Here we have four diverse releases that find themselves sheltering under the umbrella known as 'prog'.
As if to prove the size of that term, we have the classic prog influenced styling of the highly impressive Presto Ballet, the meshing of a myriad of ideas with Evolve IV, the latest in the exciting prog journey for Jack Foster III, and a tribute album given a new breath of life, Rewiring Genesis.
Therefore there is much here to offer fans of prog in its many guises.
Evolve IV – Decadent Light (ProgRock Records, 2008)
Formed by two prog rock muso’s from either side of the Atlantic, Evolve IV delve deeply into a more modern progressive source of inspiration, and mesh it together with a wide range of diverse influences.
There are some prog moments for sure and the band builds on such a background but there is more, a whole lot more. Sure they list classic bands such as Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis but they place them alongside the diverse likes of The Grateful Dead, The Beatles, Radiohead, Killers, and even Coldplay.
Evolve IV consist of founder members guitarist and keyboard player Peter Matuchniak (Mach One) from the UK and American Michael Eager (Vitamin Funk, Mind Expansion) on vocals and guitar. Bass is added by Jim DeBaun, and drummer Paul Sheriff completes the line-up.
Decadent Light touches upon all of the above influences whilst creating some highly satisfying freshness along the way. Inventive, imaginative, and intriguing, Evolve IV have done what the band name says and developed a style brimming with chemistry.
The melodic opener “Number 16” is instantly engaging; constantly shifting, it succeeds in locking you in. “War” sits nicely behind this impressive opener. It has a familiar acoustic opening blending smooth vocals, and an Argus era Wishbone Ash guitar styling.
“Listen Up” sees the band go a little deeper into their influences, oddly Van Der Graaf sax amid shades of some elements of classic jazz prog, it blends together to form a fascinating track. There is a vague nod to the Grateful Dead, American Beauty era, on “Judgement Day”. “Rolling Along” is a mesh of it all, Floyd, Wishbone Ash, amid Evolve IV’s own character lead to another engaging listen.
“Saturday’s Gone” takes it a step further with a nicely paced track, leading to a standalone “Must Have Been The Future”. The Dead re-appear this time in Workingman’s Dead guise on “Baby Come Back”. “Voyager” takes us in an entirely different direction with some impressively controlled guitar in an interlude of an instrumental.
“Write” opens out with a confidence that summarises the album, and a jazzy sax soaked “Goodbye” appropriately closes it. It’s an interesting mix of mixes, that works by keeping you locked in whilst never really establishing a distinctive style of its own.
Well worth exploring if any of the above appeals to your curiosity. You won’t be disappointed by the musicianship and some of the originality. If however you are looking for sprawling grandiose prog epics this won’t hit the button for you. Personally, I liked the album and loved the occasional Deadhead nodding.
Visit the band at their official website.
Jack Foster III – Jazzraptor’s Secret (ProgRock Records, 2008)
Jack Foster III knows a thing or two about music composition. He graduated with a degree with honours in the subject. In 2004 he joined forces with Trent Gardner (Magna Carta, Magellan), and Robert Berry (3, GTR, Alliance), and released The Evolution Of Jazzraptor.
The following year came Raptorgnosis, and then Tame Until Hungry in 2007. The fourth, Jazzraptor’s Secret, continues their musical journey along neo-progressive, symphonic, acoustic, and jazz styling whilst tackling the big issues of war, spirituality, marriage, and politics.
These often difficult and controversial subjects are all covered on the album with a genuine sense of respect and honesty. Musically it is an album with plenty of sublime moments of musical magic, sophisticated writing, top quality musicianship, and trademark technical class.
Opening with the brief but intriguing intro of the title track, it moves quickly into “The Corner”. It is cleverly written moving through some powerful guitar chords that slowly fall away to reveal an acoustic track with rich, smooth vocals, amid meaningful lyrics. There is an intricacy to the album that maintains a fascination for the listener throughout.
Quality really begins to kick in with the gentle love song that is “To Have And To Hold”. The constantly shifting “Outbreak Monkey” clocks in at over six minutes in a highly satisfying fusion of styles. The album weaves its magic through this type of texturing, which is most definitely continued through the nicely paced “Dreaming Not Sleeping”.
The epic nine minute trip through “Mandelbrot World” opens with gorgeous keys, and gentle acoustic guitar. Huge in scale and ambition it captures perfectly the style and sound that has been developing over the last few albums.
A sprawling “God And War” opens with acapella church choir, before getting down to the big issue with smooth, heartfelt, and yet powerful vocals, and a hook that gets under your skin.
The timely “The New American” oozes quality, whilst “Inspiration”, has neat west coast touches. “Sometimes When You Win” brings this high quality album to an end. If you don’t get it in one play, go round again and this album will open out before your eyes, or ears.
More information can be found on the band's official website.
Presto Ballet – The Lost Art Of Time Travel (ProgRock Records, 2008)
The title of this album summarises the aims of Metal Church guitarist Kurdt Vanderhood almost perfectly. With this album his side project Presto Ballet seem to prove that they haven’t lost the art of time travel at all.
Hugely influenced by the early work of Genesis, Yes, and Kansas, Kurdt has aimed right at the heart of classic seventies progressive rock, and scores a bullseye. This is only the second release from the project following 2005’s excellent Peace Among The Ruins.
Those self-confessed influences above leave tantalizing glimpses of the familiar amid a freshness that makes this album work on every level. Hard driven progressive music, classic keys, quality musicianship, and melodies aplenty are all here in abundance.
With Kurdt covering guitar of course, Presto Ballet are completed by the impressive vocals of Scott Albright, drummer Bill Raymond, bass player Izzy Rehaume, and the prominent keys of Ryan McPherson.
It’s those keys that show that the art of time travel is indeed not lost, not on this band at least. The album is all the richer for its use of classic analogue synths, Hammond, mellotron, and other genuine seventies touches.
This will grab hold of the attentions of not just the prog fans old enough to remember what a lot of this is based on, but also those across the generations. The key drenched “The Mind Machine” opens the door in an eleven minute spiraling melodic prog epic.
“Thieves” is the track that Yes never quite wrote, rich in melody it has Scott sounding uncannily Jon Anderson-like. “You’re Alive” is a smooth acoustically melodic interlude between the scale of all that stands around it.
“One Tragedy At A Time” opens like a trip down the time tunnel back to huge epic symphonic prog of old. This is a fourteen minute journey through all that inspires the band, from the majestically orchestral, through to hard driving riffs. Undoubtedly the album’s shining centre piece it shimmers and shifts through a myriad of changes. Superb drumming and luscious keys complete this extraordinarily satisfying and complex piece of prog majesty.
“I’m Not Blind” takes us back into Yes territory. When those keys come in, the ‘lost art’ is fully restored. “Easy Tomorrow” is a cleverly constructed driving rock track highlighting all the elements of the band as they spar off each other in a demonstration of musicality.
The beautifully elegant “Haze” ends the album superbly with a lush track that showcases Scott’s versatile vocals wonderfully. As you can tell I am from the era that this album draws so authentically from. Sure it’s heavy on seventies influence, in scale, scope, style, and even in part instrumentation, but it still finds space for fresh slices of contemporary as well.
A triumph of an album in every sense and one I strongly recommend, if, any of the above gets your goose bumps bumping.
More information can be found by visiting the Presto Ballet website.
Rewiring Genesis – A Tribute To The Lamb Lies On Broadway (ProgRock Records, 2008)
Okay, what is essentially a self-confessed tribute album actually ventures a little deeper. Whilst taking the whole concept of Genesis’ epic masterpiece, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway from 1974 the band, led by drumming singer Nick D’Virgilio (Spocks Beard) brush it down, clean it off, breath some life into it and give it a whole fresh lick of paint.
That said, I am still left wondering, why? Rewiring Genesis are completed by Dave Martin on bass, the keyboards of Jeff Taylor, and Don Carr’s guitars. Fortunately Nick doesn’t fall into a trap of trying to sound like Peter Gabriel (or even Phil Collins) but what he does attempt is to bring this dense almost inaccessible prog tale to a whole new generation.
Some of my initial doubts, yes I am old enough to have rushed out and bought the original, were beginning to dissipate nicely by the time “Fly On A Windshield” kicked in. The band clearly have a huge respect for the territory they are in (otherwise they presumably wouldn’t have gone there) and whilst remaining essentially loyal, set about injecting some 2008 freshness along the way.
Nick D’Virgilio’s Genesis credentials go back quite a way. He was one of the drummers on the post Phil Collins Genesis tour of the disappointing Calling All Stations. By the time we get to “Broadway Melody Of 1974” (A track I know more intimately than anything else by Genesis, as I played it to death when I got the original album home.), I am nearly sold on the idea.
Yes, it will leave some die hard Genesis fans in troubled water, but it does achieve its aims by bringing this remarkable album into the now. If anything some of the scale of the original is oddly enhanced by orchestration, modern day engineering, additional horns, some unexpected twists, and some decidedly contemporary guitar work. It's still a little uncomfortable to write that though, after all this was a Genesis masterpiece, full stop.
It does however take it to a different level leaving it sitting nicely posed somewhere between the tribute and a fresh interpretation. For example listen to “Cuckoo Cocoon”.
If the above leaves you cold, like an ill judged remake of a classic film, all is not lost. It’s worth the trip for the musicianship and to hear such an album lovingly re-visited with all due respect. But whether it is 'selling Genesis by the pound', is a matter for the individual.
The new coat of paint sometimes shocks such as on “In The Cage” but in general it makes it a brighter experience and in parts won me over. By the end, I was seeking out my scratchy old Genesis vinyl. Maybe that is the answer to my own question of, why?
More information can be found on this website.
ProgRock Records can be found by visiting their catalogue of delights on their official website.Powered by Sidelines