" is full of musical ideas, well written melodies, creative rythms, amazing changes, good energy, intricate but pleasant plots, and - last but not least - passionate vocals.

A movie is being released based on "Subterranea".

Also the lyrics are very interesting and even touching, being this track the conclusion of a story about the abused victim of a cruel behavioural experiment. The leading character reveals here all his inner conflicts and takes a tough decision. So, if this track didn't change rock'n'roll history, we're not authorised by this to underrate a real musical gem as many so called critics do just to cling to more fashionable ways. Music can be good or bad, and this is true for neo-prog as for every other musical genre. This song is good IMHO. Very good (IMHO again). Listen to it without prejudice and let me know.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Waiting Phase One (Porcupine Tree, 1996)

I admit I love Porcupine Tree's ballads, slow and acoustically driven, airy and dreamy. This one, in particular, taken from the album "Signify", is perfect in his genre, featuring a well found theme, an electric background supporting the guitar chords and a delicious electric guitar solo. As usual, the vocal performance is soft and almost careless, so moderate one could imagine the singer is just rehearsing a new tune.

Porcupine Tree circa "Signify" album era.

But this is the secret of Steven Wilson and his group: never show up, never emphasize... music is a matter of measure and shade. It's up to the listener to find the secret garden, the inner emotional world that probably lies somewhere behind each Porcupine Tree's song and certainly behind this one. So, I wish you a good hunting.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

In The Cage (Genesis, 1974)

Even if the album "The Lamb Lies down on Broadway" is considered ba many critics and fans as an indissoluble unit, the famous white elephant, I always liked its songs and listened to them separately. Maybe my favourite one is "In The Cage", a stunning prog song with a lot of strong points. One could mention Peter Gabriel's passionate vocals or Tony Bank's keyboards solo, but this is a "gold era" Genesis song, so there's a value added i.e. the perfect combination of five talents in one consistent product.

Peter Gabriel as Rael in "The Lamb" Tour.

Listening to this track I certainly appreciate this or that idea, this or that passage, but I mostly get emotions, strong and genuine emotions. No matter how strange and puzzling the story of Rael is, I actually sense his fear, his pain, his cries for help. I see those rocks approaching while Mike gives more volume to his bass line, I feel them pressing my own body as Phil and Steve get sharper and I can't breathe when Tony accelerates the tempo and Peter sings his stomach out. If emotion is not the only reason to love music, well, IMHO it's one of the best.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Songs from The Wood (Jethro Tull, 1977)

This is a wonderful song from a well balanced  and solid album. Showing the folkier side of Ian Anderson's band, this title track is also strongly prog-oriented for its complex structure and the outstanding richness of instruments involved. Apart from the usual flute performance, Anderson creates in this track convincing vocal harmonies, partly inspired by the English popular tradition and with a fantasy flavour. The main theme of the song is catchy, but the variations are so elaborate and diverified that the listener's attention is steadily aroused.

Let's join Ian Anderson's wildlife experience!  
The lyrics flow in the pastoral and ecological strand, but with that pinch of humour Anderson likes so much. A medieval touch not far from Sir Walter Scott's style - maybe provided also by the talents of David Palmer - finishes this very good work. What else? I'll just quote the song: Songs from the wood make you feel much better. They really do.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Gates of Delirium (Yes, 1974)

Maybe because of so many masterpieces in their discography, or maybe because of the mixed feelings the previous double album had inspired, the LP "Relayer" has been too soon underrated by both reviewers and fans. But recently many prog sites revised their opinion and this is specially true for "The Gates of Delirium". It's a 22 minute suite somewhat reminiscent of "Close to the Edge", but also very different in mood. Patrick Moraz, the new keyboards man, was less known than Rick Wakeman and somewhat unrelated to the English progressive world, but his touch made the Whole atmosphere lighter, and also the rest of the band adopted a "chamber music"tone, in which classicism is replaced by a Pre-Raphaelite approach.

Another wonderful cover signed by Roger Dean.

 As usual, we appreciate the awesome skills of the band members (Steve Howe, in particular, really shines here) and a special mention goes to Jon Anderson's terrific performance in the "Soon" section, also released as a 7" single. Last but not least, the lyrics. Loosely based on Tolstoy's  novel War And Peace, they heavily influence the music, so that the suite movements are more or less up-tempo following the depiction of the battles and their mournful aftermath. That's why the "Soon" section can be read as a payer for peace. And what a peace it is...

Friday, 3 May 2013

High Hopes (Pink Floyd, 1994)

I can read your minds: "How comes you present this track with all the PF's masterpieces to write about?" Well, I'm sorry but it happens I like this song very much, I think it's one of the best in Gilmour/Mason's era of the band, an atmospheric, intense, touching piece of art, IMHO. First of all, the music is perfecty Pink Floyd-esque, a rarefied ballad gliding on Rick Wright's keyboards and leading to a long, beautiful guitar solo.

High Hopes was also released as a single b/w "Keep Talking".

And then, the nostalgic lyrics dealing with the end of Youth and its belonging to a peer group perfectly fit in the slow and airy Gilmour's music. One could regret Roger Water's creativity on "The Division Bell" album, but songs like this one remind us how good Gilmour is in writing and performing - with his two old friends - unforgettable tracks, that's why so many of us are waiting for more. Unfortunately, Rick Wright will never come back, claimed by the bell.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Florian (Le Orme, 1979)

When Le Orme released the album "Florian", icluding this instrumental title track, their fandom had mixed feelings. A Whole LP performed only with acoustic (and classical) instruments proved to be a challenging experience for both the band and the listeners. Those who survived (I was one of them), however, were fascinated by those gentle and out of time sounds and found out this was exactly the usual Le Orme's music but with a somewhat different approach. "Florian" - titled from a famous Venitian coffee house - was by far my favourite song.

A sensitive cover art for this delightful album.

I specially appreciate there the sensitive weavings involving such instruments as violin, xylophone, piano, double bass or mandola. All is vague and lovely like in an ancient watercolor landscape. The band subsequently abandoned this style and many are those who didn't regret this "chamber music" era. I still love it. Maybe I'm definitely getting old...

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Since We've Been Wrong (The Mars Volta, 2009)

This eclectic and creative American band were (and still are, even after teir official parting in 2013... but who knows?) one of the most important names in the new century prog generation. Open minded, they tried all the available musical ways, but in this 7 minute song, the opening track from their 2009 album "Octahedron", their prog roots prevail all the rest.

A promo advertising for "Octahedron".

After a long, almost silent introduction provided by a single keyboards note and vaguely reminiscent of Pink Floyd, a gentle and airy ballad flows away, growing richer in arrangements and more and more intense before our very ears. Finally, as in a circle, the intro comes back as outro. I like the King Crimson-esque uncertainty of the song and the very modern sound, melting acoustic and electric instruments with the carefulness that's become the trademark of The Mars Volta. Will they come back? I hope so.