By ProgBlog, Jan 1 2015 08:13PM
It would be easy to do a prog retrospective of 2014; the festivals and other concerts, the important albums, other milestones... but I’m not going to because although I don’t mind looking at lists and comparing the thoughts of journalists (and their manipulation of source data, should they have asked for public opinion) with mine, I still regard it as lazy and relatively meritless.
On the face of it, compared to my birthday and previous Christmases, this Christmas was relatively prog-free. I did get Consorzio Acqua Potabile’s 40th anniversary edition of Il Teatro delle Ombre (The Shadow Theatre), a very nicely presented 4CD set that includes a 20th anniversary edition of ...Nei Gorghi del Tempo (In the Whirlpool of Time.) The music dates back to the 70s and I suppose it slots into a style that most closely resembles Banco del Mutuo Soccorso with the twin keyboards, though CAP are slightly less adventurous. There are multiple layers of instruments and strong vocals but I think the modern production may have taken something away from the compositions, despite the inclusion of vintage keyboards. The CD of live material, apart from the Banco-like titled Traccia Tre from 1979, ranges from the late 90s to 2011. I’d love to hear the music as it was presented in the early 70s. I also got Paper Charms, the complete BBC recordings of PFM. This 2CD+1 DVD set forms a kind of companion piece to the re-mastered, expanded Cook and captures the band at the height of their global fame. CD1, with introductions from Pete Drummond in clipped BBC tones, closely follows the track selection from the original Cook which had been released not too long before the appearance at the BBC Paris Theatre, London. The playing is exemplary and the mix is well balanced, though Drummond comes across as rather loud. There’s a fair degree of difference between the Cook version of Alta Loma 5 ‘till 9 [sic] and those on Paper Charms but the other material is similar. During one announcement, Drummond suggests that Four Holes in the Ground contains the influence of Greek music because it was the first song written by the band after half-French, half-Greek Patrick Djivas had joined the band from Area and I believe that he’s correct, even though Djivas does not get a song writing credit. The PFM box set, from my brother Richard, was accompanied by a Pink Floyd – The Wall pen which writes really neatly. My brother Andrew also got me some prog: Finneus Gauge’s One Inch of the Fall and (Bruford Levin Upper Extremities) BLUE Nights. The former had been on my wish list for a while because I’d read that the style was on the progressive side of jazz rock. I’m not a great fan of US prog (I own Day for Night by Spock’s Beard, Journey of the Dunadan by Glass Hammer and The Weirding by Astra and I’m not over impressed. I’ve also got Hot Rats which is excellent but I’m not sure that Zappa should be pigeonholed as prog. It may surprise you to find out that I’m also toying with the idea of trying out a Fireballet album.) I hadn’t picked up on the Echolyn – Finneus Gauge connection because I’ve not listened to any Echolyn but I think One Inch of the Fall is the best US prog album that I own. Laura Martin has a great, distinctive voice and the musicianship can’t be faulted. What makes it better than the other American prog is the uniform high quality of the writing; there really is no filler here and, though you can detect some Canterbury influences, it doesn’t sound like anyone else. This Canterbury influence is best exemplified by Scott McGill’s guitar work which, at times, is reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth. There’s a slight bias towards guitar (as opposed to keyboards) but that’s not a criticism. BLUE Nights, a live documentary of the Bruford Levin analogue of a King Crimson projecKt, takes the material from their studio album, which I like very much, and extends it into Crimson improvisational territory. The Chris Botti trumpet, along with Bruford’s precision drumming, puts the band in a modern jazz setting which is pulled towards progressive rock territory by David Torn’s guitar loops and effects. It’s clear that there’s a musical chemistry between the band members; they had previously appeared together on Torn’s Cloud About Mercury which covers roughly the same ground.
My main Christmas present wasn’t prog-related but it was conceptual. The now ritual pre-Christmas trip to Venice isn’t just about Rock Progressivo Italiano, it’s also about coffee. I’ve imported beans from Torrefazione Cannaregio in the past (www.torrefazionecannaergio.it) and stopping in the small shop for a morning espresso (€0.90) is an essential part of the Venetian itinerary. So, with the understanding that good coffee plays an increasingly important part of my life, Susan bought me a DeLonghi espresso machine and Daryl has provided a voucher for barista lessons. Awesome.
The one issue I have with BLUE Nights is that Tony Levin recounts in his BLUE Road Diary from the Japan Tour, April 5th: “There seem to be Starbucks in various parts of Tokyo, so decent espresso isn’t far away anywhere here.” I suppose that Starbucks tax avoidance might not have been such an issue in 1998 but it’s stretching a point to call their espresso decent! I attended the International Histocompatibility Workshop Conference in Seattle in May 2002 where the coffee was provided at no charge by Starbucks. Better coffee could be obtained outside the Washington State Convention Center [sic] at the Seattle Coffee Company (Seattle’s Best Coffee) which has apparently subsequently been subsumed by the mighty Starbucks. Having read Levin’s BLUE road diary, it’s interesting that the booklet that accompanies King Crimson's "57 Minutes Of Improvised Music" ThraKaTTaK CD contains a diagram for the ‘Crim Valet’, a portable espresso machine in a flight case with storage for cups, glasses and wine. This suggests that Levin is serious about his coffee and indeed, he used to have a page on his Papabear website called ‘Tony’s Coffee Corner’. The Crim Valet, aka Café Crim, did make it out on the road during a Crimson European tour around 1999 – 2000. Tony’s Coffee Corner also reveals that Levin owned a Gaggia which was sampled for inclusion on the track Espresso and the Bed of Nails from his World Diary album. Tony, whatever were you thinking? Starbucks, decent espresso?