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Proto-Kaw - Early Recordings from Kansas 1971-1973 CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.75 | 54 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars The band Kansas is well known for their phenomenally successful albums that graced the tail end of the 70s including but not limited to "Point Of No Return" and "Leftoverature" with their unique stamp on Heatland boogie rock mixed with symphonic progressive rock sophistication, but like many a band out there actually had some antecedents to their musical ascent. There were actually two versions of Kansas before the third version found a stable line-up that propelled them onto the world stage. Guitarist and keyboardist Kerry Livgren is the common thread amongst all the members who have come and gone in this Topeka, Kansas band that formed all the way back in 1969 and actually began under the name Saratoga before adopting the name of their home state.

After a few line-up shifts and a merging with a rival prog rock band called White Clover, the Kansas I phase of the band's history was complete but wouldn't last long. After another replacement of three members the band would find its second coming with the lineup of eight members and be later tagged as the Kansas II lineup which is the period that recorded the music on this archival collection of previously unreleased tracks titled EARLY RECORDINGS FROM KANSAS 1971-1973. Due to the legal entanglements of the Kansas trademarked band name, this material of which Livgren is the only constant member, had to be released under a totally new moniker thus the brand spanking new name PROTO-KAW was born cleverly taking the prefix PROTO (original) and placing it before the word KAW which is the name of the Native American tribe, who also recognized as the Kanza or Kansa tribe, provided the root word for the state name Kansas as well as the perfect legal loophole to pretty much say the same exact thing!

This version of Kansas turned PROTO-KAW will come as quite a surprise for anyone familiar with the more popular third version of the band as this sounds absolutely nothing (for the most part) like the catchy tunes and sophisticated progressive Heartland rock. While vocalist Lynn Meredith certainly provides a blueprint for which Steve Walsh would improve upon, musically speaking the material recorded during this period has a lot more in common with early King Crimson's progressive heft coupled Yes inspired compositional styles fluffed up with haunting Deep Purple-esque organ runs and rather original time signature frenzies that don't really bring any other influences to mind. The music for the most part is fairly eclectic with tracks sounding very distinct from each other making this an eclectic prog lover's treasure trove. The sound is quite rich since not only is there the usual guitar, bass, keys and drum layout but at this stage Kansas II aka PROTO-KAW had two flautists who doubled on electric and alto saxophones as well as having two drummers although i'm not sure if they actually played simultaneously or just traded-off duties. Lyrically speaking, the first versions of Kansas delved into the arenas of Christian rock and positive enlightening subject matter although at this point a more nebulous spiritual approach delved into Eastern religious mysticism as well.

While tracks like "Hegemonium," "Reunion In The Mountains Of Same" and "Nactolos 21" are crazy complex prog that are as far from the popular versions of Kansas as Krautrock, tracks like "Belexes" and "Incomudro" provided the blueprint for the more familiar Kansas sound with the first aforementioned re-recorded for the debut "Kansas" album and the second ditto for "Song For America." The track "Totus Nemesis" is the true gem as it spans across the prog gamut with everything from well structured prog compositional styles to a full-fledged psychedelic freak-out followed by a bona fide jazz-fusion frenzy not to mention some wild and unhinged electronic accoutrements. The album ends with two live (unreleased) tracks that give a good feel for the exciting prog energy that this lineup engaged in. "Cyclopy" must have been an early creation for it sounds more like a 60s psychedelic organ jam that would have found a home in 1967 San Francisco. My only question is why didn't these guys get signed during this period? Their music was as good as anything else that came out at the time with a completely distinct musical identity.

After this version of Kansas disband in 1973, most of the members with the exception of Livgren would leave the music world altogether and not even have contact with each other for the next 30 years until this compilation of archival artifacts was resurrected to great interest. Surprised by the positive response of this collection, the Kansas II line-up members would rekindle their friendships and musical passions and reform the band although they would carry on in more of a Neal Morse / Spock's Beard type of symphonic prog direction. This collection of ancient artifacts is a true gem and one that should not be missed since it points to the moment in history that shows exactly deep the early Kansas lineup dipped into some of the most adventurous progressive rock arenas and had both the creative chops and adventurous disposition to pull it off. Personally i wish that these guys would've released a few albums of this sort before jumping ship and creating a more accessible sound but the fact that they recorded this stuff and made it available for public consumption will simply have to be enough i guess.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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