Wednesday, August 04, 2010

An Obsessive Look At The Upcoming King Crimson Releases - Islands and In The Wake Of Poseidon

There are two reasons why you might be excited for the next batch of the King Crimson 40th Anniversary Remixes/Deluxe DVD-Audio packages.

Firstly there is the new mixes. Steven Wilson, best known as the front man of Porcupine Tree, is a master music producer. He's also a huge King Crimson fan. If there's anybody who's going to go back to the original multi-track tapes and create a shiny new stereo mix that's faithful to the original but clearer and bolder sounding, it's him. But wait! That's not all. Anyone who has had a chance to listen to any of the Porcupine Tree 5.1 surround sound mixes will know that nobody does it better than Steven Wilson. He's turned the act of mixing surround music into a real art. After much persuading, Steven finally convinced Robert Fripp that King Crimson's back catalogue would be a perfect fit for the DVD-Audio format. So far they have released In The Court of The Crimson King, Red and Lizard. They have been nothing short of spectacular.

(A note to all you audiophile geeks out there: There has been some complaint that these releases have been mastered at a louder level then they could have been. While it is true these are pretty loud releases, they are a far cry from the brickwalled loudness war victims that we've seen (heard, actually) over the last few years. Frankly, unless you are really into high end audio and really picky about loud mastering techniques, you'll find these releases to be perfect sounding. In other words, unless you are a super picky audiophile, you probably won't notice anything wrong. They sound great.)

The second reason that King Crimson fans will likely be all over these releases is the bonus tracks. While going through boxes of tapes to prepare the new mixes, Steven Wilson has unearthed a plethora of rare unheard recordings that have been sitting in the vaults for decades. As part of the 40th Anniversary, we're getting the chance to hear many alternate and early takes of legendary tracks. These are pretty indispensable if you're a hard-core Crimson nut. Some would argue that the live TV performance video included as a bonus on the Red DVD-Audio is worth the price of that disc alone, never mind the stellar 5.1 mix.

The details for Islands and In The Wake Of Poseidon have just been posted online. As other music blogs have already posted the details, I'm going to try and provide some bonus analysis and obsessive detailed guess work as to what these releases are going to look, sound and feel like. (they'll probably smell like "new-CD")

First we'll take a look at In The Wake Of Poseidon:
Here are all the gory details as seen on Burningshed.com

CD:

Original album - 2010 mix

1. Peace: A Beginning
2. Pictures of a City
3. Cadence & Cascade
4. In The Wake of Poseidon
5. Peace: A Theme
6. Cat Food
7. The Devil's Triangle (part I)
8. The Devil's Triangle (part II)
9. The Devil's Triangle (part III)
10. Peace: An End

Bonus Tracks

11. Groon
12. Peace: An End - Alternate mix
13. Cadence & Cascade (Greg Lake guide vocal version)

DVD-A

MLP Lossless 5.1 Surround/DTS 5.1 Digital Surround - 2010 mix:

1. Peace: A Beginning
2. Pictures of a City
3. Cadence & Cascade
4. In The Wake of Poseidon
5. Peace: A Theme
6. Cat Food
7. The Devil's Triangle (part I)
8. The Devil's Triangle (part II)
9. The Devil's Triangle (part III)
10. Peace: An End
11. Groon

MLP lossless/LPCM - 2010 stereo mix:

1. Peace: A Beginning
2. Pictures of a City
3. Cadence & Cascade
4. In The Wake of Poseidon
5. Peace: A Theme
6. Cat Food
7. The Devil's Triangle (part I)
8. The Devil's Triangle (part II)
9. The Devil's Triangle (part III)
10. Peace: An End
11. Groon

Original 1970 stereo mix, 30th anniversary remaster:

1. Peace: A Beginning
2. Pictures of a City
3. Cadence & Cascade
4. In The Wake of Poseidon
5. Peace: A Theme
6. Cat Food
7. The Devil's Triangle (part I)
8. The Devil's Triangle (part II)
9. The Devil's Triangle (part III)
10. Peace: An End

Bonus Tracks:

1. Cat Food (single version)
2. Groon (single b-side)
3. Cadence & Cascade (unedited master)
4. Cadence & Cascade (Greg Lake guide vocal version)
5. Cadence & Cascade (instrumental take from Wessex Studios)
6. Groon - Take 1
7. Groon - Take 5
8. Groon - Take 15
9. The Devil's Triangle (rehearsal version from Wessex Studios)
10. Peace: An End (alternative mix)
Woah. Let's break this down.

As with the past releases, these are going to come in a two disc digi-pack. Disc one will be a regular CD featuring Steven Wilson's and Robert Fripp's new stereo mix. Judging from the releases we've heard so far, these will sound very similar to the original mix. This is in contrast to the new mixes we've heard from Genesis where they have often drastically altered the original feel of the songs. Steven's approach has been basically to use new digital mixing tools to make things sound clearer and cleaner. (An example would be the new Lizard mix, which cleans up things quite a bit without changing the emphasis that existed originally.) It's important to note that the original multi-tracks of The Devil's Triangle were not found for this release, as such we're going to have the original mix instead, albeit now spread across three tracks on the CD.

The CD will contain three bonus tracks. The first of which being Steven's new mix of the super jazzy B-Side Groon. Things get really interesting with the second bonus, an alternative mix of Peace: An Ending. In its original form, the album closer has always had a very sparse, echo filled feeling with Greg Lake's mournful vocal eventually joined by Fripp's jazzy acoustic chords. It'll be really interesting to see what Mr. Wilson has done to spruce it up. The final bonus track on the CD will be "the first CD appearance of Greg Lake's guide vocal take of the beautiful ballad Cadence and Cascade." As you probably know, this track was Gordon Haskell's first contribution vocally to King Crimson. He would become the full time vocalist on Lizard. While Greg Lake is featured as the main singer on the album, by the time it was being recorded he was already well into his transition to joining supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Hearing him on Cadence and Cascade should be an interesting listen. (Some King Crimson fans have already heard this track as a download from the DGMlive website. This will be its first appearance on CD.)

The bulk of this release takes place on its second disc, the DVD. The main feature, and what I'm most excited for, is Steven's 5.1 Surround Sound mix. As I've mentioned countless time before, the guy is the master when it comes to this stuff. His work so far in this series has been sheer brilliance. (You can read my over-detailed review of Lizard on this very blog!) In my mind, the kind of music featured on Poseidon will work wonderfully in 5.1. If you're a big fan of this music, you owe it to yourself to hear it in this format. I can almost promise that your mind will be blown. I can't wait.

As with the new stereo mix, the original tapes for Devil's Triangle were never found. The 5.1 version will feature an upmix. What this means is Steven and co. will use fancy computer software to create a "fake" 5.1 mix from the two-track master. It's hard to explain how it works without getting too technical, but considering how far this technology has advanced in the last five years, this should be a decent sounding alternative to doing a full-on 5.1 remix.

The DVD will also contain both the new and original stereo mixes in high resolution lossless audio. One advantage of the DVD-Audio format is its ability to store the audio at higher bitrates and sample rates than you can get on CD. Most audiophiles claim that this brings digital music to a sonic level much closer to what you could get in the analog days of vinyl LPs. If you have a DVD player hooked up to your main sound system, this is probably the way you'll want to listen to these albums. You can leave the DVD at home and bring the CD in your car. Works out rather well, I'd say.

The DVD also allows room for even more bonus tracks. In addition to the single version of Cat Food and Groon (which we've had as bonus tracks on the last release of this album) we'll get even more versions of Cadence and Cascade. I'm not sure what the Unedited Master refers to, but I'll asume that original version is edited in some ways in comparison to what was originally put together. I might be wrong, but it'll be interesting to see what this is exactly. The Instrumental Take is pretty self explanatory. It'll probably be an alternate take without any vocals. We'll also get some early takes of Groon. The jazzy improvised nature of this track probably means each version will probably be substantially different. Finally we get an early rehearsal of The Devil's Triangle. I wonder if it's even more Mars-like than what's on the album.

All of this for £12.50 GBP (probably around $20 American).

Now let's examine the very underrated Islands:

The track list for Poseidon was relatively simple compared what Island's is going to look like, again here it is courtesy of Burningshed.com


CD:

Original album 2010 mix:

1. Formentera Lady
2. Sailor's Tale
3. The Letters
4. Ladies of the Road
5. Prelude: Song of the Gulls
6. Islands

Bonus tracks:

7. Islands (studio run through with oboe prominent)
8. Formentera Lady (original recording sessions - take 2)
9. Sailor's Tale (original recording sessions - alternate mix/edit)
10. A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls (previously unreleased)
11. The Letters (rehearsal/outtake)
12. Ladies of the Road (Robert Fripp & David Singleton remix)

8 - 11 mixed by Steven Wilson from the original session reels

DVD:

MLP Lossless 5.1 Surround / DTS 5.1 Digital Surround:

1. Formentera Lady
2. Sailor's Tale
3. The Letters
4. Ladies of the Road
5. Prelude: Song of the Gulls
6. Islands

Mixed & produced from the original multi track tapes by Steven Wilson.
Executive producer Robert Fripp.

MLP stereo / LPCM stereo - Original album 2010 stereo mix:

1. Formentera Lady
2. Sailor's Tale
3. The Letters
4. Ladies of the Road
5. Prelude: Song of the Gulls
6. Islands

Original album 1971 mix, 30th anniversary remaster:

1. Formentera Lady
2. Sailor's Tale
3. The Letters
4. Ladies of the Road
5. Prelude: Song of the Gulls
6. Islands

Islands: Alternative album:

1. Formentera Lady - Original recording sessions - take 2
2. Sailor's Tale - Original recording sessions - alternate mix/edit
3. The Letters - Rehearsal/outtake
4. Ladies of the Road - Rough mix
5. A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls - Previously unreleased
6. Islands - Studio run through with oboe prominent

1-3 & 5 mxed by Steven Wilson from the original session reels.

Routes to Islands:

1. Pictures of a City - Early rehearsal by Islands lineup
2. Sailor's Tale - Early rehearsal by Islands lineup
3. Islands (fragment) - Robert Fripp reference cassette - mellotron on vibes setting
4. Formentera Lady - Rough mix from album recording sessions
5. Sailor's Tale - Rough mix from album recording sessions
6. Drop In - Early rehearsal by Islands lineup
7. The Letters - Live at Plymouth, mastered by David Singleton
8. Sailor's Tale - Live at the Zoom Club, mastered by David Singleton

Islands: Additional tracks: Assorted Ladies:

1. Ladies of the Road - Robert Fripp & David Singleton remix
2. Ladies of the Road - Original recording sessions - take 5
3. Formentera Lady - Original recording sessions - take 1
4. Formentera Lady - Original recording sessions - take 3
5. Formentera Lady - Original recording sessions - take 4

2 - 5 mixed by Steven Wilson from the original session reels.
That's a lot of Islands.

I've always loved this album. I know it's hardly considered one of the great Crimson albums, but the wild free-form jazzy improv and the almost soothing classical always, in my opinion, made for a really interesting listen. If Steven Wilson can bring the soul of the album out in the remix, like he did with Lizard, I'm sure this will become the definite version of Islands.

The CD features the brand spanking new stereo mix by Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp. Again, don't expect a grand re-visioning or a great departure from the original. Mr. Wilson has a great deal of respect for these albums and strived to recreate them as closely as possible. If any changes exist you can bet they have been commissioned from Mr. Robert Fripp himself. I'm such a fan of the Lizard remix and it's subtle cleaner and bolder feel that I have great expectations for Islands.

The bonus tracks are vast and numerous on this release. The studio run through of Islands will probably be a very raw and personal sounding version of the soothing track. We also get an early and alternative version of Formentera Lady and Sailor's Tale. A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls is apparently a never heard before track. It should be pretty interesting to hear as it contains early ideas that would come into play in the next incarnation of King Crimson featuring Bill Bruford and John Wetton. Finally there is the Fripp/David Singleton remix of Ladies of the Road. This is one of the few tracks on this release not mixed by Steven Wilson.

Once again, it's the DVD that should be the most interesting part of the whole package. I can laude more plaudits upon Mr. Wilson's skills as a 5.1 mixer, but I think I've done more than enough praising on this blog already. Jeez. He's damn good. Do I have to say anything else? I own quite a large assortment of surround sound music and the ones he's been involved in stand heads above the rest. Got it? Understand? Great. Islands should be another masterpiece, unless he somehow manages to completely drop the ball. I doubt it. If he mixes Prelude: Song Of Gulls in the way I imagine he might then I'll be a very happy camper. If he doesn't, I'll never buy anything he does ever again. Am I kidding? (yes) Who knows anymore? (I do) Moving on...

As with every single one of these 40th Anniversary releases, you'll get both the new and original stereo mix in glorious sounding high resolution. As long as the mastering on these is tastefully done, they should become the defacto way to listen to this album at home in stereo. Considering the others have been mastered a touch loudly so far, I wouldn't let go of your original Islands vinyl just yet.

The bonuses on this DVD are too numerous to mention individually. Seriously, Islands is getting quite the treatment in this area. Luckily for me they have been grouped into sections that will make it easier to break down and not be here slaving over this post for the rest of my life.

The first section is called the 'Alternative album', and is just that. It will consist of alternate mixes and early versions of just about each track in their original running order. Prelude: Song of Gulls is being swapped out completely for A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls and should make the later part of the album much less sleep inducing. (For the record: I always enjoyed the pretty/sleepy nature of the end of this album.) This 'Alternative' version should be an interesting contrast and a must hear for the Crimson freak that lurks within.

Routes to Islands is filled with an assortment of goodies including even more early and alternative takes of the album's varied compositions. Pictures of a City performed by the Islands lineup of the band is crying out for special mention. Anytime a different lineup of King Crimson tackles an early track it tends to result in what is usually a completely different sounding song to what came before. Also of note is Robert Fripp's cassette demo of the song Islands played on mellotron. This section of bonus tracks concludes with live renditions of The Letters and Sailor's Tale. I doubt that these have been heard outside of the Crimson fanclub download/mailing list. As you know, the Island lineup of Crimson was one of the few from this early era that actually played live and these should make for an exciting listen.

Assorted Ladies is the title of the final section of bonus tracks. Including the early take of Formentera Lady included in the 'alternate album', you now have all the first 4 takes of this track to obsess over. This is something that will probably only be of interest to the most diehard Crimson fanatic, but you'll probably have a decent feel of how the song progressed and evolved in the studio, from take one to what finally wound up on the album itself. Very interesting stuff.

Congratulations! You've read my entire over-long, over-nerdy, over-the-top preview of these yet-to-be-released reissues. You might call me insane, but to be fair I wrote this post over the course of 3-4 days. The fact of the matter is I wouldn't dedicate all this space to these reissues if I wasn't so impressed with what we've seen so far from this series. These are the kind of quality packages that most big record labels can only dream of releasing. The people involved have always lived comfortably outside the mainstream and have earned their living by producing quality products and doing so in a manner that doesn't rip off their fans. In fact, I recommend ordering these through either Burning Shed or DGMlive because the people who worked hard to make them will receive a larger share of the profit. These are people who care about their art and respect the people who buy it.


If it wasn't for the unexpected friendship between Robert Fripp and Steven Wilson, we'd likely never see these releases. Wilson has earned his reputation as a master-class producer and there is probably nobody in the business who is more qualified and better equipped to tackle this project with the level of respect and skill that we've seen so far. Keep it up!


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Link: British Media Ponders the Return of Prog

Let's just consider this my "The Blog's not dead yet" post for this week.



The High Voltage festival is getting underway in the UK, and the prominently featured "Prog Stage" is garnering some media attention. The headline on this Sky News article reads "Ridiculed Prog Rock Wins Over New Generation".

While it's true that Progressive music continues to reach those who are keen on finding music that's unique (or even not completely unoriginal and generic), I think that for the most part it continues to stay out of the mainstream. I've posted on how the internet has allowed the adventurous music fan to discover music that isn't heavily promoted by the record labels. I doubt there is any sort of new mainstream Prog Rock revival happening. If there is, it'll be short lived.

The biggest problem with this article is that it doesn't mention bands like Porcupine Tree who are enjoying huge success while living comfortably out of the limelight. While not appearing at High Voltage, a little research on behalf of Steve Hargrave could have made it look like he knows what he's talking about. Seriously, how much can we expect from Sky News' showbiz correspondent? Overall a fluffy piece of poorly researched journalism, but a funny read for all of us who know a thing or two about Progressive music. (hint: for those who cared, it never went anywhere)

Read all about it: Sky News - Prog Rock Makes Comeback



Monday, July 12, 2010

David Gilmour and Roger Waters played together for charity Saturday night


I did not see this one coming.

Long time enemies (and more recently friend-emies) Roger Waters and David Gilmour got together and played a couple of tunes on their acoustic guitars Saturday night. As with the last time, it was a charitable cause that brought them together. Previously it was for the Live 8 concert, which was a surreal night for Floyd fans all over the globe. This time it was in aid of the children of Gaza.

If you were hoping that this could spur on a larger reunion between the two, don't get too excited. Apparently, Roger invited Dave as a guest on his recent The Wall tour and Mr. Gilmour was simply not interested at all. A shame really if you ask me. If you're interested, they apparently played "To Know Him Is To Love Him" by Phil Spector. This, according to the David Gilmour Blog is a typical soundcheck favorite. Who knew? They also played the usual "Wish You Were Here," "Comfortably Numb" and "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.". No surprises there.

If you want more info, you can check out all the press coverage here, here and here.

Look at these two old men.


---Just a note to those who are still reading the blog after my lengthy absence (many thanks):

While I can't promise posts on a regular basis, I do plan on keeping this thing going. I'm trying to work out some things on the personal front and until I do the blog will have to be pushed to the side. I will post the occasional big news story (like Roger Waters and David Gilmour on stage together! How crazy is that?) and will try to write the occasional thoughtful review or essay when I have something that I think is actually worth saying. Quality over quantity. Once I do get things sorted out personally, expect this thing to take off again. I'm also really interested in doing the podcast again, but that's primarily a financial issue at the moment.

That's all for now. Until next time:

Keep the Prog alive!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Concert Review: Renaissance and Steve Hackett in Toronto - Summer 2010

This unique concert could have been billed as Prog Night in Toronto. It may have been a cold day in hell, but it was hot and humid on College Street as these legends of Progressive music made a rare visit to Canada. The surreal event was made stranger by the sights and sounds of Spanish flags being pulled in honking automobiles in the heart of Toronto's Little Italy. If anything, it made for an interesting distraction from the heat, as patient Prog fans waited in a curving line that queued the length of the ramp to the Mod Club and down College Street. The general consensus in the line was that while the honking cars were quite loud, if it was Italy who just won a semi-final game in the World Cup, it would have been much noisier.

There was some confusion leading up to the Wednesday night's show. Originally booked for a splendid seated venue by the waterfront in Toronto's Exhibition Place, the show was moved at the last moment to the much smaller standing-room-only Mod Club. While I don't have any confirmation as to why this change was made, I can only assume it was due to a lack in ticket sales. Considering how rarely Mr. Hackett and Mrs. Haslam treat our fair city to a concert, this lack of interest disappoints me, although hardly surprises me. Toronto's no Montreal when it comes to appreciation of Progressive music. The change in venue did, fortunately, allow my girlfriend and I to secure a prominent place right in front of the stage.

The audience was made out of, unsurprisingly, mostly older Prog fans; the kind that enjoyed albums like Turn of the Card and Spectral Mornings when they first came out in the 70s. There were some other younger fans in the crowd, although we were definitely in the minority. As a veteran of many a Prog-show in Toronto, I would describe it as the typical "Prog Crowd".

As the lights dimmed and the classical intro filled the PA system, the crowd warmly welcomed Annie Haslam, Michael Dunford and the new look Renaissance. Despite only two members of the classic line-up still present, the younger musicians did a spot on job recreating some old classics and even a brand new composition. Turns out this line-up is currently busy putting together a new album that should, according to Mr. Dunford, be out some time next year. The set-list consisted mainly of tracks from Turn of the Cards. The highlight for me personally was the encore: Mother Russia. Always an epic track in any setting, the symphonic textures really transformed the Mod Club to another level of sophistication and class that it probably rarely experiences. Yes fans may have recognized one Tom Brislin from the Yes Symphonic DVD. He did an excellent job filling in the orchestral textures that make Renaissance sound like Renaissance.

It would be a bit of an oversight to not mention little Annie Haslam. While she does indeed look much older then the iconic cover photo on Ashes are Burning (obviously, time ages even the brightest talents) her voice is still in prime form. From the opening track Prologue, her voice was yet another class above your typical Rock concert and was truly a wonder to behold. She really seemed to get a kick out of some of the rowdy audience members ("Don't be cheeky!"). Despite one strage remark about not being satisfied with the symmetry of the venue (she stood on a bit of an angle for most of the show) she was easily the biggest person on stage (despite being the shortest). She said she would love to perform in Toronto more, but we need to create more demand. Ideally, she said, they would come back and perform with an orchestra. That would be the day.

After thirty minutes of equipment swap, it was time for Hackett and his band to take the stage. My respect for Steve Hacket probably ranks amongst the highest of any former Genesis member. Despite seeing his previous concert in Toronto, (the acoustic-trio lineup, literally in a High School theatre in the suburb of Markham) being able to be front row for a full-on electric set blew away all expectations. The band exploded into the Crimson-like Mechanical Bride, strobe lights blaring. The rest of the set consisted of mainly new tracks from Mr. Hackett's latest work, reviewed here, and a smattering of Genesis classics. Hackett also played some of his own material from the 70s including Every Day, Ace of Wands and my personal favorite Spectral Mornings. (Doesn't the ambiant mid section of Spectral morning remind you of Yes' The Remembering?)

The lineup was mostly the same as the DVD releases of this passed decade. Gary O'Toole once again provided excellent drumming and pretty good vocals on all the Genesis songs including Blood on the Rooftops, Fly on a Windshield and Firth of Fifth. I'd take him of Phil Collins on vocals any day. Roger King was again the master of bringing all the right sounds and textures to the evening. He even has apparently mastered all of Tony Banks' parts to Firth of Fifth, something that has been lacking from most of Steve's renditions of the song up to now. Rob Townsend had some pretty roaring sax solos during the evening, bringing some much needed Jazz to the mostly symphonic sounds of the concert. There were some new members I didn't recognize. The new, cross-dressing, bass player was quite the impressive figure onstage. He played all of the most complex bass lines with ease and was a very large and commanding shape (despite the dress and pig-tailed wig). To counter the sight the cross-dressing bassist, there was a female vocalist/guitarist. I'm not sure who she is and where she comes from. She did some nice in-harmony soloing during Every Day, but otherwise she seemed to mostly provide backup vocals. Can anyone shed some light on who this person is?

As the Hackett band was taking it's final bow, I couldn't resist yelling out "Steve! Come back soon!". He acknowledged my outburst with a slight nod. As I've said, we don't see much of Mr. Hackett on this side of the world. Having him in Toronto was a unique privilege. The fact that the concert was moved to a smaller venue at the last minute probably confirms that there aren't really that many fans in Toronto. The fact that trio-Genesis can come to town and sell out a stadium while (my opinion) the better tallent can't even fill a modest sized theatre speaks volumes on how music is perceived and appreciated by most. Phil Collins will always be the bigger name in comparison to Steve Hackett, but one of them is a cheap commercial-whore and the other is a real honest and talented musician who deserves better. Perhaps Mr. Hackett will fulfill his promise to me and return sooner rather than later. When he does I hope that all the real Genesis fans come out and show their support.



Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Video: Trailer for new Rush Documentary: Beyond the Lighted Stage

I can't wait to see this. If you're as excited as I am, you'll be pleased to note that it will be out on DVD and Blu-Ray by the end of the month. You can find out more here.

The trailer, in all its glory:



New Rush will be called Clockwork Angles

While the album itself won't be out until sometime in 2011, Rush has released two tracks as a sort of preview. Rush will be touring North America this summer and we may get a chance to hear these tracks live. Here they are:





What do you think?


Link: Variety Magazine on Frank Zappa's growing Classical legacy

Strange things you find in the pages of Variety these days. The fact that this article goes as far to compare Zappa to some of the great classical composers of all time just goes to show how far Zappa's star has risen in the years since his death. The Ensemble Modern (of Yellow Shark fame) are continuing to play Zappa music and big name orchestras like the LA Philharmonic are dipping their toes into the atonal waters of Frank's ouvre as well.

But what do you think? As Zappa becomes more respected in the world of Classical music, he seems to be largely considered a weird fringe artists amongst most Rock aficionados. Everybody knows who Zappa is, but they can rarely name a song of his outside of Bobby Brown Goes Down. What's the deal? Was Zappa so far ahead of his time that we're still too early to see him fully appreciated? While fans of Progressive music tend to give the guy more credit, the general population just can't seem to grasp his musical genius.

You can read Variety's article by clicking the link below.

Zappa's music crosses genres, world - Entertainment News, Headline Newsletter Music News, Media - Variety: "Yet now, as has happened so often with composers whose value was not fully recognized until after their deaths -- Bach, Schubert, Mahler, Bartok, even Leonard Bernstein, as famous as he was -- Zappa's so-called classical compositions are becoming accepted into the repertoire."

Peter Gabriel extended European tour dates

Just a reminder for all our European readers. Peter Gabriel has announced some new dates for his Scratch My Back tour. He'll be doing a quick tour this September with stops in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain and Italy. Head over to his website for more detail.

Video: Footage of Trespass era Genesis comes out of nowhere

Look! It's John Mayhew on drums!

This is newly discovered footage features a very young Peter Gabriel joining Anthony Phillips and John Mayhew on stage at the Atomic Sunrise festival in March 1970. Also unearthed as part of this festival are extremely rare looks at a very young Hawkwind and David Bowie as well. How such important and legendary footage of bands from this era have been kept out of the public eye for so long remains a deep mystery. I guess you never know what people have stored away in boxes in warehouses all over the world. I bet the makers of the recent Genesis box-sets would have loved to have this footage to add to the Trespass DVD.

I wouldn't be surprised to see the full concert footage to be bootleged in the near future. Until then you can check out these surprisingly high quality clips on Youtube.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

News: Mike Oldfield's Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn to be rereleased in June

Hey look everybody! A Mike Oldfield release that doesn't have the word Tubular on it!

As most of us (pretentiously self described Prog-Heads, word) already know, Mike Oldfield's discography does in fact contain a much wider scope of musical creativity than the all too well known and the all too painfully bled-to-death Tubular Bells. In fact, I'm sure many of us would say that Tubular is hardly the man's best work. Some crazy folk (myself included) would probably state that 1990's Amarok should be considered his best work. Others, possibly more level-headed persons, would place the Oldfield crown on his 1975 opus Ommadawn. Regardless, it's a convoluted discography that stretches down many roads, although most roads lead back to Tubular Bells at some point.

Well, fans of Mike's Tubular follow-up Hergest Ridge and the aforementioned Ommadawn are in for a treat this June. Following up on the splashy deluxe release of Tubular Bells from a year ago, Mike is going to give the same treatment to these lesser known gems of instrumental creativity. He has created brand spanking new stereo and 5.1 mixes of these classics. The original mixes will also be included in the fancy package.

Hergest Ridge is getting extra-special treatment for this release. In addition to the new mixes, Mike has decided to include the long-lost original vinyl mix for the very first time on CD. If you didn't know, Mike remixed the album not long after its original release, removing many layers of instrumentation, such as some snazzy trumpet parts. Oldfield fanatics have had to cling onto their original vinyl versions if they liked those trumpet parts (like I said, they're pretty snazzy). In addition to all the various mixes, Mike has also elected to change the cover art for Hergest Ridge. He never really liked the old one, apparently. If you think it looks familiar then perhaps you spend too much time looking at Great Britain from above through the lens of Google Maps. Basically, that's what he used to create the new cover.

These deluxe editions will come out in just over a month's time. There are all sorts of variations coming into play here, and you can see them all on Universal's Mike Oldfield site.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Steven Wilson talks about his new solo album

Obvious statement: Steven Wilson is prolific. This is pretty clear.

I know the posts have slowed down again. This happens. You know. Stuff. (Is there a more compelling excuse than "stuff"? I think not.) Etc... I can't make any promises exactly when I'll go back to writing long album reviews again, but I'd like to at some point. For now, I'll keep sharing links I find with you.

Porcupine Tree was in Toronto saturday night. It was an excellent show, as expected. Before the show he sat down with the folks at bravewords.com for a pretty revealing interview. The bulk of what I found so interesting was that he began to divulge some details as to the contents of his next solo album.

As you probably know, Mr. Wilson has been quite busy over the last year or so working on the new King Crimson remixes. Spending all that time going through miles and miles of legendary recording sessions has clearly rubbed off on him. Apparently he intends on going "old-school". His next album is shaping up to be a vintage Progressive Rock album. Lots of mellotron, bassoons, flutes and saxes. Even a twenty minute epic! Click below to read the interview yourself. (Be warned of the giant Iron Maiden ad near the top of the page. It's appropriately gruesome.)

Bravewords.com > News > PORPCUPINE TREE's Steven Wilson - "We Keep Fighting To Try To Infiltrate The Mainstream Any Way We Can":
"And so I’m making this new solo record, and I’ve done a couple of sessions now. I’ve just got into a studio with a great band and just cut back tracks. And it’s kind of old school. There’s loads of mellotron on it, it’s got more of a jazz... it’s very progressive, I think it’s only going to be, possibly, I’m thinking of keeping it to the length of a 42 minute album, classic ‘70s; there’s a 21 minute track on it, very progressive, and a lot of fun.”"

Friday, April 30, 2010

"We don't mess around" Prog Rock in the mainstream press

I think this may be Steven Wilson's doing, but every day I'm reading more and more about Progressive Rock music in the mainstream presses of North America. With the increasing press mentions, music journalists have had to question why this sort of music was so easily dismissed in the 80s and 90s, and yet continues to make an impression on young music listeners today.

This puzzling dilemma has been the burden on all of this blog's editorial since the thing started. The Buffalo News sums up the recent Prog revival (including Genesis' induction into the hall of fame) like this:
"People who grow up on challenging, imaginative music expect more, and thus, answer the challenge to create art of depth. If they are denied entrance to the trendiest parties along the way, it’s really not too much of a price to pay. After all, they have the music to keep them company."
This is essentially saying that when you put your passion for music ahead of being trendy and popular, you'll end up with something you'll be proud of, and something that won't necessarily fade once the styles change (and they always do). Or am I reading it wrong? Well, click on the link below to read the article for yourself.

Infant of Prog: Porcupine Tree heads new generation of progressive rockers : Jeff Miers : The Buffalo News:


RIP Morris Pert

Sadly, legendary Brand X percussionist and composer Morris Pert also passed away this week.

He's best known to us in the Prog Rock world for his excellent work in Jazz Fusion band Brand X. My recommendation is to give Morrocan Roll or Masques a spin (or pick them up if you don't have them in your vinyl collection already).

This has been a sad week in the world of Progressive Rock.

Composer Morris Pert Official Site

RIP Bo Hansson

Legendary Swedish composer Bo Hansson passed away on Monday. He's best known for his instrumental albums released in the 1970s.

If you see a copy of Music Inspired By the Lord of the Rings, Magician's Hat or Attic Thoughts in your used vinyl store, pick it up in memory of this very talented and underrated musician.

The organist Bo Hansson deceased - Culture & Entertainment | svt.se:
"Organist and composer Bo Hansson has died. Hansson worked with Janne 'Loffe' Carlsson in the duo Hansson & Carlsson in the late 1960s. The music can be defined as instrumental jazz-rock and psychedelia and the band setting was limited to the drums and organ, without vocals."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Roger Waters still looking to record new music - Yahoo! News

Say what you will of Roger Waters. Seriously. Just say it. Go ahead. Here's the last thing I said about him. Not too nice was it? No sir. Not at all. Well, let me try and explain myself for a second, or 20 (seconds), or more...

I have this fear. You know. Fear. I don't want to see myself in forty years as some washed up old geezer who's cashing in on his successful and ambitious youth. You know, like how Mr. Waters has been doing with his recent Dark Side of the Moon tour and the present reworking of The Wall. (See picture to the left) I mean, these are works of art the guy poured his heart into some thirty odd years ago. Now, as he begins his stately climb over the hill, he has to drudge up his most successful work to pay the bills. I mean, I understand the life of a Rock and Roll superstar isn't exactly easy, but wouldn't it be nice to see the old man earning his pay from new and fresh material?

Well, we're in luck. According to this brand new Associated Press interview, Mr. Waters says that he still has plenty of new material building up that he means to release. Not meaning to sound snarky or sarcastic or whatever but...hasn't he been saying this for twenty years now? I guess he did compose an entire opera in that time, which is no small achievement. I'm just such a fan of his most recent "rock" album, Amused to Death, that I'd love to get some more biting and angry social commentary from the guy before he's too old to hold his bass guitar. Well, nevertheless, you can't say he hasn't achieved plenty in his life time. Good on him. I guess. Whatever. Let's just enjoy this interview that I've linked to, shall we?

Roger Waters still looking to record new music - Yahoo! News:
"'Some of them are recorded, and some of them are half-recorded, and I keep promising myself that I'm gonna find a collaborator and work on them and put them together in some kind of coherent form,'"


Monday, April 26, 2010

Found Link: Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson on Prog Rock, 'The Album' and iPods

I'm never sure how many of these I should post here. I know that many of the big mainstream news publications don't enjoy this practice. Heck, Rupert Murdoch and Newscorp don't even like Google linking to their articles. I always thought I was doing them a favour by sending my (measly) readership to their sites and getting their ads a few more views. What do I know? I haven't received a complaint yet so I guess I can keep on doing it for now.

Steven Wilson, somebody who gets plenty of free support from this site, has been continuing his recent pro-Progressive Rock talk. This time, he's interviewed by the Chicago Tribune (link, you're welcome!) and he holds nothing back. He makes plenty of bold statements about the younger generation's draw to vinyl LPs not only due to some nostalgic emotions, but because they get the value of the whole experience. In short: the same crazy stuff I tend to go off about on this here very site. People take Steven more seriously, however. (rightly so too!) He even goes as far as saying there is some sort of youthful rebellion against download culture. I wouldn't even go that far! It's a nice idea though. Go ahead, click below and read for yourself.

Turn It Up: Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson: Prog-rock is antidote to 'frivolous' iPod era:
"Porcupine Tree’s steadily growing fan base argues that Wilson isn’t the only one who thinks so."

Monday, April 19, 2010

A full-on Genesis Reunion still possible? The Ball is in Peter's Court.


Despite everything, the band is still leaving the rumour doors wide open.

This story is actually a few weeks old now, and I've been saving it for a slow news day. A fully reunited Genesis has probably been the main obsession of this weblog since we started covering Prog Rock News. The fact of the matter is that a reunification of the legendary early-70s lineup of the band is the most exciting proposition in this obscure little niche of Rock music that we all enjoy so much.

Just think about it for a second. The last time that Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks properly played on stage together was in 1975. (let us ignore the 1982 Milton Keynes reunion concert, for that was a messy affair under unfortunate circumstances) That's...well...a bloody long time ago. Since then, Phil and Peter have gone on to become global superstars. Hackett has become the Progressive legacy of the band making his own unique brand of music for all us Prog-fans to enjoy, despite the indifference of the rest of the music world. Mike has his Mechanics do what they do well enough, although on a strictly pop-rock bases. Tony, well...Tony made some pleasant film scores and even a symphony not too long ago. Oh, and I guess he has a solo album or two of note as well. The point is that despite the varying level of success these men have experienced outside of Genesis, it's together that they made their real impact on music history.

From the moment Steve and Phil joined the band and they released Nursery Cryme, it was clear that something special was about to happen. By the time Foxtrot came out there was no doubt that this was important music being created. Fronted by a lead singer who could make even the silliest pun-filled lyrics sound like a matter of life-or-death, Genesis was able to play the trickiest complex music with an ease that never took away from the emotional backbone of each track. It was unique and original and was over far too soon.

When Peter decided that he couldn't take the band politics anymore and departed to form his own unique musical future, it was very much over. The next two albums were still Genesis, but without that voice it lost quite a bit of the magic. By the time 1977 came around and Steve felt himself squeezed out of the band, there couldn't have been any doubt that the dream was over. Genesis was done. What we had for the next decade or so was a pop band that didn't have impact of its glory days. Of course, with simpler and more generic song writing came greater commercial success, but as we've discussed before, popularity and quality scarcely go hand in hand in the world of Rock and Roll.

The interview I'm linking to below is with Phil Collins. He's not in very good shape. The guy can't even open a car door anymore, let alone hold a drum stick and swing it with any precession. Despite his pain and suffering, he's stating here that he will not prevent a proper Genesis reunion from happening. He's placing the ball squarely in the court of one Peter Gabriel, who has been the one stopping anything from happening in the first place. Pete has indicated his interest in preforming The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway once again with his former band-mates, he just never has enough time. This means he has more important priorities. At least in his own mind.

What do you think? Should the old men give it another go, or should we just put all this endless speculation to bed?


Phil Collins Hopes to Play With Genesis Again - Spinner UK:
"Not only has it affected his drumming but also his daily life, Collins revealed that he 'can't let go of the spoon or the knife when I eat' or 'open a car door.'"






Thursday, April 15, 2010

Found Link: BBC's Storm Thorgerson Cover Art Slideshow

When talking about the cover art for Prog Rock albums we tend to focus mostly on the work of one Roger Dean. However, there is another name that may be just as important historically. Storm Thorgerson, who's work is a stylistically opposite that of Mr. Dean, has probably created more iconic album sleeves than anyone else. Whether it be with the Pink Floyd, Genesis or Led Zeppelin, Storm's art has always garnered eyeball-attention in record shops worldwide.

While many associate his work with the 1970s, he is still quite active, creating unforgettable images for modern proggers Muse and The Mars Volta. The Idea Generation Gallery in London is currently holding an exposition of Mr. Thorgerson's artwork that will last until May 2nd. In honour of this occasion, the BBC has created a charming little slideshow of the man's work accompanied by a voiceover of the artist looking back over his career. It's well worth five minutes of your time. Just click on the link below.

BBC's Storm Thorgerson Slideshow





News: Rush Time Machine North American Tour 2010

After some time off, Rush are hitting the road again. I wonder if by calling the tour "Time Machine" they are referring to the fact that they won't have a new album out by the time they start the tour. Either way, the theme of this summer's road trip seems to be nostalgia, and what better way to relive the past than play the entire Moving Pictures album. This strikes me as a slightly odd choice for a band that has always been weary of living in the past.

I've linked to the full press release which includes all the dates announced for the tour so far. If you are a North America-dweller then chances are Rush is paying a visit near your neck of the woods. They're even playing two shows in their home town of Toronto (one indoors and one out).

Rush is always an excellent live band, new material or not. According to recent interviews with Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart, the band does have some songs in the work, just probably not enough for a full "album", whatever that means in this day of age. Click below to see if Rush is stopping by your hometown.

Rush Time Machine North American Tour 2010 Featuring for the First Time Ever Moving Pictures in... -- TORONTO, April 8 /PRNewswire/ --: "The Time Machine Tour is an evening with Rush, where they will perform their classics, give a taste of the future – and for the first time ever – feature the Moving Pictures album live in its entirety. �"





Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Essay: Prog Rock isn't a genre

The term "Progressive Rock" has always been a shaky way to define a genre of music. The biggest problem with it is that it has no aesthetic base. What I mean is that even when you only take the "big" and "legendary" bands that I tend to focus on here at the "blog", (another meaningless term in and of itself) there aren't really many things in common between them. ELP sounds nothing like Genesis. King Crimson has very little to do sonically with Yes. You know exactly what I mean. It has always been a problem from not only the bands who are weary of being slapped with the Prog label, but the fans of the bands who have no idea why the band they enjoy is lumped into the same group as others who sound nothing alike. Just because you happen to be the biggest Porcupine Tree fan in the world doesn't mean you don't find the music of The Flower Kings appalling, or vice-versa. Within lies the dilemma; how does one define Progressive Rock?

Googling Progressive Rock points you to a Wikipedia article. The first paragraph, usually where one finds the sumation and definition of a term, reads as follows:
Progressive rock (also referred to as prog rock or prog) is a subgenre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of a "mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility." (link)
While that will certainly satisfy many, I have a plethora of problems with it. Thankfully, the article does go on with a lengthy descriptions of the various characteristics that make Progressive Rock unique. In reality though, it hardly scratches the surface. Within each description, either sonically or historically, you find a listing of bands that serves as an example. Any student of the music can take one look at the listing and find all sorts of exceptions and contradictions within. The problem is that Progressive Rock can't really be
called a "subgenre" of Rock music. This has really become a problem recently as the ideals
and philosophies of the classic Prog bands are no longer considered musical taboos.

It was so easy in the 80s and 90s. The term "Progressive Rock" was to be
avoided at all cost. If the music you were making could ever fall into this pigeon hole, you were automatically blacklisted by mainstream critics and thus were doomed to live a life of underground obscurity. The institutions that held the candle of Rock popularity, namely Rolling Stone magazine and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame amongst others, decided that the ideas that emerged in the late 60s and early 70s were a mistake of the past.
The idea that Rock music could be anymore than a blues-based verse-chorus pop song was a silly and pretentious idea that could have only come out of the minds of drug-addicted hippies and had no place amongst the 'real' and 'true' definition of Rock and Roll. Playing with the structure and incorporating outside influences into the fold was simply unacceptable behaviour. Never mind the fact that some of the most praised 'proper' rock bands of the 70s often did exactly that (I'm looking at you Led Zeppelin). Two decades of hypocrisy amongst the k
eepers of the keys of mainstream Rock has opened a new level of confusion. While "Prog" never really passed away, like say "Disco" did, the term was vastly accepted as a derogatory label to be slapped on any band breaking the rules. Pretentious was almost synonymous with Progressive Rock. Then the internet came along.

There really can't be any understatement of the importance the internet has had in the re-acceptance of Progressive music in western culture over the last decade. While it was deemed a silly and dated idea of the past, many of the Progressive albums of the 70s have actually stood up well against the more 'popular' music of the decade and don't appear nearly as dated. When you limit the structure of music in the way that Rock critics tried to do, the only way to create a new sound is to use the latest production gimmicks. This dates music rather quickly. Look no further than the 1980s for the worst examples of this practice. The so called "Progressive" bands instead focussed on moving forward the ideas behind the music. This is why an album like King Crimson's Red sounds almost contemporary almost 40 years after its recording. The production and instrumentation is very simple,
but the music itself is still original and unique. Thanks to the internet the keen minded music fans could discover this album, long deemed "wrong". King Crimson's stock has scarcely been higher because of this fact. That leads us to bands that have built a reputation through the internet, such as Porcupine Tree, who whilst never selling out, are now heard playing over the loud speakers of supermarkets in North America. If anything they have only pushed the boundaries of their music with each album. Now, despite the best attempts of certain 'journalists' to keep this from ever happening, the term 'Progressive Rock' is actually becoming more popular than ever before.

I have longed followed the mainstream press' use of the term "Progressive Rock". In fact, there isn't a mention of those two words in the same article that doesn't pass through my Google Reader account. When I first started keeping track of such things, almost a decade ago now, it was scarcely mentioned. You wouldn't find it being used in anything but a negative light.
For example a newspaper review of a new rock album could say "The band gets carried away, almost treading the pretentious waters of silly Prog Rock bands like ELP". However, in the last few years, helped by the growing popularity of bands like The Mars Volta, Muse and of course Porcupine Tree, I can't really keep up with each mention of the term like I used to. New bands are no longer afraid to describe themselves as Progressive Rock in interviews, and concert reviewers often use Progressive Rock next to words like 'unique' or 'creative'. In short: the use of the term has completely flipped in the span of a decade. This, in reality, only furthers the confusion as to the term's actual meaning.

Steven Wilson, someone who gets plenty of free plugs on this blog, has been trying to encourage a new term for the kind of music he makes. While he no longer denies that Porcupine Tree's music is probably best defined as "Progressive", (he use to actively deny this fact) he much prefers the term "Ambitious Rock". In reality, this probably can be used to describe just about anything under the Prog Rock umbrella. He might have a good point. In fact, I almost think you can best define Progressive Rock by saying that it's ambitious rock. Doing this automatically make the use of Prog Rock in the title of this blog to be meaningless. However, saying that this is the Ambitious Rock Blog would only confuse matters. At the end of the day, the music that people who claim to be fans of Progressive Rock enjoy is undefinable. Would it be fair to say that we just like the idea of Rock instrumentation used in unconventional ways? Well, not entirely. Such a grose simplification of the facts just confuses matters more.

It's really simple. Prog Rock isn't a genre. It's more of a philosophy of music. While you can keep following this blog to find out what's happening with "the bigs" like Pink Floyd and Gentle Giant, I can't claim that these bands have anything to do with each other. I almost like the fact that this is the focus of the blog. An undefinable grouping of musical ideas is a far more interesting than limiting what I can write about based on the aesthetic principles of something more narrow like "Heavy Metal" or "New Age" or whatever. I also can't say I see anything wrong with the growing use of the term 'Progressive Rock'. As bands like Genesis are settling into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and bands like Porcupine Tree reach greater popularity the more ambitious they become, I can only take this as a sign that the world is beginning to lossen its collar a bit. People are expanding what they listen to and in turn may find an expansion in what they accept and enjoy. This, in my mind, is a positive trend for a global community who are increasingly able to reach out to each other. While just four or five years ago there was growing fear and anxiety between cultures, perhaps the loosening of musical acceptability will lead to greater peace and understanding on earth. It's a bit of a stretch, but what's wrong with pushing the limits in such a way? Eh?




Monday, April 12, 2010

News: More greasy info on Greasy Love Songs - Zappa fans rejoice

It's not easy being a Zappa fan in the year 2010. Back when the guy was alive and kicking, you barely had to wait a few months before new and exciting material was released. To call Zappa prolific is like saying he had facial hair. Now that wife Gail and son Dwezzil hold the keys to the Zappa vault, we're lucky to see a new release on an anual basis. Sadly, despite the sheer amount of unreleased material gathering dust, the Zappa Family Trust keep extending the time between releases.

When we announced that the orignal vinyl stereo mix of Cruising With Ruben & the Jets was finally making its way into the digital realm, the overwhelming response from fans was "what took so long?" We now have more details on what juicy bonuses will be included on the CD. We also have a release date. May 1st. Wow, that's only half a year since the last Zappa vault release. Perhaps things are picking up in Zappa land. Perhaps not. Either way, click below for all the "teen-age legend(ary)" information.

EDIT!!!!: Vanity Fair has been given an exclusive preview of this release. While they claim that this is the original vinyl mix, it does sound to me like its actually a mono mix. Does anyone have a mono version of this album on vinyl that can figure it out? You can listen to it here: Frank Zappa's Jelly Roll Gum Drop
Also they have the meaning of the song all wrong. It's really about...um..you know...a woman's chest. Er...Yeah.

Frank Zappa: Greasy Love Songs Out 5/1 on JamBase:
"Among additional tracks included are alternate mono mixes, an unreleased cover of 'Valerie' which enjoyed heavy rotation in the Mothers' concerts circa 1967 and a version of 'Love of My Life' from Studio Z, bringing this CD from 40 minutes in the vinyl release to well over an hour of 'the stuff of teen-age legend,' according to Gail Zappa's text."