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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga CD (album) cover

ROMANTIC WARRIORS: A PROGRESSIVE MUSIC SAGA

Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations)

 

Various Genres

3.90 | 16 ratings

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Cesar Inca
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Today we have a special review? special because it is centered on the documentary "Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga." In reality, the film is more than a documentary; it is above all a labor of love about a type of music that seeks to defy, enrich, and twist the parameters and confines of rock. Such a great love has been necessary to buoy a genre that has seen immense volumes of skepticism, disdain, and lack of respectful attention, both from the directors of the mainstream and from the general public. With this in mind, the pair José Zegarra Holder and Adele Schmidt developed, created, and produced an item so relevant within the progressive contemporary community. In doing so, they have already garnered significant attention from various e-zines, encyclopedias and Internet user collectives. José, a tireless music lover, is the creator and host of Autopoietican, our blog of progressive reviews. Adele, a filmmaker of German descent and a current resident of the United States, already has various documentaries and short films to her credit. Now, she has also developed her own audiovisual interpretation of progressive rock.

José and Adele take extensive interest in that which is innovative and stimulating about art, and together they share their interest with the world. In the case of "Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga," they present viewers with a unique and sophisticated form of rock, the likes of which have never been invented before.

I am not the first to suggest it, but it would not be unwarranted to reiterate that this documentary is not architecturally structured as a rigorous sequence of themes. Rather, it literally documents "that which happens" on the actual progressive scene of the East Coast of the United States (principally the events RoF Festival and NEARFest, just like the concerts at Orion Studios). The documentary performs this task with a relatively fortuitous attitude of presentation, almost as if a microphone was left turned on, ready and waiting to record the specific, necessary and most recurrent of matters that describe the genre. Keeping in mind this approach, it is one of the great successes of "Romantic Warriors" that an aura of closeness is generated between the interviewees and the "anonymous" interviewer. It is a pleasure to bear witness to the rehearsals and American travels of the Mexican ensemble Cabezas De Cera (whose members were practically the kings of NEARFest 2009). Likewise, it is a treat to follow the busy life of Deluge Grander (essentially a studio project) as they launch their first live presentation, and the vigor of bands like Cheer-Accident, La Maschera Di Cera, or Karmacanic, whose members already boast a good number of years in their musical careers. Viewers of the film can truly feel the energetic cost that necessarily accompanies such ambitious musical endeavors. In the realm of veteran traditionalists, we do not come across luminaries like the dynastic Yes, the triad Emerson, Lake and Palmer, or the survivors of Pink Floyd. Rather, we encounter marginal heroes like Gary Green (the guitarist of Gently Giant) and the American duo of Stanley Whitaker and Frank Wyatt (formerly of Happy the Man and now in Oblivious Sun). Gary offers one definition of progressive rock that seems simple but, in reality, guards a subtle complexity: "to find the true and unique voice, hoping that something thoughtful comes of it." Thus, it is about searching for the shape of something particular within the infinite and eclectic possibilities generated by rock music, splitting open the emotional to arrive at something thought-out, with heart and mind united in an artistic mission. In this way, music is created in and of itself, and does not have to be falsely identified with fashion. For Gary, music that reflects current fashions is not real music: it is only fashion and nothing more. In their way, Stanley and Frank allude, without dramatic exaggeration, that the progressive movement is destined to be ignored and forgotten by the commercial industry of musical diffusion: one is more likely to encounter progressive's impact in settings with little news coverage, where an underground public is committed to its enjoyment. But if we want a more "concrete" definition, John Collinge of Progression magazine maintains that progressive rock is like the music of founding rock artists, incorporating elements from other musical sources like jazz, folk, chamber, and electronic. It may sound trite, but to date it has been definitions like this one that have the most success when it comes to planting a standard point of reference in the mind of an audience?and this is what we want of a definition, is it not? (Ever since the ancient times of the restless and nonconformist philosopher Socrates, we have understood the purpose and value of a good definition!).

If Gary Green offers general guidelines for defining the progressive, the men of Cabezas De Cera provide a concrete manifestation of these guidelines through their musical intentions to absorb and recycle the common eclecticism of urban culture and the modern world. They define Mexico City as the city of all Mexican cities: its multitude of voices and perspectives stimulates the diversity of their repertoire. Each member of the group recalls with a certain fondness their first steps toward learning about music, and then their early experiences as a rock group looking to do something new. One feature of this incessant search for new things is the creation of instruments, including the Charrófono, a noteworthy "living myth" in the legend of Cabezas De Cera. Additionally, the Mexican ensemble resists allowing itself to be labeled. This is the same attitude expressed by the musicians in Cheer-Accident, who simply prefer to classify themselves as musicians and rock composers on a variety of paths. In particular, the members of Cheer-Accident habitually offer a distinction between the progressive musicians who focus on reiterating common sonorous themes of the 70's and those other musicians who seek to move "in a more forward direction," moving on from ancient, passed-on influences. The members of D. F. A. are the most explicit when it comes time to discussing their composing process: they deconstruct each other's ideas with a critical attitude and, rather than discarding those ideas, modify and add to them, adjusting them to the group's expectations. It is a game of corrections and mutual challenging that finally results in complete and cherished compositions. The group members themselves acknowledge that they seek to create musical pieces that must be listened to for twenty or more times before a listener becomes truly familiar with them. But, at the same time, the group knows that this overtly hinders their adherence to the "law of immediate and instantaneous enjoyment" that rules the music business. It is thus that a collective dimension to the notion of unique voice is described. This desire to create new works of complexity and to defy the usual restrictions on the musical language of the rock artist is also expressed in the involvement of Rob Martino, member of Chapman Stick Center: he gives us a glimpse into his work with digital processing, which recycles and redesigns uncommon sounds for electric string instruments (including vintage sounds of the Hammond organ and mellotron).

We also delve into the business aspect that exists in the world of progressive music. Steve Feigenbaum speaks to us from his offices at Cuneiform Records about his early experiences selling recordings of experimental music: what soon developed was his dream to disseminate music with special artistic merit that didn't receive proper attention from the administrators of the record stores where he worked in his youth. He recalls for us how his record label served to encourage the work of a variety of bands proudly situated on the most experimental edges of the progressive genre (the group Miriodor, from Quebec, seems to be the champion of Cuneiform's catalog). Such groups were principally the relics of the Canterbury scene (bootlegs of Soft Machine, practically all records in which Robert Wyatt or Hugh Hopper were involved), but they assumed the most commercial success for the label. In some relation to that, we also tune in to the words of Dan Britton, the leader of Deluge Grander, who points out that true prog groups not only have to fight against the current front of disinterest presented by the general public and the large record companies, but also against the new editions, compilations and the rest of the new offerings from classic prog bands (Pink Floyd, Yes, ELP, etc.). When all is said and done, every opportunity for commercial glory (in the marginal terms of progressive, clearly) is in the kiosk-based sale of records at the festivals: the higher the attendance of the general public, the more possibilities there are to attract the attention of people who are genuinely interested in broadening the scope of their musical collections. In this sense, Britton himself tells us, to play at NEARFest is to play in the major leagues: it is the ideal shop window for showcasing and diffusing the genre. Also in the documentary, we see the role that Orion Studios played and continues to play in making progressive a dynamic force on the East Coast. Mike Potter, who founded the studios years ago as rehearsal space, was always a fan of progressive rock, ever since his adolescent years spent listening to the music of King Crimson, The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd etc. while looking at stars with his telescope. In the 1990s, he had the stars much closer to himself? progressive stars, who prepared their shows at Orion Studios when they didn't have a welcoming environment for their more "select" public. The hanging of posters so that others could see them lead to the spontaneous formation and continuous remodeling of a "museum of progressive rock"? a signal that an undeniable part of the essence of love for progressive rock is the act of sharing. More than an act of generosity, it is a ritual of love directed toward the genre, a love that seeks to be amplified by the act of sharing itself. Another vital sign of this sharing can be seen in the broadcasting efforts of enthusiast DJ Debbie Sears, whose efforts are realized on the Prok Rock Diner Radio station. She herself is a regular at the concerts that take place at Orion Studios.

It is with a special gratitude and appreciation that we too see scenes of groups playing in the ProgDay festival and Orion Studios. The structure of the stage at Orion Studios almost gives the appearance that the group is practicing in a garage, though bands like Phideaux, Karmacanic and Oblivion Sun seem to feel more comfortable playing for an awake and receptive public. In its own way, the camping-esque and almost "casual" ambience of ProgDay provides that air of familiarity and intimacy that the aficionados of progressive music are so proud of. It seemed a bit puzzling to me to see the members of La Maschera Di Cera waiting patiently for the fans to approach them to buy CDs and ask for autographs, seated in their modest tent under the sun (it was still the time of "LuxAde" and one knows that with LMDC there is no loss; one only has to imagine it to hear that the group has attracted a multitude of fans in the progressive environment), but in the scenes of them playing for the meager audience assembled for ProgDay, what emerges is the fact of their intense communion with those who deign to offer them attention. The images of the Japanese group Qui playing in the middle of the audience, seemingly millimeters from contact with their audience, reinforces the idea that ProgDay is like a camping musical, and not so much like a festival: the music of Qui is suitable for such a setting because it puts emphasis on acoustic sounds based on fusion and World Music to generate a progressive line distinct from its sources. The musicians of Qui are not the only Japanese presented in the documentary: an executive from Poseidon Records also appears. Poseidon Records is a Japanese company dedicated to publishing and vigorously spreading the music of Japanese progressive and experimental bands both of the present and of the past. Additionally, the scenes of Silver Elephant are invaluable: how many CDs and DVDs of live performances by stupendous Japanese bands are recorded here! For Deluge Grander, this ProgDay serves as their stage debut: the ups and downs they experience include the absence of their bassist, which results in the tough, short work of finding new musical arrangements in order to present material that is complex enough with respect to melodic developments, changes of ambience, and rhythmic structure. Undertakings and efforts like these justify Mike Potter's comment that because these bands emerged at the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s, the old masters of past times "passed them the torch" of progressive rock.

One can appreciate these things and more in the 90-minute span of "Romantic Warriors," a documentary, a DVD, and an audiovisual testimony, but above all, a labor of love.

Cesar Inca | 4/5 |

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