NEW! Progressive Ideas column: Nektar, Curved Air and more

By  Peter Lindblad

Always experimental, often grandly theatrical conceptually, but usually grounded in melody and the simple things that made its music eminently tuneful, the arty, English prog-rock outfit Nektar never quite established a beachhead in America.

Nektar Hamburg 042.jpg1973’s ambitious Remember The Future, considered by some to be the group’s creative zenith with its title track neatly divided into two side-long halves, was the closest Nektar came to gaining a foothold on FM radio, but later that year came the simpler Sounds Like This, and U.S. attention on the band fragmented and waned.

But, with progressive rock experiencing a bit of a renaissance, Nektar’s time may be coming, with newly recorded material on the way and a host of live shows on the horizon. Happy days are here again for Nektar — with a current lineup that includes original drummer Ron Howden and newcomers Klaus Henatsch on keyboards and Peter Pichl on bass (all three sing vocals as well) — after some trying times.

“Well, we have been having some serious problems with management over the last two years, which has led to the band being thrown off course,” says Roye Albrighton, lead vocalist and guitarist, as well as the de facto leader, of Nektar.

“Happy to say that this is slowly clearing now and a new album, Book Of Days, is being prepared for release [at the] latest [by the] end [of] March/early April.”

An acoustic tour that had been in the works for April has been postponed as Nektar gears up for a summer full of festival dates.

“We want to concentrate all our energies on playing the festivals in Europe with the new album with us,” explains Albrighton, who still wants to do an acoustic tour. “The idea of the acoustic tour was to replicate what Nektar’s music would be like without all the heaviness to it. The music really lends itself to the acoustic treatment well.”

Whatever medium Nektar chooses to work in, the group, formed in Germany in 1969 after meetings at the Star Club in Hamburg made famous by The Beatles, could receive a royal welcome.

“I don’t see why not… it’s pretty timeless music, and what I’m hearing from most of the new, younger fans that are now coming to our shows, [is that] it’s like going back in time,” says Albrighton. “They are starting to really discover music again, which, of course, is a great relief to us and some of the older bands from our time.”

Air conditioning

Another sleeping prog giant that’s been awakened is Curved Air, the ridiculously talented ’70s quintet of vocalist Sonja Kristina, violinist Darryl Way, keyboard player Francis Monkman, drummer Forian Pilkington-Miksa and bassist Robert Martin that issued rock’s first picture disc with 1970’s Air Conditioning.

Named after avant-garde composer Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air, the group that once provided musical accompaniment to the musical “Who the Murderer Was” is celebrating an anniversary of sorts with festival dates this summer.

“Curved Air has been planning to do at least one more tour to celebrate 30 years since their first concerts,” says Kristina. “We have had discussions about this several times over the last few years.”

Like Nektar, Curved Air, despite charting in the U.K., didn’t quite make it in the States, despite such epic fare as 1972’s Phantasmagoria and the Curved Air Live album. Mixing hard-rock dynamics with classical flair, Curved Air was derailed by a revolving-door lineup. At one time, even Police drummer Stewart Copeland served time in Curved Air.

Since breaking up in the ’70s, the members of Curved Air have gone on to a variety of esoteric musical projects, with Kristina concentrating on MASK, the ambient music project she’s been working on with composer/producer Marvin Ayres.

“When I was liberated from being Curved Air’s front woman at the end of 1976, after seven years in that role, I was inspired to explore and be challenged and influenced by punk-influenced, driving rock; cosmic jazz ballads; acid folk; musical theatre; straight plays and now ambient atmospheres and songs…” says Kristina.

Classically trained violinist Darryl Way “… has been composing prolifically and performing classical music, soundtracks and classical-rock crossover songs. He is also a respected arranger and orchestrator,” says Kristina.

In addition to reinterpreting classical works on the harpsichord, playing ancient organs throughout Europe and dabbling in bands like Sky, Monkman has worked with Pilkington-Miksa on a number of freestyle-rock projects.

But, now, it’s back to Curved Air for all of them.

“We are planning to play festivals in Europe followed by a run of dates in autumn 2008,” says Kristina. “We — Darryl, Francis and I — are writing some new material, and we have exciting ideas for new songs that we will be developing over the next few months. These tracks will be ready for release when the tour begins. The years of experience, and the unique styles of each band member will undoubtedly produce an exciting new sound together with the advent of new technology for these bold innovators to enjoy utilizing to the full.”

Aural wallpaper

Speaking of ambient music, avant-garde fellow travelers Robert Fripp and Brian Eno have loosed the earthly bonds of Robert Fripp & Brian Eno: Beyond Even (1992-2006) Unreleased Works of Startling Genius.

Not as full of themselves as the title would indicate, Fripp and Eno were actually joking about the … Startling Genius part. Still, it wouldn’t be a stretch to label either of these musical innovators a genius of some sort.

Abounding with experimental, shape-shifting sounds, ... Startling Genius is an expression of the inexpressible, a transmission from outer space that’s unnerving, atmospheric and beautiful in a way language can’t describe.

Building a Mystery

Though 2007 is over and done with, accolades for Mystery’s Beneath the Veil of Winter’s Face keep rolling in.

A staggering tour de force of unusual complexity, high art and building drama, Beneath the Veil of Winter’s Face, released by Unicorn Digital, was chosen by the prestigious Dr. Music Web site as the album of the year, beating out stiff competition from Coheed and Cambria, Dream Theater, Kid Rock and Maroon 5, among others.

It’s the first time an independent release has ever garnered the top spot in Dr. Music’s annual Top 10 list.

Mystery is the brainchild of Unicorn Digital founder Michel St-Pere, who wrote all the lyrics and played guitar, bass and keyboards on the record. A new Mystery album is in the works for the end of 2008, along with a 10th anniversary edition of the album Destiny. New artwork and mastering, along with some bonus tracks, are planned for the reissue.

Mystery wasn’t the only Unicorn Digital act to catch the ear of Dr. Music. Dimension X’s album Implications of a Genetic Defense also received honorable mention.

Crowning Little King

Legacy Of Fools is the new release from El Paso, Texas’ Little King, one of the most melodic progressive-rock acts around.

Songwriter Ryan Rosoff explained the philosophy behind Legacy Of Fools.

“The lyrical theme of Legacy Of Fools focuses squarely on some of the problems that we have inherited.”

Family plays a big role in this song-cycle that follows four generations of Rosoff men throughout the years, while also addressing hot-button issues like the Iraq war and America’s failed educational system.

Legacy Of Fools sees Little King going for broke with angry, driving rockers, melodic swells of epic proportion and colossal emotions on songs like “Collateral Damage,” “Mea Culpa” and “202.”

For more information on Little King, Mystery or Dimension X, visit www.unicornrecords.com.

Breathe in

Oxygene8’s new album, Freak Of Chance, is the product of the fertile imaginations of bassist and vocalist Linda Cushma, drummer Kiko King and guitarist Claudio Cordero. Not your garden-variety prog project, Oxygene8 is a dynamic, powerful unit that’s pushing music is bold, new directions. On hand to help out on Freak Of Chance were Primus drummer Tim Alexander and bass legend Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel and the Tony Levin Band).

Of Levin’s contributions, Cushma says, “When Steve Parrish and I began to record the song ‘Close Your Eyes,’ I had this gut feeling that it was Tony Levin that needed to be on that track. I just listened to my intuition and asked Tony if he had the time to do it and he graciously responded.”

With artwork by controversial mentalist and humanitarian Uri Geller, a former student of Salvador Dali, Freak Of Chance promises a wild, cutting-edge thrill ride. Amazing stuff. For more on Oxygene8, visit www.oxygene8.com.

Other new releases include Random Touch’sA True Conductor Wears a Man, Todd Grubb’s technically brilliant, experimental guitar epic Time Space And The Electric, (Laser’s Edge), and Tin Scribble’sChildren Of Saturn.

A Mouthful

From the jazz-fusion, progressive metal camp comes Morglbl, and it’s wildly original LP Grotesk.

With blinding musical proficiency, Morglbl comes off as a cross between Primus and Zappa. It is funky, imaginative and wacky, with head-spinning musicianship. www.myspace.com/morglbl.  

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