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EARLY RECORDINGS FROM KANSAS 1971-1973

Proto-Kaw

Symphonic Prog


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Proto-Kaw Early Recordings from Kansas 1971-1973 album cover
3.70 | 39 ratings | 15 reviews | 10% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection


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Boxset/Compilation, released in 2002

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Hegemonium (7:48)
2. Reunion in the Mountains of Sarne (7:44)
3. Nactolos 21 (11:37)
4. Belexes (5:10)
5. Totus Nemesis (13:53)
6. Greek Structure Sunbeam (5:41)
7. Incomudro (11:26)
8. Cyclopy (live) (5:45)
9. Skont (live) (9:36)

Total Time: 79:00

Lyrics

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Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

- Lynn Meredith / vocals
- John Bolton / electric saxophone, flute
- Don Montre / Rmi piano, flute, Alto saxophone
- Kerry Livgren / guitar, piano on 3
- Dan Wright / Hammond, ring modulator
- Rod Mikinski / bass
- Zeke Low / drums (1 to 3, 8-9)
- Brad Schultz / drums (4 to 7)

Releases information

CD Cuneiform-Rune 171-USA-2002

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to ClemofNazareth for the last updates
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PROTO-KAW Early Recordings from Kansas 1971-1973 ratings distribution


3.70
(39 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(10%)
10%
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(49%)
49%
Good, but non-essential (28%)
28%
Collectors/fans only (8%)
8%
Poor. Only for completionists (5%)
5%

PROTO-KAW Early Recordings from Kansas 1971-1973 reviews


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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Cesar Inca
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars As a Kansas fan, I was well aware that one of its early incarnations made prog under the influence of the most avant-garde side of the genre (Soft Machine, Zappa, VdGG, early KC), but it wasn't until I purchased this CD in July '03 (a self-made birhday present) that I fully realised what it really meant. Even back then, Livgren served as the major writer (in fact, the only writer), and you can tell that he absorbed a lot of Wyatt-era SM, Zappa, KC, jazz-rock, VdGG, electric blues, and even some Procol Harum and Pink Floyd... and so did his group fellowmen, or so it seems since they manage to play and interplay in full compenetration with the written material: most of the time, the sax/flute player and the two keyboardists (one of them also plays some sax) steal the limelight with their terrific, powerful performances, and Meredith sings with genuine enthusiasm and awasome precision. Every now and then, Livgren comes to the fore playing some well crafted solos and laying some psych effects (a-la Page/Hendrix), but defenitely he chooses not to be the most featured soloist. The overall sound is raw, acid, powerful: it's a pity that the sound quality is not that good (specially in the last two numbers). The compositional themes are well defined, yet the expansion jamming is the most recurring thing in most of the tracks, particularly in the longest tracks (3, 5, 6, 7, 9). From these, 'Nactolos 21' and 'Totus nemesis' are some of my favourites, due to their adventurous punch and accomplished character. On a softer side of things, 'Reunion in the Mountains of Sarne' and 'Greek Structure Sunbeam' shows the band at its most introspective. The opening song is also a perfect example of how you can deal with a structured composition and cleverly exploit its musical potential. Despite the quality sound problem, I'm convinced that the recue of this material is an enormous blessing for prog audiences - it is also a good thing that a refurbished Proto-Kaw has taken adavantage of this momentum in order to make a new recording of some other old stuff... but that's a subject for another review.

P.S.: Track 7 'Incomudro' was to become one of the first suites of the "official" Kansas, recycling its symphonic aspect in a decidedly neat manner. Track 4 'Belexes' was also eventually part of the famous Kansas' repetoire, translating its original R'n'B trend into the language of stylish hard rock.

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Send comments to Cesar Inca (BETA) | Report this review (#30418) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Review by Garion81
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars For a review I am to post an excerpt that is on the official P-K Site. This written by Kerry Livgren from his Book Seeds of Change:

The following is a more detailed history of this version of Kansas as written by Livgren...

"The second Kansas band was started immediately on the heels of the first Kansas band\'s demise in early 1971 by myself, Don Montre (the former Kansas I keyboard player, saxophonist and flutist), Lynn Meredith (the first lead singer of Kansas), and Dan Wright (the other keyboard player). To complete the band, we needed to find a drummer and a bass player. Zeke Low, the original drummer for Saratoga, (the band that immediately preceded Kansas I) became the drummer for Kansas II. For our bass player, we decided on a musician from Lawrence, Kansas named Rod Mikinski. We also added another saxophone player because I had come to like that instrument very much, and it became an integral part of the type of music I was writing. So we hired John Bolton, a saxophonist and flutist from Manhattan, Kansas, Lynn Meredith\'s hometown.

Musically Kansas II was really a continuation of Kansas I, at least initially. The musical style eventually changed and matured appreciably, but our economic circumstances did not. The others who decided to reform White Clover had a better financial time of it than we had. We continued to be as unconventional and blatantly original as we could possibly be. Our instrumentation, my composition, and Lynn\'s unique voice all contributed to making one unusual band.

This was a very prolific time for me; I seemed to crank out songs nonstop. Some of them fell by the wayside and were never performed. Others we played for a while and then dropped because I wrote at such a fast pace that we simply couldn't\'t perform them all. The music and lyrics for some of these songs have survived, but many are lost and forgotten. They weren\'t always very good (i.e. Juniper Bison, The Ent Song), but I would have to say that they were always different.

It was during this period that I was beginning to seriously get into various forms of mysticism and Eastern philosophies like Zen. These influences became increasingly apparent in my songs; the music and lyrics were growing more mystical and ethereal. The compositions were also becoming increasingly complex, frequently with multiple time signatures, tempos, and often long sections of experimentation and improvisation.

We were so poor that I vividly remember renting outdoor shelter houses at Lake Shawnee for the evening and rehearsing \'til the wee hours.

The second Kansas band managed to stay fairly busy, and we were able to eke out a living with our music. But we seemed to be making little progress, and success kept eluding us. On a couple of occasions, representatives of small record companies came to hear us and expressed some interest in signing the group to a recording contract. These incidents were great sources of hope for us; they became the cohesive force that bound us together.

We all had high aspirations, but nothing much ever came of them. There were no contracts, and we were being stifled by insufficient interest in the Midwest in our kind of original music. It appeared to be a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

- from Kerry Livgren\'s book, \"Seeds of Change\" (revised edition)

Copyright © 2004 Proto-Kaw Website Design by Barak Hill

This CD should shut those up who claim Kansas is a pale imitation of the music that was around it. Should this group have been signed anytime during this period 1971-3 or if Don Kirshner decided to record Kansas right after he signed them in 1973 instead of 74 those statements could never have been made. This is essential prog historically and it is some pretty good stuff although raw and under produced.

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Send comments to Garion81 (BETA) | Report this review (#30420) | Review Permalink
Posted Friday, January 14, 2005

Review by Muzikman
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars You may think that these recordings are a crude representation of the legacy of KANSAS. If you were thinking that, you are wrong. This collection of early works from the second incarnation of the band titled PROTO-KAW, is a real revelation for longtime fans of the band. Kerry Livgren said in the liner notes that he found it amazing how they were playing such progressive music long before they ever heard of the bands that they were falsely accused of emulating. Livgren also mentions how they had used cheap recording equipment at the time and this is not a CD for audiophiles by any means. They were working with what they could afford at the time and overall did a fine job creating some incredibly good progressive rock. The tracks are cleaned up nicely to make this quite listenable for the advanced audience of today and they sound exceptional. Genuinely taken aback by the complex tracks they put together so many years ago, this CD came as a pleasant surprise and a real gem to add to my collection.

You will hear some advanced music with instruments like the saxophone and flute, creating a jazz-rock fusion that would be expected from bands like KING CRIMSON or early JETHRO TULL. There are unquestionably elements apparent in the tracks that were no longer part of their makeup before KANSAS recorded their first major label release. The jazz fusion elements were a big part of their sound back then and I am sure many of you will be surprised with what you hear on this CD. What I expected to hear I did not; instead of stripped down demos of songs that never reached fruition, I heard a band that was making incredibly great music while stretching themselves out musically, just like a true improvisational unit would.

Here is the proof that Kansas was a great band before the American audience discovered them. It is too bad that the people in the area they were from did not realize what they had at the time; in the end it did not matter as they became legends in spite of that. You will enjoy this immensely if you are a fan of their music or if you just enjoy prog-rock in general; any way you look at it . this will work for you.

Rating: 4.4/5

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Send comments to Muzikman (BETA) | Report this review (#30421) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, January 31, 2005

Review by Dan Bobrowski
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is a hard review to write simply because I know so little of Kansas, the follow up band to Proto-Kaw. The disc was a gift from a friend and a very pleasant surprise. Stranger still, I bought the second Proto-Kaw release, Before Became After, directly after it's release last year. I'm coming into this recording through the back door.

Simply put, I was blown away, both by the strength of the tunes and by the incredible musicianship. These songs are on par with the releases of the days in which this was recorded, 1971 to 1973. The heyday of prog. I hear bits of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Genesis, VDGG and Emerson Lake and Palmer. Even more unique still, is the addition of some American bands, Chicago, Grateful Dead, a touch of the Allman Brothers, jazz and advant garde. You'll even hear a bit of what was to become Kansas, but not as much as you would expect.

Lynn Meredith's vocals are ethereal and chill inducing. Sometimes soft and fragile like Jon Anderson, but then as bombastic and powerful as Peter Hammill. Kerry Livgren tears it up on guitar while Dan Wright's keyboard parts are full of earthshaking hammond and razor sharp synth. The drumming is snare heavy, in the jazz tradition. The sax work of John Bolton really sets this music apart. He plays some off the wall lines, but then erupts into melodic counterpoint. Rod Mikinski's bass, even with this discs poor production, rounds out the bottom nicely.

Cheers to Cuneiform for bringing this disc to the light of day and to the musicians for reforming behind the interest and giving it another go thirty years later.

Any fan of early seventies progressive rock should check this out. It's worth the time and the money.

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Send comments to Dan Bobrowski (BETA) | Report this review (#30422) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, February 21, 2005

Review by Fishy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars This record has a remarkable history. These are the recordings of one of the early incarnations of Kansas. This version of the band didn't get any chances to record a proper album ever. Kerry Livgren is the bridge between this pre-Kansas and the Kansas that got signed by Don Kishner to record their debut album. In 2002 Livgren decided to bring this stuff to the daylight after almost 30 years of being unreleased. 7 of the 9 tracks are demo recordings, 2 songs are live performances. The sound quality of these recordings may not be overwhelming as these guys couldn't afford any studio tricks but it is decent enough to be enjoyable. After all it has been recorded 30 years ago and some other albums which were released at the time haven't a top quality sound either. The sound of the live tracks is less good but still good enough to enjoy the compositions. Listening to this album I was impressed by the variety of influences. Off course there's some links to the sound of Kansas but not so many as one could expect. You can tell by the differences that Proto Kaw really is another band. Van Der Graaf Generator must have been a major influences here as can be heard in the way that the sax and the organ are handled. Some vocal parts on the opening track "Hegemonium" are also quite similar to VDGG. This track has a dark atmosphere and includes some psychedelic excerpts. Other moments on this record are reminiscent to ELP, Colosseum or even early Floyd. Moreover there're influences noticeable from jazz and avant- garde. When compared to Kansas there's more room for solo improvisations and unusual excerpts. Sometimes it works like on the magnificent track "Nactolos 21", sometimes the extensions seem too long and pointless like in "Reunion." but it's always interesting to hear. On the sleeve notes Livgren mentioned that he was writing a lot of stuff at the time. Every single gig there were tracks that got out of the set list and replaced by new ones. This comes as no surprise to me as you sometimes can feel the pointless direction of some solo's. I must not forget to mention I discovered this album after their 2004 album "Before became after" where the balance between song compositions and musical interludes is a lot better. But again, let's not forget this was recorded during the same time when ELP and VDGG released totally unconventional albums that were masterpieces nevertheless. The instrumentation differs from Kansas also, the most important difference is the presence of a sax instead of a violin, there's also flute and the overall sound is less heavy as the guitar riffs are almost absent. There's also quite a bit of variation in moods when one track is compared to another. From depressing to chaotic to laid back, this album has it all. Two tracks did make it to a Kansas album years later. "Belexes" appeared on the debut album and became a concert classic. Here it doesn't fit to the atmosphere of the rest of the stuff. "Incomudro" ended up on "Song for America". The versions of Proto-Kaw are sounding different due to the use of other instruments but the compositions stays pretty much the same.

It may not be a surprise this album lacks cohesion as the recordings are dating from various studio sessions and weren't intended to end up on one album. But this is just a minor complaint as this record can be considered as a lost gem of the time. Fans of the quoted bands and listeners who like prog from the early seventies should have a listen. The richness of the music will definitely impress them. At first sight this album may look like a collector's item for fans of Kansas but apparently there's a lot more to it.

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Send comments to Fishy (BETA) | Report this review (#47353) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, September 19, 2005

Review by ClemofNazareth
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Prog Folk Researcher
5 stars Proto-Kaw may be one of the best feel-good stories in the history of progressive music. And the release of this album may represent one of the most important events in progressive music in the past couple of decades. I’m quite sure this is not an overstatement.

There certainly are very few bands (if any) who first recorded music in the early seventies, then left those tracks for dead and pursued lives outside of music for more than thirty years, only to pick up their instruments again in their middle-age years and emerge as an instantly credible force in the progressive movement. A simply stunning achievement by any measure. A human time-capsule, if you will.

For those not familiar with the Proto-Kaw story, a brief overview: The songs that make up this compilation were recorded by the second of three early seventies bands to bear the name Kansas.

The first included composer and multi-instrumentalist Kerry Livgren, drummer Phil Ehart and bassist Dave Hope. That band had the dubious distinction of being the opening band in New Orleans in December 1970 for the Doors’ last performance before Jim Morrison’s death. But the band fractured soon after and Ehart and Hope moved on to form White Clover which became the incarnation of Kansas that would take the American music scene by storm in the mid-seventies.

The ‘other’ Kansas was formed in 1971 by Livgren and included vocalist Lynn Meredith, keyboardist Dan Wright, and pianist-flautist-saxophonist Don Montre from the first Kansas, along with flautist-saxophonist John Bolton, bassist Rod Mikinski, and drummer Zeke Low (who was soon replaced by Brad Schulz). That band toured a more humble local circuit than the other two Kansas bands, but also played a much more elaborate and progressive style of music, which unfortunately only served to hasten their demise in the conservative breadbasket known as the state of Kansas. Livgren alone moved on to fame and fortune in the third and final Kansas, which consisted of the White Clover group and him. The remaining members eventually laid down their instruments and went about their lives, all of them leaving their musical dreams behind them. Meredith made his living coaching football, Wright pursued a career in public broadcasting, Bolton returned to college, Schulz moved to Idaho to do whatever people do there (probably something involving potatoes and guns), and the late Don Montre launched a career in medicine before passing away in 1989.

That version of Kansas left behind only a few memories. There were a couple sentences and a photograph included in the Kansas biography that was published with the Epic Records boxed-set in 1994. And there were three sets of tapes – one from what was known as the Cavern Sessions recorded in late 1971; one that included four demo tracks recorded in a Topeka Kansas studio the following summer; and two live tracks from one of the band’s last performances in late 1972. These are the ‘lost’ songs contained on this album. For thirty years the recordings languished in the shoeboxes and closets of the various former members of the band. They were also in the hands of Dawayne Bailey, an early friend of the band who achieved his own fame with the band Chicago and later Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. Time changes things, and in the case of Proto-Kaw one of those eventual changes was a little thing called the World Wide Web. Bailey’s copies of those early recordings found their way into the internet in the nineties, in many cases being passed off as bootleg versions of early Kansas music. This led eventually to Cuneiform Records deciding to release them in 2002, which in turn led to Livgren seeking out the original band members to obtain their consent. The rest if history. Come to think of it, everything up to that point is history – the ‘rest’ is the present story.

While this release didn’t make much of an impact, it did lead to the original members getting together for a release party, which led to them getting back behind their instruments and picking out a few of the old songs together, which led to one of the most improbable reunions in music history. To make a long story long (but bring it to an end here anyway), the members (minus Mikinski) returned with a vengeance, touring America and releasing two new albums of new material over the next three and a half years, including ‘The Wait of Glory’ early in 2006. The band launched a European tour co-headlining with Pallas, gloriously dubbed the “Worth the Wait” tour, and is currently making plans for their future.

Feel good yet?

So what about this music? Like I said, it’s like opening a time-capsule after thirty years. Actually, it is in fact opening a time capsule after thirty years, and what wonderful contents are laid inside. Sure, the music on this CD probably doesn’t break any new ground in terms of composition, style, or theme. But it has a pure and unadulterated progressive sound of the highest order, prototypical of the early works of the progressive giants of their day like King Crimson, Jethro Tull, ELP and yes, even Kansas to a certain degree. And Livgren was undoubtedly influenced by these bands. But the Proto-Kaw sound is also improvisational at times, imbued with that ethereal feeling that comes from living among the rows of wheat on the Kansas prairie, and uniquely American in its delivery. It also bears noting that these are all very young musicians (all in their early 20s), with very little formal training, and virtually no musical community around them to support their style and efforts. This is tabula rasa stuff, at its finest.

The opening track “Hegemonium” starts with Wright’s lazy Hammond interlaced with Montre’s piano in a long intro that immediately calls to mind early Camel recordings, but that notion is dispelled as Bolton’s flute gives way to dueling saxophones from Montre and Bolton that could have come straight from King Crimson or even Van der Graaf Generator (although it’s hard to imagine these guys had ever heard of VdGG). Above this comes Meredith’s vocals which have been compared to Greg Lake, but for me immediately bring to mind Pat Moran of the semi-legendary early seventies band Spring (except that Meredith, unlike Moran, seems to have mastered the art of articulation). Livgren commands attention with his powerful guitar work that sounds closer to Deep Purple than the Allman Brothers-sounding riffs he would favor on the first couple of Kansas albums. The lyrics here are quite unlike Livgren’s later spiritually-minded works. Instead the themes are more mystic, fantasy-based with references to maggots and worms, horned villains wielding axes, and dismembered bodies. Pretty dire stuff, much heavier than most of Livgren’s later work. The extended instrumental at the end is full of atonal saxophones and dissonant keyboard chords, eventually winding down with a lulled interplay of Livgren’s jazzy guitar work amid the bleating, improvisational saxophones, and punctuated by a guttural screech from Meredith to mark the end, both literally and figuratively. At just under eight minutes, this is also one of the shorter tracks on the album. I’m quite sure if this track had been on any of a dozen or so albums from well-known progressive bands in 1971 it would have become a well- known classic. As it is, there is nothing to compare to the feeling of fresh discovery of this thirty-five year old gem when hearing it for the first time today. Great stuff!

“Reunion in the Mountains of Sarne” winds up with more luscious electric piano and flute, along with Wright’s ever-present Hammond. Zeke Low lays down a martial drumbeat that seems to be a kind of recurring theme on the first several tracks of this collection. With a title like this, I already liked the song before ever hearing it. And after hearing it I like it even more. The melodic flute and piano set a beautiful tone for Meredith’s vocals, laying out a tale of a warlike tribe of ancient hunter-gatherers who perpetuate their violent lifestyle to their sons, eventually leading to destruction of their land and themselves. This is more like the Livgren lyrics we came to know from songs like “Cheyenne Anthem” and “Song for America”, but the saxophones, flute, and omnipresent piano give this a much more polished and expansive feel than either of those Kansas songs – which is saying a lot considering both of those tracks are classics in their own right. This is an incredibly soulful and emotional work that would undoubtedly have been considered an epic if it had been released on the public way back when it was first recorded. This is probably my favorite track on the album (other than “Belexes”, which gets an asterisk).

“Nactolos 21” also opens with a strident piano progression, but about half a minute in the air is shattered by the atonal and violent cacophony of Montre and Bolton on saxophone. Okay, this had to have been influenced by King Crimson, and probably a little bit of Yes. But once that is over the horns, piano and drums take on a grooving rhythm that are instantly associated with only one thing – Chicago II (“Fancy Colours”, “It Better End Soon”). And I can pretty much guarantee the boys in the band were very familiar with that album. The heartfelt angst in Meredith’s voice is completely convincing as this young man of the Vietnam War and peacenik era wails

“Standing alone, feeling it be - why is it so hard just to live? Biting my soul, just trying to be, what is that they're looking for?

If you can't live, lifting yourself - why do you drag down someone else?”

The tempo shifts in this track are incredible, with the entire mood of the song changing midway through to a flute/piano riff with a jazzy flute/bass groove that I can’t really compare to anyone. Admittedly there’s a bit of noodling here, but again – these songs have been in a box for over thirty years, so this is kind of like a gift from a small child who is smiling when he hands it to you. Smile and don’t quibble.

Next up is a song that like’s a delicate ancient leaf flawlessly preserved in amber. “Belexes” has always been one of my all-time favorite Kansas songs, which is really saying something for a hard-core Kansas fanboy. The long guitar sustains that Livgren plays during this song on Kansas’ 1974 debut give me goose-bumps even today. Well, that’s yet another Livgren tune, and apparently an old one as it was part of those 1972 studio tracks I mentioned earlier. Now, you would think that this would be a great opportunity for a side-by-side comparison of Steve Walsh and Lynn Meredith. And you could do that, I suppose. Okay, I did it….. shoot me. And at first I thought – ugh, no way Meredith can hit the highs like Walsh did on this song. And he can’t. Then again, Walsh can’t hit them any more either, but that’s beside the point I suppose. And don’t get me wrong, I’m an absolutely huge fan of Steve Walsh, even though I strongly suspect he’s not exactly what you’d call a nice person. Then again, I don’t have to live with him, I just listen to his music. So it goes. Anyway, Meredith has this rhythmic attribute to his singing that just really grows after a while, I can’t quite explain it. So on this song (I mentioned it was pretty much my favorite Kansas song, right?), Meredith does that thing he does with his voice, and I still think this is one of my favorite songs. Wright’s keyboard work isn’t as stellar as Walsh’s though, but again – gift, smile, don’t quibble, right?

Oh yeah, and Livgren does the sustains on this version too. Just love those….

Okay, now “Totus Nemesis” is by far the most dated-sounding track on the album. Meredith drops a half-octave or so and could easily pass for Mike Pinera or Edgar Winter, or maybe even that dude from Captain Beyond’s second album. Plus the Hammond is pretty much serving up blues-cum-psych riffs straight out of a Jefferson Airplane concert. Montre backs it all up with his subdued saxophone and the drums are pretty standard one-two proto-sounding fare. This song has so many early seventies clichés that it would have been a perfect choice to include in the Spinal Tap flashback scene. The one where the drummer explodes. Of course, no one knew about these tapes back when that came out (what was it – 1984 or so?). Where was the World Wide Web when we needed it? This track goes on forever (if 13:54 can be considered forever), and there are hours upon hours (okay, three of four minutes) of the same atonal horns and dirge-like rhythm here that were first heard on “Nactolos 21”. The whole thing just kind of degenerates after a while into Wright and drummer Schulz trying to outdo the other before an abrupt cessation. This is another track that convinces me these guys were big King Crimson fans (that and several interviews I’ve read with both Livgren and Meredith where they actually said they were huge King Crimson fans). Very dated sound, but if you didn’t like old art and symphonic music you wouldn’t be reading this, so I think you’re going to like it.

By the time “Greek Structure Sunbeam” comes around I’m actually starting to get into the dated feel of this album. That's a good thing, because this another track with a very dated feel from of the light guitar, wistful flower-power tunes of that era, and another song that gets an extra point just for the title. Pure 1972, that one.

The other “Kansas” tune here is “Incomudro”, which the ‘other’ Kansas would include on their ‘Song for America’ album three years after this version of Kansas first recorded it. The first time I played this I skipped straight to the drum solo towards the end of the song, just to see if Schulz had the same level of skin-slapping as Phil Ehart. He doesn’t. Not even close. I was actually a bit embarrassed for Schulz. And here again Meredith delivers finesse and soul, where Walsh would deliver god-like soaring vocals and soul. So they both have soul, which is nice. But this is just a great tune, plus it has one of the all-time best lines Livgren ever put on a piece of paper:

“I wonder what you'd think if all the changes didn't come?

For growing old is only going back to where you're from.”

And speaking of Livgren, his guitar work on this track is actually better in my opinion than it was on ‘Song for America’. There’s more texture and less emphasis on power, which combined with Meredith’s rich voice and Montre’s passionate piano really reinforce the introspective message in this song. Kansas blows your socks off with this number; Proto-Kaw makes you stop what you are doing, listen, and think. Powerful stuff. Kind of makes you wonder what would have been if Wally Gold had come to listen to these guys play instead of White Clover….

“Cyclopy” is the first of two live recordings, and among the last played by the band their first time around. This was probably recorded in a bar or dance hall or something, and even though it might have been from the soundboard (or might not, although it sounds like it was), the sound is quite muddled and especially the bass and drums are quite flat. That aside, this is another jazzy/psych/Chicago on ‘ludes number that takes on a different level of sound when you know it’s been lurking in the shadows waiting for you to hear it all these years. Put in the context of 1972 this probably went over hugely with the ‘Deadhead’ type of crowd that was probably listening to it.

Finally, the album ends with “Skont”, another Deep Purple-influenced, dirge-like dark number with plenty of torrid guitar from Livgren and a particularly wicked bass line. This song appears on video with the special edition version of the band’s latest album ‘The Wait of Glory’, and that version is a bit more improvisational and jazzy than this one, although any time you have saxophones in a song there’s some level of improvisation no matter what. This is a perfect segue to the rest of Livgren’s career, as the lyrics set the stage for the theme of just about everything he would write for the next thirty years or so:

“And from deep within our being are the hopes of every man, and the one who is the reaper is the keeper of the plan.

If the firmament will crumble to the roaring of the sea, He will always be there waiting for the souls of you and me.”

Prophetic, both in the semantics and in the preview of what was to come from the pen of Livgren for many years. This is kind of a brooding song, and again there’s some noodling that probably isn’t necessary, but the Hammond and flute portions are quite brilliant. Wright’s organ sound predates Peter Frampton’s famous live album by several years, but sounds remarkably similar. The end comes to soon as far as I’m concerned.

Well, I’m looking back now and seeing that I’ve rambled on far, far too long once again, so I’ll wrap up. I’ve said many times that music is best appreciated in context, and that couldn’t be more true than it is in this case. This is an amazing discovery that comes to light at the perfect time – when we have all survived the eighties and the nineties, and are seeing finally a renewed interest in music that is deep, thoughtful, and delivered with passion. If you can keep that in mind while listening to this album, I believe you will be moved to truly appreciate it as a vital piece of American progressive history. I wasn’t going to give this five stars since I don’t think it really qualifies as a masterpiece. But I do think it is essential simply because it represents that sliver of amber that stops time, and it almost got away from us. Thanks yet again to Al Gore for that whole internet thing, so we can finally enjoy this music. Five stars.

peace

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Send comments to ClemofNazareth (BETA) | Report this review (#95350) | Review Permalink
Posted Saturday, October 21, 2006

Review by Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars This really is a piece of history that has been resurrected from the grave for all of us to hear and enjoy. But this is also a feel good story, when you have some of the members of the band who have been away from the musical spotlight for over 30 years, all of a sudden making new music in this band called PROTO-KAW. What we have here though are recordings from 1971-1973, these are demos really that aren't the best quality but certainly are good enough to bring joy to a lot of people including me. You aren't going to find a lot of KANSAS-like music here, in fact the music here has more in common with early KING CRIMSON. There are two guys playing sax and flute and no violin play.

Things get started with "Hegemonium" opening with keyboards, this song has some heavy lyrics and the sax here reminds me of KING CRIMSON. "Reunion In The Mountains Of Sarne" is a slow paced song with some great flute. This song is very good and is the most memorable one on the record for me. "Nactolos 21" opens with Livegren on the piano. About 4 minutes in there is a good guitar solo and later in the song some noteworthy sax and flute.

"Belexis" features an organ and drum melody.This is an uptempo song that is pretty straight forward with some more good guitar. "Totus Nemesis" is a really good song. I love the instrumental parts, some good interplay. "Greek Structure Sunbeam" is a dreamy song with flute. "Incomudro" features some good drumming in the intro until it gets pastoral with gentle vocals. "Cyclops" is another highlight for me.This is a jazzy instrumental with a KING CRIMSON vibe. "Skont" has some great guitar and organ play, and these last two songs are actually live recordings. Highly recommended. In fact I much prefer this to KANSAS.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#101361) | Review Permalink
Posted Friday, December 01, 2006

Review by Atkingani
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars First of all, I'd like to thank all previous reviewers to help people (including me) to know better PROTO-KAW's history, in special my good fellow ClemofNazareth for his splendid panel about the band - I saved a lot of time in researching and also in typing and page filling. That said, I will try to imprint my own impressions of "Early Recording from Kansas 1971-1973" compilation.

Here we have a cluster of songs emerging from the shadows of early 70s with a poignant nostalgic feeling but flaring intensely as they were made to conform with the 21st Century. Some British prog or some classical and folk influences may be heard but in the end of the day they produce a sound of their own, very USonian (from the US), clearly unique. Obviously, a slight comparison should be made with KANSAS, but I assure you that they run in a proper lane, even when recording the same songs.

'Hegemonium' is an interesting starting point, PK show doubtlessly their claws: wild passages alternating with mild excerpts, backed by fine singing and playing. The atmosphere seems a bit raw but under the skin some sophisticated notes may be perceived. The pace varies smoothly from symphonic to fusion with melancholic intermezzos, where instruments fade only to explode suddenly. However, certain sound effects annoy me a bit.

'Reunion in the Mountains of Sarne' continues the covenant between band and hearer, now the interaction grows intensely. The sweet and simple flute accompaniment tells the track story - we know what it means even not catching promptly the lyrics. Solo part is truly sad and touching - a sorrowl song full of emotion.

'Nactolos 21' begins dark and severe but the sound is replaced by some happier moments, decorated with beautiful jazzy tunes. Vocals do a majestic wrapping here. Guitar solo is nice and strong. The lengthy track looks like a vigorous epic-like. 'Belexes', a song already known due to a previous KANSAS recording, gets a nice rock treatment where EL&P-like keyboards are adorned by DEEP PURPLE's vocals and rhythm section.

The two previous tracks do a fine preparation for another great song, 'Totus Nemesis', one of the album's highest points. The song is impregnated with an amount of fusion and symphonic variations, very congruent and catchy. The band even explores the dominions of space-rock with absorbing weird effects. The retaking of song mainline is admirable.

'Greek structure sunbeam' is soft and appeasing, in fact just a brief stop before other emotions come. These emotions respond by the name of 'Incomudro', the best track in the album. Again, we have a track previously nested into KANSAS list but PROTO- KAW's approach is completely different and better, in my opinion. It goes from sweet touches to raw and complex tunes, leaving an astonishing sensation. Later, as long as the song flows we hear the solo part, with its almost choking crescendo movement. Drumming climax adds a comma not a final stop to the track, having the adequate time for the song.

The two live tracks that end the album, 'Cyclopy' and 'Skont' are pleasant and attractive although they seem included much more to show band members' skills.

Overall, a great debut, with all good stuff that may please any music admirer, be them progger or not. A unequivocal addition to complete one's musical collection. Total: 4.

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Send comments to Atkingani (BETA) | Report this review (#116256) | Review Permalink
Posted Saturday, March 24, 2007

Review by Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

One of the things that amazed us young Ontarians was how a band from the Prairie state came about to playing prog in such a cultural desert the mid-west can be. I am talking art-wise, not agricultural, you wise-arses ;-) Yes, Kansas from Kansas!! How could a sextet of young country boys be crazy enough to start a band that was something else but a country rock or a southern rock group? At the very least a typical AOR group, a C&W or sumthin' along those lines. But a prog band? And yet, Kansas' superb debut album (my fave from them) was just too good to be a fluke or even a first album. Line-up-wise, only Livgren is present in the first Kansas album, but Proto-Kaw presented a double Kb and double wind player, with Don Montre playing both. At the turn of the century, Livgren uncovered the pre-debut album tapes from bands that were called White Clover, Proto-Kaw, Saratoga, Kansas I and Kansas II. The whole genesis of the group is maybe a little confused, so I won't bother with it more in this review. So Livgren brought these tapes to the Cuneiform label and here are the results.

And by the sounds of this "album", that superb Kansas debut album was anything but a fluke: their prog roots already existed long before they recorded, even if they were a much jazzier affair. As a matter of fact, I am close to thinking these tapes are the proggiest things that Kansas has ever done. Don't get me wrong, their first albums where undeniably prog, with many symphonic moments but many songs had a very AOR feel, as Kansas will be very instrumental in setting that typical late 70's AOR sound. These Proto-Kaw sessions/demos are in a very different class altogether, because you'd really have a hard time telling they were an American group at all, for the feeling is incredibly European. Actually if you are a classic prog fan, you're likely to like these tapes much more than the usual Kansas sound. But I must tell you that a lot of these songs have an already-heard somewhere else quality that can make you think that Proto-Kaw was a bit too derivative to have earned a record deal at that particular time. This is something almost certain because once they will really acquire an unmistakably Kansas sound, they will quickly release their debut and an enormous success will ensue.

The demo tapes are not exactly perfect quality, but for some reasons, couldn't have cared less, because somehow, my mind is completely oblivious to the rational part of reasoning when listening to this album. The first demo session was recoded in 71 and holds three tracks, which can be considered really derivative, but I enjoy most. Generally I am furious when someone steals a whole passage from another group, but for some reasons, when Proto-Kaw lifts their whole third track (Nactolos 21) from VdGG (this is especially true for the sax), I yell scandal and get rid of the album. Here, however, I simply and inexplicably accept it. The openingHegemonium track is also greatly influeced by VdGG and Crimson. These early tracks are dark, experimental, but hold a certain kind of breathless beauty to them. Meredith's voice is absolutely superb as well, between Heep's David Byron and Purple's Rod Evans (Wright's Hammond organ parts reinforcing that similarity).

The second recording session dates from a year later with a different drummer and has two tracks that will find their way onto Kansas's first two albums (albeit in fairly different versions), Belexes and Incomudro. All four of these tracks are all excellent, sounding much less derivative, lost the jazzy touch, featuring more what Kaénsas was to become. Some lengths in Nemesis (where you can hear recycled ideas from Nactolos) and a slightly weaker Greek Sunbeam, but overall this session is quite enjoyable. Of course it is hard to escape comparisons on the two common tracks, so here goes: I prefer Meredith's voice to Walsh's, but Ehart's drumming is much superior to Schulz's.

The last two tracks were recorded live, and to me lack a bit the interest of what came before, but are still very valuable. This is particularly true of Cyclopy, which was extracted (a bit thoughtlessly I must say) from a much longer movement, while Skont is a great instrumental slot into a concert with great organs underlined by Jaxonian sax.

Indeed, these posthumous early-Kansas demos hold very much interest for both the fans of Kansas and fans of more European prog. But whether this "album" is essential is whole different ball game, but IMHO, not really. But I would still recommend it.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#118499) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, April 16, 2007

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Neo Prog Team
3 stars PROTO-KAW can be considered as an early version of KANSAS,featuring Kerry Livgren from the original KANSAS members.The band was short-lived (they existed between 1971 and 1973) and recorded material only in demo version.These tapes were collected by Kerry Livgren in 2002 and published as the first PROTO-KAW release.Their style,though with a quite dated sound,is an absolutely great example of a succesful mix between light symphonic arrangements,psych rock and rhythmic classic rock.Do not expect the boogie rock version of KANSAS here,what you'll get is mostly long tracks with superb flute and mellow passages in the vein of GENESIS,complex and chaotic sax and keyboard parts resembling to VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR along with rhythmic organ drives,not unlike DEEP PURPLE's Jon Lord,while the heavier guitar parts of Livgren do remind of the normal KANSAS version.PROTO-KAW actually could have made it quite well within the prog circles and not releasing their early material would be a (musical) crime...3.5 stars for me...

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Send comments to apps79 (BETA) | Report this review (#162323) | Review Permalink
Posted Thursday, February 21, 2008

Review by ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars I only discovered this early Kansas recordings a few years ago (four or so).

The music featured is not very close to the one we will know some years after these tracks. The presence of sax provides a definite VDGG or Crimson angle and vocals are quite different that the one we will know for decades (Walsh).

It is still an interesting item for Kansas fan to grab. Probably not essential but most of the songs are of good texture. You will recognize an early version of Belexes featured here in a live environment.

Most songs are on the long edge and features solo (guitar or sax in this case) which were the usual stuff in these early seventies. Even if the recording quality is not super, I believe it was well worth the effort to restore those tapes and put it on the market (even if they could have done it a little earlier).

The music is more complex than the one we will be used to; flirting with the eclectic genre most of the times. A close link with ELP can also be noticed in several songs of which Totus Nemesis is the most obvious. The Hammond play from Dan Wright is powerful, hypnotic and is the highlight of this long piece of music (almost forteen minutes). We are indeed brought back to ancient Egypt. If Triumvirat are of your liking, no doubt that you will appreciate such a song.

It is even heading pure experimentation at half time: a wall of sounds difficult to identify or name; almost each musician taking his role. This part can be compared to ASOS from Floyd. Quite special to say the least. It ends up into a total chaos worthy of Crimson or Van Der Graaf. This was rather avant garde for these days. It is a quite daring piece of music but quite difficult to get into. This is a zillion miles away from Kansas music.

As a counterpart, one gets Greek Structure Sunbeam which is a smooth jazzy tune full of tact and sweetness. Fine vocals and good piano are the best elements of this song. I have to say that the finale is quite poignant.

I deeply regret that I couldn't make their concert in my home country. Some two years ago, they shared the bill with Pallas at the Spirit of 66 (Verviers) and I'm afraid that it might well be their last European appearances. But who knows.

My highlight is Incomudro. It is one of my favourite Kansas songs from the great Song For America album. It is quite interesting to discover it in this prior incarnation with a different vocalist. All the majesty of the song is there and I'm really moved while listening to it. A superb moment of music. Great flute adds some early Genesis mood to it. You might know that I am quite keen of this.

Incomudro is just a fabulous song of which I am totally found of. It is THE highlight actually.

The last two live tracks are nothing else than jamming seesions very much jazz oriented and of lesser interest.

This is a good album, not only for Kansas fans. Those won't really recognize the band they love (except the two future Kansas songs of course).

Three stars.

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#187724) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, November 02, 2008

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Symphonic Team
3 stars Before became after!

Proto-Kaw was a band that originally existed in the very early 70's and was Kerry Livgren's pre-Kansas band. Kansas released their debut album in 1974 and Proto-Kaw was no more. Until the new millennium, that is! They surprisingly reunited after 30 years of absence and released two excellent studio albums of new material! This, however, is a compilation of older recordings, two of which later became Kansas songs.

Kerry Livgren has long been one of my favourite song writers. His contributions to Kansas over the years are amazing and this compilation proves that he had talent early on. This compilation also proves that the claim that Kansas was a derivative band, that they did nothing but copy their British Prog counterparts, is not true. Proto-Kaw was proto-Kansas, and they were quite original indeed. The band has a sound of their own and even if this music is clearly in the tradition of classic Prog, I do not find this music derivative at all.

The quality of this music is quite impressive given that it is a collection of previously unreleased demos. The sound quality is also more than decent.

However, if you want to check out Proto-Kaw (you really should!), I would strongly recommend you to start with any one of the two new studio albums: Before Became After or The Wait Of Glory. These two subsequent albums are both excellent and constitute the most consistent period in Kerry Livgren's long career since the Leftoverture/Point Of Know Return period in 1976/77. If you liked the two new Proto-Kaw albums, and/or you are a big fan of Kansas (I am guilty on both accounts!), this compilation is worth while too.

The music of Proto-Kaw is not really that similar to Kansas, but I think it will appeal to the same kind of people as well as to any fan of classic symphonic progressive rock of the 70's. Compared to early Kansas, Proto-Kaw was more jazzy and had more room for improvisation. Instead of violin, the sound is based on flutes and sax in addition to the more traditional drums-bass-guitars-keyboards-vocals approach.

I would love to have a full live recording from today of Proto-Kaw performing songs from their two new studio albums plus a few numbers from this compilation. But I will probably have to be satisfied with the short bonus live DVD (three songs) that came with The Wait Of Glory as well as the two live recordings on this very compilation.

Recommended for fans and collectors of Kerry Livgren and Kansas, as well as for people who loved the two new studio albums by Proto-Kaw. If you are not a Kerry Livgren/Kansas fan, you should really start with the studio albums before you venture as far as this.

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Send comments to SouthSideoftheSky (BETA) | Report this review (#220166) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, June 07, 2009

Review by Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars The story of Proto-Kaw is one of the most endearing stories in chronicles of progressive rock. Before there was Kansas, there was a group of hungry men in ragged clothes roughing it in the Midwest and chasing their dream. Decades later, the surviving members wound up together again as Proto-Kaw (a name that comes from the obvious Greek prefix and the Native American word for Kansas). The release of these practically ancient recordings was the firstfruits of a wonderful reunion. Fans of Van der Graaf Generator should without a doubt seek this record out. Kerry Livgren has said that Peter Hammill and company were one of his greatest influences during that fledgling period, and in this respect, it has eased me into appreciating much of Van der Graaf Generator's work. Lynn Meredith even sounds a bit like Hammill. The recording is fairly primitive and rough, but oh well- this is a treasure, like uncovering an archeological cache that was for all intents and purposes lost. One is left to wonder how Kansas would have interpreted these pieces; we know that answer for a couple of them, but that leaves a lingering and greedy curiosity.

"Hegemonium" Easy organ and piano do not prepare the listener for the hate-filled, spite-ridden music to come. Livgren said he based the sullen lyrics on a painting he had seen. There's a squawking saxophone solo over the organ and piano, and the bass during the quiet guitar solo is excellent. The ending incorporates an avant-garde feel, and soon Meredith releases a paralyzing shriek before Bolton launches into an insane saxophone cadenza. Overall, it's a chilling and brilliant piece.

"Reunion in the Mountains of Sarne" Parts of this sound like Tchaikovsky to me. With soaring vocals from Meredith and intelligent musicianship from the rest of the band, this is one of my favorites on the album. Livgren's compositional integrity is well-established, even at such a young age. Hard-core Kansas fans may find part of it familiar: Livgren reused the instrumental section of this phenomenal work in "The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis)" on Kansas's Somewhere to Elsewhere.

"Nactolos 21" Rough piano churning out chords is followed by wild saxophone- this gives this one a crazy introduction. However, what follows is closer to R&B. There's a gritty little guitar solo that adds variety, and then a fast-paced flute and saxophone section enters to add even more.

"Belexis" Any respectable Kansas fan will know this old favorite- and yet, they won't. It's got the same funky riffs, but the singer paints it a completely different way. None of it, not the keyboard playing nor guitar work, not the drumming nor the singing, is better than the "original," but man it's good to hear a great song performed by a different but just as legitimate group- and the listener gets a rare peak into the formative years of one of America's greatest songwriters.

"Totus Nemesis" The verses sound very much like the writings of Livgren, but this song is amazing in its own way, and it would have been even more amazing had it been done by his main band years later. As it is, it's excellent. The funky rhythm in the middle offers an amazing opportunity for both the pianist and the bassist. What follows is very experimental with strange sounds and odd time signatures, but after that, there's an incredible jazzy segment in 9/4 time. Overall, this is a very exciting and inspired piece of work.

"Greek Structure Sunbeam" This soft tune reminds me viscerally of a certain old commercial I can't put my finger on, but it's a nice contrast to the rest of the album. If he has not already, Meredith demonstrates his vocal abilities and how pleasing he can be at the microphone. This one is very similar to gentle songs from Three Dog Night (I'm thinking of "Pieces of April" here). Everything flows in a smooth and slightly jazzy manner.

"Incomudro" This is the second of the two recognizable Kansas songs (this time curiously lacking the "Hymn to the Atman" subtitle). Unlike "Belexis," this one is not as easy to say the Kansas version is better, since it has a real charm of its own. There's no odd vocal effect on the chorus either, something I never really cared for on the Song for America version. That happy Camel-like part in the middle still exists. The drum solo is a tad heavy-handed and truncated (in other words, nowhere near as great as the Phil Ehart version). This is a fascinating look at a primordial version of a magnificent piece.

"Cyclopy" Two live tracks close the album, and are something of "bonus tracks," probably because the sound quality is even worse than the preceding studio tracks. The first is "Cyclopy," which is in my opinion a great composition. It has a guitar and bass duet in the middle that gives way to a bizarre harpsichord-like solo.

"Skont" This second live song is a raw piece with muffled vocals and gritty guitar. There's plenty of sinister instrumentation and brooding lyrics, not to mention a lengthy organ solo fed through a wah pedal. This somewhat experimental piece should find favor with those who enjoy grainy proto-prog like Deep Purple. Despite the awful sound quality, this is a real treat for any progressive rock lover, and it concludes a mesmerizing glimpse at the origin of the precursor of America's greatest band.

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Send comments to Epignosis (BETA) | Report this review (#239527) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
4 stars Proto-Kaw, if you don't already know, was originally Kansas. Actually, it was Kerry Livgren's band before joining the Kansas that we know so well. The recordings here are from the second lineup of Kansas, which only existed from 1971-1973 (hence the title). Livgren renamed the band to Proto-Kaw since he has reformed the band in the new millenium, and the famous lineup of Kansas still exists.

For anyone who thinks that Kansas was a late imitation of British prog, listen to these tracks, recorded during the heyday of the classic prog bands. The Kansas sound is here, American sounding compositions, with a few Native American themed riffs thrown in.

There are two full songs that found there way into the next version of Kansas, and onto the classic albums: Belexes and Incomudro. The recordings are rough. A producer was definitely needed. But still, they show the promise of a band with exceptional talent. A major difference between this band and the classic Kansas is the lack of violin, and the addition of sax and flute. This serves to soften, and jazz up many of the pieces. It gives them a bit of a Canterbury sound, as well.

The two live tracks at the end are much looser than the other songs on the album. Cyclopy and times reminds me a bit of ELP's Fanfare For The Common Man, with more variation, keeping it from getting tedious (as ELP's song was).

For prog historians, this is a must. For the casual prog fan, it's still a great album to own.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#337743) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, November 29, 2010

Latest members reviews

4 stars Well, I won't write as much as the others here, but I must say, upon first listening of this, I LOVE IT! This is so original, and a nice blend of progressive, experimental, jazz-rock, and just good musicianship. In fact, I enjoy this quite a lot better (now don't kill me here!) than Kansas. Ye ... (read more)

Report this review (#172358) | Posted by tmay102436 | Tuesday, May 27, 2008 | Review Permanlink

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