If ever there was a country most conducive to prog rock, it must be Peru. The molten heart of South American embraces Amazonian rainforest, frozen Andean peaks, mist-shrouded ancient monuments and the incredible folk-prog powerhouse that is Flor De Loto. To sample just one of their extended audio adventures is to fly to all these places and beyond.
The band comprises lead guitarist Alonso Herrera; bassist Alejandro Jarrin; Junior Pacora on wind instruments, charango (Andean stringed instrument) and backing vocals; Alvaro Escobar on drums and Pierre Farfán on lead and rhythm guitar.
“Alonso and I started to play together back in 1998,” says Alejandro, “we just hang out at a drummer friend of mine´s house and jam for hours. We released our first album in 2005,we have eight albums now. We have a lot of influences. A lot of progressive rock bands from the 70s and 80´s, heavy metal, progressive metal, Latin American folk, Jazz, world music, etc.”
“The hallmark of the band is the fusion…” adds Alonso, “…we can have moments oriented more towards metal, hard rock or progressive but always the differential element is the influence of Latin American folklore.”
Says Pierre: “…it is the progressive rock influence that allows us to fuse the metal and Andean music. The expertise in their representatives, their complex structures and capricious cadences, easily seduces [those} who seek music with extensive content. It is a transgressor that has something to offer everyone.”
Composition is very much a group responsibility. “Usually what happens when one of us shows a new song to the rest of the band, we all propose arrangements and sometimes, the song ends being different [from] it´s original version,” says Alejandro.
“We put all our influences and knowledge to the service of the songs,” says Alonso, “ and we make these no longer the work of a single composer, to become part of the whole band. We call this process ‘florlotization’. At this stage what you do is connect with the other members of the band; turning the whole into a single musician.”
This ‘oneness’ is impressively evident in the band’s recordings and live shows. Even on their wildest flights, the guys display an easy togetherness that never seems to falter.
So what next for Flor De Loto?
“After an intense and emotional step towards the Crescendo festival in France,” says Alonso, “we have to make dates in Lima to present our new album, Tree of Life , then in November we will travel to festival Crescendo in Cayenne, French Guyana. 2017 will continue with the ‘Tree of Life Tour’ and we have planned concerts in Mexico and the US.”
In the home of the Gods, the cradle of Western civilization, something powerful and magical is stirring. When it comes to progressive rock, Greece has a long and distinguished history, not least among the list of notables being the mighty Aphrodite’s Child. Inevitably, though, old makes way for new, and here come a fresh band of torch-bearers from the ancient city of Athens…
Ciccada are: Nicolas Nikolopoulos (flute, recorder, sax, and keyboards); Yorgos Mouchos (guitars); Yannis Iliakis (drums,synthesizer); Dimitra Spela (vocals) and Aggelos Mal (bass). The band was formed in 2005 and their last album, The Finest of Miracles, was deservedly well-received by the prog community. It’s a down-the-rabbit-hole adventure that is cinematic in scope, weaving and turning whilst rocking hard.
At times Ciccada sound like a heavenly mix of Renaissance, Gryphon and King Crimson, but that would be selling them short – there is a marriage of robustness and delicacy, intricacy and power in their music that is unique. It’s a spellbinding quality perhaps best reflected in their wide-spread influences. As Nicolas attests, the band not only cite prog-rock luminaries such as Gentle Giant, but also “…the greats of the first half of 20th century like R.V. Williams, Bartok, Martinu, the French school of Six, Stravinsky, Martin, Bernstein, to name but a few.”
I asked Nicolas how he viewed the musical vision of the band. “To merge our influences,” he told me, “in a genuine musical language of our own. Be faithful to our tastes `till the end. And play it to the people!”
What is, does he think that makes progressive music so popular and enduring?
“The challenging mixes of styles and its adventurous nature. Many progressive artists` output is timeless like the great classic composers` work is.”
Perhaps it’s this even-handed respect for both progressive rock and classical music that makes Ciccada’s work sound so extraordinary. Not that the band limit themselves to inspiration from musical sources, they have also contributed to “Decameron”, a special project featuring music based on tales by the 14th century Italian writer, Boccacio, and a similar venture celebrating the work of visionary horror-maestro H.P. Lovecraft.
What next for the band?
“A new release of a 12′ inch is due next month,” says Nicolas, “there will be just two songs that never made it to our albums but were included in several thematic projects in the past.”
In 1970, English pioneering symphonic progressive rock group The Nice disbanded and its keyboardist, Keith Emerson formed the legendary act, Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP) along with King Crimson bassist and vocalist Greg Lake and Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer. This was in effect the first progressive rock superband. Emerson Lake and Palmer achieved instant fame with their debut at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.
The 1971 debut album, Emerson Lake and Palmer went platinum. It was produced by Greg Lake and featured a song that Lake had written while still in school: “Lucky Man.” This song, performed on acoustic guitar, was their first single. It ended with an unconventional new sound, the lead Moog synthesizer solo. This futuristic sound fascinated thousands of music fans. “Lucky Man,” became an iconic song for the band and a popular classic on FM radio.
Like other progressive rock groups in the late 1970s, ELP headed in a commercial direction after Works Volume 2 (1977). Love Beach, released in 1978 contained a couple of pieces that recalled ELP’s former glory, but the rest of the album leaned towards short pop songs and, additionally, the unappealing disco-like album cover was disliked by many fans. The final two studio albums, “Black Moon” (1992) and “In the Hot Seat” (1994) continued the direction towards radio friendly AOR and melodic rock.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer disbanded several times so its members could pursue solo careers. One line-up featured the late Cozy Powell on drums, together with Emerson and Lake. Each time the band re-united on stage, fans showed up by the thousands to see them.
In 2010, Shout! Factory released Emerson Lake & Palmer “A Time and A Place”, a 4-CD boxed set of remastered live rarities and bootlegs. The collection includes material from 1970 to 1998.
On Sunday, July 25th, 2010, Emerson, Lake and Palmer reformed for the first time since 1998 to headline the High Voltage Festival in London. The music from this performance appeared on the Emerson, Lake & Palmer “40th Anniversary Reunion Concert” DVD. This release contains many of ELP’s most beloved compositions.
In 2012, British musician and engineer Steven Wilson (Porcupine tree) remixed ELP’s debut album Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Tarkus into 5.1 and high resolution stereo.
The Brain Salad Surgery and Trilogy remixes were made by King Crimson’s guitarist Jakko Jakszyk in 2013.
In 1967, flutist Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, guitarist Anthony Phillips, bassist Mike Rutherford and drummer Chris Stewart formed Genesis, an extraordinary musical act that would later become one of the most famous progressive rock bands in history.
Initially, Peter Gabriel was a flute player, but he soon became the lead vocalist. Gabriel also became the main lyricist for Genesis. Gabriel also introduced theatrical elements to the band’s shows. He used makeup and various costumes during Genesis’ live performances.
While Genesis was recording its debut pop album, From Genesis to Revelation, drummer Chris Stewart was replaced by John Silver. Before recording the second LP, Trespass, Silver was replaced by John Mayhew. Trespass marked a shift to lengthier and more complex tracks, moving Genesis into a solid progressive rock direction.
Health problems and stage fright led guitarist Anthony Phillips to leave the band. This crisis nearly broke up the band. Steve Hackett was recruited and became the new guitar player, while Phil Collins took over drums and backing vocals.
Genesis quickly became a legendary progressive rock band thanks to its charismatic vocals, elaborate lyrics, outstanding music and innovative visual effects. Progressive rock fans worldwide consider the band one of the finest of all time and numerous groups and singers in the 1970s, and later decades, were and are still heavily influenced by the Genesis sound.
In 1975, after tensions during the recording of the double LP The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Peter Gabriel left and started his solo career. Genesis stayed as a quartet and drummer Peter Collins became the lead vocalist.
Genesis took a radical shift in 1978, after guitarist Steve Hackett left. Genesis became a trio and was transformed into a very successful chart-topping pop band.
In 2012, Steve Hackett released the highly successful Genesis Revisited II album.
When you look for music to capture the spirit of the Halloween celebration, you normally get the usual recommendations: Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s overplayed ‘Monster Mash’ or Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ and Alice Cooper’s ‘Welcome to My Nightmare.’ However, there other fabulous alternatives with musical genres such as progressive rock, folk, early music and world music that also capture the feel of horror, fantasy, and mystery.
Progressive rock is a great place to find wonderful material. Italian group Goblin is one of the kings of horror film music. They released straight ahead progressive rock albums and also specialized in horror movie soundtracks. Goblin worked closely with Italian director Dario Argento. Their available discography includes: Profondo Rosso (1975), Roller (1976), Suspiria (1977), Il Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark (1978), Tenebre (1982). A 6-CD boxed set titled Awakening includes their iconic soundtracks to Profondo Rosso, Suspiria, Tenebre and George Romero’s Zombi (Dawn of the Dead), together with their 1976 album Roller, Il Fantastico Viaggio del Bagarozzo Mark and the rare non-album singles ‘Chi?’ And ‘Yell’.
Multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield had an unexpected hit with his album “Tubular Bells.” Parts of this recording were used in the cult horror film The Excorcist”
One of the most wonderful symphonic progressive rock albums released in the 1970s was Pulsar’s Halloween. This French beauty released in 1977 was reissued on CD and is easily available. Halloween features vocals in English, ghostly voices and hauntingly beautiful mellotron and other keyboards.
Swedish group Morte Macabre (featuring members of Landberk and Anekdoten) specialize in recreations of Italian horror film music. Their album is titled Symphonic Holocaust.
Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma includes the strange creature sounds of ‘Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict’ and the frightening axe murderer piece ‘Careful With That Axe Eugene.’
If you love the Gothic sound of Baroque-era cathedral organ, Italian trio Three Monks specializes in instrumental progressive rock led by cathedral-style pipe organ. Their album is titled Neogothic Progressive Toccatas (Black Widow Records, 2011)
Of all the great classic progressive rock bands on the 1970s, Van Der Graaf Generator was certainly the darkest. The band’s leader Peter Hammill released a solo album from his opera The Fall of the House of Usher inspired by Edgar Alan Poe.
A reader alerted us about an omission. Although the name Halloween has been used by several rock bands in various countries, there is a French progressive rock band that released 5 recordings. Halloween played symphonic rock with horror and fantasy themes. Therir discography includes Part One (1988), the critically acclaimed Laz (1990), Merlin (1994), Silence…au Dernier Rang! (1998) and Le Festin (2001).
On Les Morts Vont Vite (The Dead Go Quickly) French band Shub-Niggurath plays a mix of Zeuhl and dark contemporary classical music with anguished female vocals and guitars inspired by King Crimson.
Belgian Rock In Opposition (a form of avant-garde rock) ensemble Univers Zero ventures into the world of dark and ominous music on its second album titled Heresie.
Although not exactly progressive rock, composer, organist and excellent vocalist Kristen Lawrence has a great collection of recordings that capture the Halloween spirit. Rather than focusing on the horror side, her wonderful albums center on the mischievous and mysterious side of Halloween. With her gorgeous voice and symphonic organ mastery, Kristen Lawrence straddles the line between classical music and magical folk music. Her recordings include A Broom With a View, Edgar Allan Poe’s the Raven, and Arachnitect – From the Halloween Carols.
The cover of the album Possessed by early music ensemble eX looks like a collage of B-series movies. Possessed delves into Christian ecstatic trance as felt by Hildegard von Bingen, Teresa of Avila and Joan of Arc, demonic possession of the Salem witches, initiation ceremonies of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé and a musical exorcism performed to the wild rhythms of the Italian spider dance known as Tarantella.
In the world music area, there are numerous recordings with horror themes. Notable Swedish folk music band Garmarna has a song called Varulven/Werewolf in their God’s Musicians – Guds Speleman álbum.
Spanish folk band Acetre from Extremadura sings in the Spanish-Portuguese border dialect about witches in Mãe Bruxa from their album Dehesario.
Mexican-American singer Lila Downs has recorded “La Llorona,” a tribute to the Dia de los Muertos with the popular Mexican ballad La Llorona about a female ghost that haunts the Mexican countryside.
Lastly, Frank Zappa was known for his irreverent mix of rock, avant-garde music and blues. His album Zoot Allures includes the unsettling blues-rock song called The Torture Never Stops.
I went back in the afternoon to ProgDay at Storybook Farm on Sunday, August 31st. That’s why I overlooked the first two bands, Thank You Scientist (USA) and Out of the Beardspace (USA). Steven Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records informed me that I had missed one of the highlights of the festival, Thank You Scientist.
Thank You Scientist is a seven-piece band from New Jersey that crosses multiple musical boundaries, from progressive rock to jazz, fusion, classical, hard rock, psychedelia, etc. Band members include Sal Marrano on vocals; Ellis Jasenovic on tenor & soprano sax; Greg Colacino on bass; Andrew Digrius on trumpet, flugelhorn; Russ Lynch on violin, viola; Tom Monda on guitar; and Odin Alvarez (Drums).
Out of the Beardspace is a 6-piece experimental rock band formed in 2010, originally from South Jersey. In the summer of 2011 they moved into a house in Cherry Hill, and in the summer of 2012 they relocated to a mountain farm in Linden (Virginia) to grow their own food and practice sustainable living.
The group has released two EPs, Out Of The Beardspace I and Out Of The Beardspace II, and a full length album titled Out Of The Beardspace III. Band members include Ethan Feinstein on drums, percussion; Sam Gutman on keyboards, vocals, bass; Zach Lopresti on guitar, vocals, drums, percussion; Matt O’neil on bass, percussion, keyboards; Jeremy Savo on vocals, guitar; Kevin Savo on vocals, bass, percussion, guitar, drums.
I was able to watch the performance by Herd of Instinct, one of the most exciting new bands in the American progressive rock scene. The group from the Dallas-Fort Worth area plays a mix of vibrant King Crimsonian progressive music with elements of psychedelic jam rock, electronica, avant-garde experimentation and world music.
Band members include Mark Cook on Warr guitar, electronics; Mike Davison on guitar, guitar synth; Mike McGary on keyboards; and Jason Spradlin on drums, electronics. These guys need to be commended because they drove 17-18 hours from Texas to the Piedmont area of North Carolina. This was also their first festival appearance and they put a great show.
The last band on stage was the fabulous fusion outfit simakDialog from Indonesia. This group of skilled musicians has gained worldwide recognition thanks to their superb releases on the MoonJune label. Their lineup is really interesting, with a keyboardist, electric guitarist and bass player and then three percussionists who play Indonesian barrel drums (kendang) and other instruments.
simakDialog’s sound was excellent, clean and very tight. Their virtuosic jazz fusion style has elements of progressive rock and mesmerizing Indonesian music. Band members include Riza Arshad on keyboards; Tohpati on guitar; Rudy Zulkarnaen on bass; Endang Ramdan on lead kendang, percussion; Erlan Suwardana on kendang, percussion; Cucu Kurnia on percussion.
ProgDay organizers are considering the possibility of becoming a non-profit organization. That would make it easier to raise funds.
I saw numerous out of state license plates: Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, Georgia, etc. Festivalgoer Tony from Cary (North Carolina) said that he never misses one. “I drive an hour and it’s a great way to spend the weekend.”
For Jason and Cat from the Washington DC area, “It’s a fun festival. A nice place to relax. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere. You can also bring kids.”
If you plan to attend the next ProgDay, it’s best if you bring a canopy to protect you from the sun. Even though there is a small roofed picnic-shelter area, it’s on the left side of the stage and you will enjoy the concerts better with a canopy. Also bring some lawn chairs and water or other beverages for hydration. Although Saturday’s weather was somewhat pleasant, it got pretty hot and steamy for a while on Sunday.
Catered food and beverages are available for sale in the picnic area. If you have the time before or after the concerts, you should check out the restaurants in Chapel Hill and Durham. Nearby Durham has gained quite a good reputation as a foodie town with great restaurants and a vibrant food truck scene.
Progday 2013 is taking place this weekend at its customary location in Storybook Farm, in Chapel Hill (North Carolina). Even though I live near the festival location, the morning schedule doesn’t work for me so I missed the first band’s concert. Although the program shows Mavara as playing today, Sunday, August 31st, there were scheduling changes and the group actually played yesterday, August 30th morning.
Mavara is a group of Iranian rock musicians who have relocated to the United States where they have been granted political asylum. They are now based in the New Hampshire area. I asked a couple of festivalgoers for their impression of Mavara’s performance. Jason and Cat from the Washington DC area described them as: “pretty good; intense. Heavy neo-progressive.” Another member of the audience, Toby, from Cary (North Carolina) said they were “good, entertaining.” The band’s American manager also described the band’s music as neoprog.
Mavara has three albums. Ultimate Sound (2007), Forgotten Inside (2009), and Season Of Salvation (2012). The current incarnation of the band includes keyboard player and band founder Farhood Ghadiri; Ashkan Hamedi on vocals; Arash Radan on electric guitar, Anis Oviesi on piano and keyboards, Sina Khodaiefar on bass; and American drummer James Welch.
I’ve had time to listen to Mavara‘s Forgotten Inside and most of it sounds like melodic rock with only the last two songs venturing into 1980s-style progressive rock, which some call neoprog. As far as the latest album, Season Of Salvation, the group continues in a melodic rock direction with harder guitars at times. ‘Mystery of the Universe’ is perhaps the only piece that truly ventures in the prog rock realm.
The second act on Saturday was renowned Canadian band Miriodor; which is normally described as a Rock In Opposition act. I was impressed by their balance of jazz, progressive rock and avant-garde classical and specially the interaction between Pascal Globensky’s keyboards and Bernard Falaise’s guitars. Festivalgoers Jason and Cat had difficulty describing Miriodor’s sound. Cat said it was “expressive.”
Miriodor played material from their new 2013 album titled Cobra Fakir, as well as fan favorites. Although Cobra Fakir doesn’t come out until September, Cuneiform Records had copies available at the festival. The new album features Bernard Falaise on guitars, stringed instruments; Pascal Globensky on keyboards, piano; Rémi Leclerc on drums, percussion, sampler.
Chris Lamka, who many will know from his progressive rock store called Of Sound Mind, was there with a wallet-busting selection of albums. His web site is not active anymore, but he still sells recordings from his home. He had some hard to get imports, including the Italian version of Le Porte del Domani by one of the finest progressive rock acts of the moment, La Maschera di Cera. The album is truly excellent. I listened to it on the way home. La Maschera di Cera has captured the essence of the 1970s classic Italian bands, especially Le Orme. If you are a fan of Italian progressive rock, you need to get this album.
Next came one of the leading Zeuhl bands in North America, Corima. The audience was in for a wild ride. Zeuhl is the French progressive genre that was led by Magma, Weidorje and others. Corima has certainly captured the spirit of Zeuhl music. Their music has great intensity, based around a vibrant rhythm section and the very passionate improvisations and interactions between the saxophone, violin and piano/keyboards. Occasionally, the band drifted into tranquil moments of beauty with beautiful violin and piano neoclassical passages.
The band was started when two musicians from the border area of Ciudad Juarez/El Paso, Francisco Casanova (piano) and Sergio Sánchez (drums) relocated to Los Angeles and hooked up with bassist Ryan Kamiyamazaki and saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi. Violinist Andrea Calderón later joined the band. The group’s self-titled debut full length album came out in late 2007. Quetzalcoatl was released in 2012.
Before their concerts, I had the opportunity to talk to keyboardist and sax player Frank Wyatt. He’s one of the brains behind legendary group Happy the Man and the more recent reincarnation Oblivion Sun. Frank mentioned that he had suffered serious health issues and was happy to be at Progday ready to perform. I asked him if there was a chance of a Happy the Man reunion. He said that it was unlikely because keyboardist Kit Watkins is very disconnected from the music scene, sold most of his keyboards and is involved in organic farming [editor’s note: Watkins has not released any new material since 2006].
Frank Wyatt also confirmed that Oblivion Sun’s members all have day jobs and unfortunately can’t dedicate all their time to music. Nevertheless, Frank said that they are making an effort to release more recordings and are working on a new album. Frank also indicated that he is open to collaborating on other artist’s recordings, even if it’s long distance collaboration.
I made a pretty interesting discovery while visiting the Oblivion Sun table. They had Happy the Man and Oblivion Sun CDs for sale, but there was also an album titled Pedal Giant Animals by Wyatt and Whitaker. I asked someone about the music style and was informed that it was a short-lived band created after Happy the Man, similar to Happy the Man and Oblivion Sun. I bought the album and indeed, it’s great stuff. If you like Happy the Man, you need this album in your collection.
Frank Wyatt and Stanley Whitaker are two of the greatest progressive rock musicians that have come out of the United States and there was a lot of anticipation about the Oblivion Sun. The group played pieces from the brand new Oblivion Sun album titled The High Places, as well as a few familiar and cherished classics from the Happy the Man era.
Oblivion Sun demonstrated that they are a world class symphonic progressive rock band. Most of what they played was state of the art prog rock, although there were a couple of pieces where the band drifted into generic harder rock and blues rock. Naturally, the progressive rock material was much stronger and captivating, and more appreciated by the audience.
In addition to Frank Wyatt and Stanley Whitaker, Oblivion Sun features two outstanding musicians, who provide formidable support. Bill Brasso is one of those fabulous drummers who deliver a rich palette of creative drumming. David Hughes is a skilled bassist who delivers superb bass lines and also provides engaging vocals that interact perfectly with Whitaker’s vocals.
At one point in the concert Stanley Whitaker confirmed that he had been seriously ill and has survived cancer. He also mentioned Frank Wyatt’s health problems. The musicians were very thankful to be on stage again. The audience in turn was truly honored to have the opportunity to see these great musicians back on stage. It was a genuinely memorable concert.