Reviews in this issue:
- Various Artists - ProgDay ‘98
- Various Artists - ProgDay 2001
- Various Artists - ProgDay Encore? [7 Disc Box Set]
Various Artists - ProgDay ‘98
Disc One: Crucible - An Imp's Tale (20:06), Down And Out (5:04) Soundscape - Between The Sun And The Moon (5:48) Discipline - Mickey Mouse Man (6:18), Before The Storm / Blueprint (18:12) The Flower Kings - The Flower King / Stardust We Are [Part Three] (19:58)
Disc Two: Alaska - Bardanes / Reason To Wonder (4:57), Tiananmen Square (11:25) A Piedi Nudi - Le Amanti (7:41), Regina Del Torrente (7:19), Morte Di Un Fiore (3:34), Il Duello / La Ballerina (11:00), Dea Delle Rocce, Signore Del Vento (4:42) Pär Lindh Project - Bilbo Medley (5:52), The Cathedral (15:06)
Somehow both this album and ProgDay 2001 reviewed below passed the DPRP by on their initial release in 2002. To make amends we have decided to include them in this ProgDay special celebrating the re-release of the new ProgDay Encore 7 CD box set also reviewed below. This in comparison is a more modest double disc set but still contains nearly 2½ hours of fine music. This live recording is compiled from the 1998 event of the annual ProgDay festival held as always at Storybook Farm, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. Rain soaked European festival goers will be amused to read the liner notes by organiser Peter Renfro where he complains about “the heat from the unrelenting sun”. He should be so lucky!
American act Crucible gets things underway with two numbers, the second being a cover of the opening song from Genesis’ And Then There Were Three album. The driving Down And Out is not one of Genesis’ better tunes but Crucible give it their best shot delivering a faithful and energetic version with impeccable drumming from Tony Cappellina. Better still is the opening epic length An Imp's Tale where the bands Genesis influences are apparent from the outset. Taken from their debut album Tall Tales released that same year it goes through a myriad of changes that stylistically and structurally draws liberally from the Genesis back catalogue. It’s entertaining stuff however especially the organ, mellotron and synth work of Tim Horan that has the Tony Banks stamp of quality. Only the lead singer Bill Esposito seems slightly out of place sounding closer to Geddy Lee of Rush than either Gabriel or Collins.
Speaking of which, Between The Sun And The Moon by Soundscape is not to be confused with a similarly titled Rush song. Soundscape make good use of their six minutes with a deceptively smooth start that develops into a heavy slice of rock dominated by the showy excesses of guitarist Todd Rose. Another US band Discipline follow, with the eccentric vocal style of front man Matthew Parameter putting me in mind of Peter Hamill. The punchy Mickey Mouse Man is an OK song but to my ears it’s more mainstream pop/rock than prog. Before The Storm and Blueprint display more depth with guitarist Jon Preston Bouda’s playing ranging from the distorted to the Dave Gilmour influenced fluidity that brings a Floydian stateliness to the finale. In addition to vocals, Parameter contributes some impressive piano work.
The incomparable Flower Kings close disc one with unsurprisingly the most polished performance. It provides a rare opportunity to hear an earlier live incarnation of the band with only Roine Stolt and Hans Froberg from the current line up. Coincidently, I played this CD returning from a recent FK’s gig and the performance of The Flower King here is every bit as good as the one I recall from that evening. Taken at a more relaxed tempo than the original it blends seamlessly with Stardust We Are, one of my all time favourites from the band. A good medley from Sweden’s finest but Stardust really deserves to be heard in its entirety.
Opening disc two are Alaska, another new name (to me at least) from the USA. Prog duos are something of a rarity but vocalist, drummer and guitarist Al Lewis and keyboardist John O’Hara seem to have all the bases covered. I found the liberal use of tape effects and sampled voices an unnecessary distraction however especially during the otherwise memorable Bardanes / Reason To Wonder. The neo prog Tiananmen Square sees O’Hara demonstrating his mastery of digital synths although the sound is a little on the clinical side. Lewis’ pleasant high tenor vocals are strongly reminiscent of Starcastle’s Terry Luttrell.
Up until now, it’s been a relatively smooth ride but A Piedi Nudi are about to change all of that. This is complex and demanding stuff with virtuoso performances all round. I detected elements of King Crimson and ELP with shades of PFM. The percussive Le Amanti is deceptively lightweight to begin becoming more strident with weighty organ chords and powerful rhythm playing. The mostly instrumental Regina Del Torrente twists and turns with tricky guitar and keys interplay and impeccable piano and synth work. In contrast, Morte Di Un Fiore is a short but melodic song featuring unusually the French Horn and smooth Italian vocals from drummer Carlo Bighetti. Il Duello and La Ballerina have a darker more edgy feel where the guitar of Nicola Gardinale and organ of Christian Chinaglia battle it out. Dea Delle Rocce, Signore Del Vento is similarly dark with lightning fast but unified organ and guitar ending on a bombastic note.
As much as I admire A Piedi Nudi’s technically impressive intensity, the melodic keys driven prog of Pär Lindh Project came as a welcome relief. Bilbo Medley is a strong instrumental with a catchy organ/synth and guitar melody. The Cathedral is the bands crowing glory however with its majestic almost medieval tone and sparse vocals from Magdalena Hagberg sounding suitably angelic against a celestial organ backdrop. As the piece develops, beautiful classical guitar contrasts with busy ELP influenced instrumental work reminiscent of Tarkus. A fitting way for the band to end their performance and this album.
This is an extremely well thought out collection that really does have something for all discerning prog lovers. It comes as no surprise that ’98 was the best attended ProgDay up to that time. The sound quality in particular is excellent with production by organiser Peter Renfro and mastering by Fred Schendel of Glass Hammer fame. Whilst I have my favourite performances no one band appears to dominate. All four American acts should be applauded for not succumbing to the AOR pitfalls that so often dogs US prog. The Italian representation can certainly play, but it’s the two Swedish bands The Flower Kings and Pär Lindh Project that carry the day for me. Well worth investigation whatever your preferences.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Various Artists - ProgDay 2001
Disc One: Yeti - Interstellar Bi-Plane (10:12), Two Fingers (9:11) Sigmund Snopek III - 6 Years 1000 Eyes / Staring Song / Eyes / Colors & Confusion / Hypnotic Eye (8:08), Flight Of The Frees (5:21), Ockar Thinking / Blacmar Chrinking / Osmidachoo / The Dry People / Hypnotic Pulse / Evil Allies / First Attack Of The Free Spirits / Cry Of The Free [after losing] (9:57) The Muffins - Military Road (3:12), East of Diamond (8:25)
Disc Two: Polydactyl - Altitude (6:57), Factory (6:11), Route 666 (6:26) Azigza – Distance (6:01), X (8:58), Zaman (6:30) Ars Nova - Holra Rising (3:32), Mika Solo (3:05), Pairi-Daeza (10:05)
Following ProgDay ’98 (reviewed above) Peter Renfro found it increasingly difficult to deal with the trappings associated with bigger name bands so ’99 onwards saw him and his fellow organisers working with lesser known acts. This recording is taken from the seventh event of the annual ProgDay which took place as before at Storybook Farm, North Carolina in September 2001. Like ProgDay ’98 it was one of the best attended shows in the festivals history. There are six bands represented on this two disc set and most if not all of them are likely to be unknown to the average DPRP reader. Unfamiliarity however is not a reflection on the quality of the performances. The music is certainly demanding at times and as such may not appeal to the casual listener. Give it a chance though and there are rewards to be had.
Opening act Yeti may be an American band, but their avant-garde brand of prog is about as far removed from that normally associated with US acts as you can get. The heavy and discordant Interstellar Bi-Plane is based around a succession of repetitive guitar/bass riffs with pounding drums and spacey synth inserts. This is instrumental music at its most intense and is certainly not for the faint hearted. Think of King Crimson at their most challenging and your part way there. If anything the chaotic Two Fingers is taken at an even more frantic pace where the distortion and feedback sounds right at home. Some very good playing however from all four band members especially drummer Jon Teague and bassist Tom Atkins.
Sigmund Snopek III match their bizarre name with some of the most eccentric, or should I say pretentious music I’ve encountered for some time. With an impressive array of instrumentation including, keys, flute, cello, saxophone and guitar their eclectic mix of styles reminded me of Frank Zappa and Gong. 6 Years 1000 Eyes is distinguished by quirky vocals from keys man Sigmund Snopek III himself and a squawking sax solo from Dick Parry that’s a million miles from his cohesive work on Dark Side Of The Moon. Things get heavier and better with a storming cello riff (yes I did say cello riff) sounding like ELO on steroids and Robert Plant style banshee screams. Flight Of The Frees includes some majestic orchestral prog with guitarist Ramie Espinoza excelling before rambling sax and flute reduce it to a cacophonic mess. The final piece, which must hold some kind of record for the longest title ever for a song, continues in the same vein with fine ensemble playing combined with moments of pure chaos. It’s difficult to sum Sigmund Snopek III up. At their best they sound truly inspirational, at their worst it’s a frustrating listening experience.
The Muffins feature the unusual combination of two sax players Tom Scott and Dave Newhouse and no lead guitar. The jazzy instrumental Military Road did nothing for me possibly because it seemed to pick up from where Sigmund Snopek III left off. I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the standout lead playing of bass man Billy Swan however. The final East Of Diamond is a totally different animal and is easily the most accessible and for me most enjoyable track on disc one. Scott gives a stunningly beautiful performance on this mellow instrumental which sounds in part uncannily like Steve Hackett’s Spectral Mornings (with sax instead of guitar of course).
Following the musical mayhem that typified the first disc, the smooth jazz rock fusion of Polydactyl came as a pleasant respite. Altitude sees guitarist Kelly Thompson laying down a thick carpet of sublime prog noodlings. Keys man Jim Crew shares the lead in Factory delivery an imaginative and articulate synth solo for his part. Chapman Stick man Wayne Leechford and drummer Brian Donohoe come into their own with the funky rhythm of Route 666 and a skilled partnership that put me in mind of Tony Levin and Bill Bruford. The inspired instrumental work of Polydactyl is by far the highlight of the collection for me. My only recommendation would be that the band puts a little more thought into the arrangements. All three pieces simple peter out rather than coming to a logical and structured conclusion.
Instrumentally, Azigza are a different prospect altogether. Fronted by singer Cyoakha Grace the band favour traditional sounds with the violin of Phil Hyun reminiscent of Jerry Goodman’s work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The sparsely arranged Distance has a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour thanks to sensuous vocals, ethnic percussion and mandolin. In contrast X includes moments of heavy prog with Cyoakha sounding like Bjork, Siouxsie Sioux and Toyah Wilcox on various occasions. Zaman includes some very fine playing especially from Hyun but seems to drift aimlessly which is not helped by the erratic vocals and abrasive guitar sound. Azigza are a band with much in their favour but ultimately lack any clear direction or a sense of identity to appeal to a wider audience.
In contrast, the sound of the all female trio Ars Nova is grounded in a very traditional prog style. Keys players Mika and Keiko Kumagai quote freely from Messrs Emerson, Wakeman and Banks throughout the all instrumental set. The band may be Japanese but the classical flavoured Holra Rising takes it’s inspiration from traditional European music. Mika Solo is the sets highlight with a beautifully played piano piece without a hint of bombast. Unfortunately Pairi-Daeza which should have provided the grand finale is marred by lacklustre drumming from Akikio Takahasti and a thin keys sound from the leads.
Cards on the table, this is not an album I can heartily recommend or one I’m likely to return to very often. I’ve nothing against the relative anonymity of the acts involved, I’m all for the promotion of lesser known bands. As is often the case they produce music with more vitality and originality than their better known peers. My chief reservation is the unrelenting intensity of the performances where more melody and light to accompany the shade would have been welcome. The scarcity of vocals will also work against it for some. What elevates this collection above the average however and accounts for my final rating is the singularly excellent musicianship throughout. The quality recording also ensures that every single note is superbly captured. It should be approached with a little more caution than ProgDay ’98 however and be prepared to fasten your seat belt it’s not the easiest of rides.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Various Artists – ProgDay Encore?
Disc One [69:25]: Cloud Nine – Thief (6:17) Discipline – Diminished (8:30), Carmilla (9:55) Ars Nova – Transi (8:20), Morgan (10:59), Nova (10:43) Galadriel - On the Verge Of A Dream (5:23), Soft As A Feather (9:16)
Disc Two [66:48]: Deus Ex Machina - Ad Montem [excerpt] (2:15), Res Publica II (7:12), Perpetua Lux (3:18), Hostis (5:57), Smokin' Granny - Ghost Catcher Box (4:40), Expecting Fulfillment (6:09), Toad Pizza (3:15), Hydroglyfic (4:15), Squid (6:25), Stud Chick (0:54), Edible Polymers (2:41), Discipline - Into The Dream (22:09)
Disc Three [73:12]: French TV - Jazz Improv (9:35), Waiting To Submerge (9:11) Providence - An Epilogue For Cajolement (6:53), "Choko-muro" The Paradise (6:34), HCHO-40 (8:13), There Once Was A Night Of "Choko-muro" The Paradise [Part 2] (11:30), Volaré - One Minute Of Thought... In Two Seconds Of Time (9:31), [Incomplete, Broken & Abstract] (5:51), The Eighth Direction (5:49)
Disc Four [55:48]: Salem Hill – Aceldama (5:14), Someday (5:04), Brave New World (3:24), Between The Two (5:50), Flight Of Icarus (6:48), Equinox – Refugio (5:26) Defying The Forces Of Nature [A Spontaneous Improv] (9:54), Discipline - Crutches (14:04), Before The Storm (15:17)
Disc Five [73:09]: Glass Hammer - Time Marches On (11:18), After The Fall – Mirage (10:28), Moonus Starus (7:08), The Last Hero (7:11), The Gavel (4:43), Sunspotz (9:29), Finisterre - In Limine (6:46), Alta Loma (10:17), All Star Prog Jam - I Know What I Like (5:46)
Disc Six [71:40]: House Of Usher - Back To Now (1:53), Don't Remind Me (10:09), Father Me (4:18), A Soul Without (5:39), C'est Pas Fini (11:15), NeBeLNeST - Crab Nebula (6:30), Thinking Plague - Behold The Man (4:31), Moonsongs [excerpt] (3:57), Warheads (6:40), Apocalypse - Corta (6:12), Jamais Retornarei (6:29), Classicos [Rock Version] (4:03)
Disc Seven [71:51]: Ten Jinn - The Dance of Les Innocents (5:25), Darkling Plain (7:04), Byzantine Fire (5:05), The Vampire Lestat [Forever Young] (5:30), Dark Aether Project - Burnt Sunrise (6:02), Consorzio Aqua Potabile - Il Mercante [intro] (2:13), Arnaldo Da Chatillon Crociato (7:25), Soli Sull'Olimpo (17:55), Robin...Again (15:09)
With ProgDay '95, ProgDay ’98, ProgDay 2001 and ProgDay Kinections well documented, it seemed appropriate that the music from the intervening years should be given an airing, resulting in this epic collection. And I do mean epic, both in terms size and content. This seven disc compilation box set comes as a limited edition of just 1000 copies. All recordings have been selected from ProgDay ’95, ’96, ’97 and ’99. Accompanying the collection is a lovingly detailed 48 page colour booklet written by festival organiser Peter Renfro. This chronicles the trails and tribulations of staging the annual event along with interesting snippets about the acts involved. As with previous ProgDay releases Fred Schendel has done a superb job in the sound department bringing this set to fruition with remarkable clarity.
Launching disc one are local band Cloud Nine (who eventually evolved into Ozone Quartet) who make the most of their single offering Thief. This has the distinction of being the opening song of the very first ProgDay held on Sunday 3rd September 1995. A dark and menacing riff underpins some very good playing form electric violinist Hollis Brown. The drums are a little lost in the sound balance but the Chapman Stick of Wayne Leechford cuts through loud and clear. Incidentally, he is also a member of Polydactyl who made a good account of themselves at ProgDay 2001. Festival favourites Discipline also made their ProgDay debut in ’95 with two contributions included here, and they are both crackers. Originally a five piece with a keyboardist, it’s still the vocals of Matthew Parameter and lead guitar of Jon Preston Bouda that dominates. Diminished in particular is excellent. A slow brooding song it builds into a memorable slice of symphonic prog. On this occasions Parameter’s versatile vocals reminded of IQ’s Peter Nicholls.
Ars Nova as recorded at ProgDay ’96 is an earlier, and for my money better incarnation of the band than their ProgDay 2001 performance. The music is richer, heavier and more grandiose. The sound certainly benefits from the stylish bass work of Kyoto Kanazawa shortly before she left the band and the prominence of the Hammond. Three glorious, free flowing, keys driven prog instrumentals that put me in mind of Rick Wakeman’s Criminal Record album. And that’s high praise indeed. Setting up the sound for the 6 piece Spanish neo-proggers Galadriel proved to be logistical nightmare for the organisers, but the end result was worth the effort. Lead vocalist Jesus Filardi sings (and talks) with no hint of an accent and his warm expressive style is very close to Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout fame. The music is not too dissimilar either, very melodic and very low key with delicate piano and keys dominating. To close, Nacho Serrano provides a soaring David Gilmour style solo to balance things out. Not obvious music for a festival but beautifully performed.
Disc two is led by Deus Ex Machina another 6 piece, this time from Italy with an eccentric style that defies description. The vocals of Alberto Piras swing between manic and operatic with everyone playing at 100 miles an hour for the most part. Perputa Lex is a rare acoustic moment with evocative violin from Alessandro Bonetti. The super charged drum work of Claudio Trotta really stood out for me especially during the Los Endos sounding Hostis. Another local band Smokin' Granny have seven instrumentals from ProgDay ’97 to their credit with excellent musicianship all round. The music combines moments of melodic tranquilly with up tempo jazz-rock excursions. It would seem unfair to single any of these guys out but busy sax player Todd Barbee and rock solid bassist Brian Preston deserve a mention. The same year sees the return of Discipline giving another memorable performance this time with the epic length Into the Dream to close.
Despite their name disc three openers French TV are from Kentucky, USA. The instrumental Jazz Improv is exactly what it says with references to Yes’ Close To The Edge amongst others. The bands sound is very reminiscent of the Canterbury style of fusion with sterling playing from guitarist Dean Zigoris. In contrast from the same year of ’97 Providence from Japan deliver an upbeat and melodic brand of neo prog with strident guitar and keys interplay. The icing on the cake is the gorgeous vocals of Takako Sugawara performing in her native tongue. Volaré are another American band who you may be forgiven for thinking are French. They turn in a stunning set of instrumentals that unites the melody of early to mid-period Genesis with busy but tuneful jazz noodlings. Highlight performance of an already impressive disc. The drummer Brian Donohoe surely gets around having performed with French TV on the same show and with Polydactyl at ProgDay 2001.
Disc four continues the generous selection from ProgDay ’97 with Salem Hill a band that skilfully sidesteps AOR with their catchy brand of symphonic rock. The dual vocalists reminded me of Styx and John Wetton, ably supported by some very melodic guitar and keys playing. The bands occasional tendency towards bombast has parallels with another American band Cryptic Vision who I favourably reviewed recently for the DPRP. Violinist David Ragsdale of Kansas fame makes a memorable guest appearance on both Brave New World and Flight Of Icarus.
We skip a year to ‘99, but for a full review of ProgDay ’98 see above. From Panama, Equinox produce one of the best instrumentals so far in the shape of the driving and melodic Refugio. The bands flashy style should have fans of Yes in particular drooling. Due to circumstances beyond their control (you’ll have to read the booklet to find out why) the band are required to provide an improvised jam and they do a remarkable job. Bass man Alan Pinzon really excels here. Discipline are back again, this time with two more songs from ProgDay ’97 including Before The Storm a song that also gets an airing at ProgDay ’98. The more I hear vocalist and keyboardist Matthew Parameter the more I’m impressed by his versatility.
Disc five opens with one of the best known acts on the entire set, namely Glass Hammer. Their sole contribution here may seem a bit meagre but that’s because keys man Fred Schendel was busy mixing all the other bands for this collection. Still, as expected it’s a stunning version of Time Marches On that does everything a good prog song should, including getting the hairs on the back of the neck to stand to attention! The selection from ProgDay ’97 continues with After The Fall and given that I gave their last album a thumbs down I wasn’t sure what to expect. Opening with Fanfare For The Common Man I was expecting the worse. However, although ELP amongst others are still an obvious point of reference, I found the band a far more enjoyable proposition live than in the studio. The material also seems much stronger here, I telling indication that a band should not be judged solely on one release.
The extremely talented Finisterre from Italy sound like a melting pot of several classic 70’s prog bands and what an enjoyable instrumental concoction they produce. Jethro Tull, Yes, PFM, King Crimson, Focus and the Canterbury scene are all in evidence with delightful flute playing from Sergio Garzia in particular. Joining the band to close ProgDay ’97 is an all star jam of Genesis’ I Know What I Like, surprisingly one of the few covers on this entire set. To be fair it’s a fairly sloppy performance resembling a drunken sing along, but it probably went down a storm with the crowd!
Disc six is taken entirely from ProgDay ’99 and includes four bands that could hardly be more diverse. House Of Usher from the USA are another hybrid of influences and the end result is superbly crafted and performed symphonic rock. The vocals from Aaron Letrick are strong as is the guitar work of Michael Moore which has shades of Steve Howe. Keys player Richard Kaczynski’s influences are obvious, but the inclusion of Bumble Boogie and Benny The Bouncer during Don't Remind Me didn’t work for me. French band NeBeLNeST offer the dark and moody instrumental Crab Nebula with intricate playing from all four members. I could hear Robert Fripp in there amongst others. Whilst NeBeLNeST have an immediately accessible sound, Thinking Plague are very much an acquired taste. The Avant garde instrumental work includes sax, clarinet, flute and accordion with occasional and (deliberately) tuneless vocals from Deborah Perry.
Apocalypse guitarist Ruy Fritsch may be singing in Portuguese but his vocals are about as close to Fish as you can get. In fact this Brazilian band sound very early Marillion and Pendragon especially the guitar and synth interplay. Overtones of Emerson and Hackett are in there as well providing a very ear friendly and enjoyable listening experience helped by some very strong hooks. Not a huge fan of covers, I even enjoyed the excerpts of Grieg, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Tchaikovsky during the closing Classicos.
Disc seven concludes the set with two US and one Italian band from ProgDay ’99. Ten Jinn includes Happy The Man guitarist Stan Whitaker much may account for the musical similarities. This is intricate prog that is high on melody with excellent vocal harmonies in the vein of Spock’s Beard and Gentle Giant. Keys man Bob Niemeyer incorporates tuneful dynamics reminiscent of Tony Banks. Dark Aether Project are represented by one meticulously structured instrumental Burnt Sunrise. The smooth Robert Fripp style of guitarist Steve Geest is superbly complimented by the ringing 8 string guitar of Adam Levin. An all too brief taster from an excellent performance that left me wanting more.
It was worth having Consorzio Aqua Potabile on the bill just to hear host Peter Renfro fumbling attempt to pronounce their name in his introduction. Better known as CAP, I first came across the band on the Prog-Resiste 2004 DVD although here the music is more assured with greater depth. The bands mature sound reflects the fact that they’ve been performing since the 70’s although the line up has undergone several changes. Dramatic instrumental passages are conveyed in true Italian prog style with reed players Maurizio Venegoni and Silvia Carpo along with pianist and keyboardist Giovanni di Biase adding an orchestral polish. The epic length Robin...Again makes a suitably grand finale, just a pity about the drum solo at the half way mark!
For true music lovers, this set covers most of the bases. Symphonic, jazz-fusion neo-prog, Italian prog, Canterbury and Avant-garde are all well represented. In fact it’s such a unique collection it’s very much in a class of its own. To even attempt to rate it out of 10 would be doing it an injustice. In addition to the strong international representation I was particularly impressed by the originality of the home grown American acts with scarcely a Rush or Kansas imitation in sight. Unlike certain ad campaigns for other collections I’m not about to claim that this is “the only prog collection you’ll ever need”. However, it will keep you seriously entertained long after the Christmas tree has shed its needles and Auld Lang Syne is just a faded memory. If Santa has neglected to fulfil your hearts desire this year you could do far worse than to check this out. Seriously recommended.
Conclusion: Not rated