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Various Artists (Label Samplers) - Emkog Sampler CD (album) cover


Various Artists (Label Samplers)


Various Genres

3.69 | 24 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars This is a first for me. I've never reviewed a sampler so I'm not sure how to act. When in doubt be honest, right? So that's what I'll do with this very interesting compilation from Emkog Records that a fellow progger generously bestowed on me a few weeks ago. I'm always intrigued by fresh music and I had a fine time listening to these 9 cuts sans harboring any preconceived notions about the musicians and/or bands involved. Virgin territory for these senior ears is a treat to explore, no matter what the terrain.

All I know about the names involved in the manufacture of this music I gleaned from the critique posted by the respected reviewer Rivertree due to the fact that the packaging, while admirably beautiful and eye-catching, contains only bare bones information (necessary to keep costs down, no doubt). I suspected that one particular creative mind was threading its way through these various songs and an aural artist by the name of Dan Britton is the culprit. If nothing else, Dan's a prolific progger and I must acknowledge his compositional prowess right off the bat. The music contained on this CD is complex and challenging no matter whether it makes me stand and salute or not and there's a lot to be said for that. In other words, the Sex Pistols this ain't. This is 21st century progressive rock through and through and it shows potential out the wazoo.

There are two offerings by the Deluge Grander group. "The Solitude of Miranda" kicks the whole shebang off with an unexpectedly furious madrigal onslaught that soon opens into an ELP-like motif that's heavy and impressive until the moment arrives when the amateur electric guitar spasm halts the momentum drastically. I hate to point a finger but the guitarist is just not up to speed. Britton's multi-keyboard work is excellent but he overwhelms the drums often and this instrumental fails to establish a memorable theme. The excerpt from "Aggrandizement" sounds better and its middle-eastern hues give it a mystical tint. It sports a more mature structure but the muddy drums don't do it any favors. Overall its aggressiveness is exciting but it gets too busy at times and my interest tended to lose focus.

The best band represented here is Birds and Buildings. They're some kind of a King Crimson meets Frank Zappa hybrid in their attack and I really like the variety of instrumentation they use. "Birds Flying into Buildings" is a whirlwind of styles that boggles the brain and the only criticism I have is that the saxophone, while in tune, lacks the tone that only comes from experience and it comes off being a little too High-School-lab- orchestra clinical. But one thing's for certain, the solid foundation provided by the bass and drums is tight from start to finish and the energetic movement they enter two-thirds of the way in gives it distinction. The peek we get into "Yucatan 65: The Agitation of the Mass" reveals that this group is no one-trick pony. Guitar and flute are always a good combination and there's a lot more in the way of melody to grab onto here. The tune's Spanish feel brings to mind some of Neal Morse's excursions (however, slide guitar demands accuracy and can't be tossed in recklessly) and I like the way it evolves into a dream state at the fadeout. Their "Miracle Pigeon" is my favorite number of all. It's fun and slightly whimsical while baring sharp teeth at the same time. I'm always relieved when a band refuses to take itself too seriously. I really enjoy these guys.

All Over Everywhere is sort of an early-Genesis-mates-with-Renaissance offspring and on their smooth "Art of the Earth" the woman's airy vocal is most welcome, especially since feminine voices are, sadly, still a rarity in prog but why bury such a distinguishing perk in the mix? Production-wise the atmosphere is dramatic, perhaps overly so. The longer "Gratitude" is a better song mainly because of its appealing chord progression but I'm still wondering why I have to strain to hear the too-processed vocals, making the lyrics indecipherable. What fidelity the tune possesses tragically drops out at the three minute mark as the piece takes on a Todd Rundgren-ish sheen yet the build up is a lively and invigorating journey. Then suddenly at the 7:10 point it's as if a new producer took over the control board as all aspects of the sound improve immediately. Odd. I also appreciate the wall-of-pomposity ending that doesn't disappoint the progger in my soul.

We only get one instrumental from Cerebus Effect but it offers a good look. "Nine Against Ten" reveals more of Britton's King Crimson bloodline (in a good way) and has a metallic taste to it. The breakdown into a Mahavishnu Orchestra vibe midway through is greatness and bassist Mike Galway (kudos to Riverside again) fills it with a solo that he should be very proud of. The final movement is ferocious, bringing to mind what would happen if Chick Corea joined up with Dream Theater. Quality stuff.

Since no particular ensemble is credited for the epic "Big Blob of Demos and Early Versions of Forthcoming Music" that rounds out the CD I'm going to assume that it's mostly Dan's private doings. Despite being a collage of separate ideas edited together this 20+ minute display of talent bears repeated listens now and in the future. The onset has a stately cosmic aura with the Rhodes piano dominating the landscape and it works wonderfully. It turns into a gladiator movie score (cool) when all the instruments join the grand processional before, at the 3:30 mark, a gorgeous solo piano ushers in a new phase that's very promising. I love the classical overtones and the simple elegance he employs for the next 7 minutes or so. After that things get stranger yet not unpleasant till the 13:30 juncture when the conglomeration of ideas plateaus. The next segment is somewhat dissonant and not as cohesive (a Deluge Grander outtake?) but the caboose on this train has enough of a Fripp aroma to bring it to a dignified close. Britton really gives the listener a workout, that's for sure.

This sampler runs the gamut of so many prog genres that it's bound to generate mixed emotions in all who encounter it but there's also something for everyone to smile about as they make their way through. I would only remind Dan that in prog high fidelity sound is a requisite and cutting corners won't ever fly but, all in all, he's on the right path and I expect to hear fantastic things from him by and by. Being a veteran of prog's glory years when groups aka Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer sold out arenas worldwide and then had to stand by helplessly as the prog movement almost perished from indifference during the MTV-infected 80s, it warms my heart to know that it not only survived but is now gaining its former strength back as evidenced on this Emkog release. It proves that prog has a big role to play in the music trends of the new millennium. 3.2 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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