Continuing the review of my most inspirational kindred spirits…
Progressive rock is a strange beast; you can have extremes of ecstatic beauty and banal, overblown, trying-too-hard filler – in the same 10- or 20-minute song. For me, no band more embodies this frustrating duality than Yes (there were even two separate versions of the band at once!). While the wildly uneven quality of the Yes catalog can be maddening, Close to the Edge, Going for the One and Relayer remain sublime masterworks. I don’t hear a false note in any of them.
More to the point here: while I’ve found musical greatness in many prog bands, Yes is the only one in my experience which aimed at anything transcendent. Jon Anderson’s spiritual interests – along with his strong-willed musical leadership – were a major impetus for much of their best work.
This peaked, of course, with the album which still polarizes Yes fans (and prog fans generally): 1973’s Tales From Topographic Oceans. For me, this double-LP, one-song-per-side epic contains some of the band’s best work, and only one embarrassing (for me) two-minute filler episode.
To observe that other people’s mileage will vary is a huge understatement: Rick Wakeman, who left Yes at the end of the Topographic Oceans tour, found the album “dreadfully padded”. Even Jon Anderson, whose brainchild the album was, had a plan to edit it down to an hour. The band faced huge challenges in developing and recording the project, particularly the time limitations of the vinyl album format and a lack of time to edit and refine the music. The entire album was arranged, rehearsed and recorded in five months; even another two months could have made a large difference in the final result.
So Topographic may be the album which embodies everything we love (and/or hate) about prog, but I think it has stood up very well. Stylistically one of the most expansive rock albums ever made, it’s like a rock band’s stab at a Mahler symphony, and there can never be anything else like it.
Dirk exploded onto the music scene in the early 1980s under his pseudonym vidnaObmana, and in 20 years created a hugely-important body of work ranging from serene atmospherics (the Trilogy) to visceral industrial (the Dante Trilogy: Tremor; Spore; and Legacy) and beyond. His final work as vidnaObmana was the four-part Opera for Fusion Works, which highlighted his brilliant recycling abilities.
Dirk’s restless desire to explore and willful determination to evolve led him to put aside the vidnaObmana project at its peak. For several years Dirk explored powerful electric guitar soundscapes under the moniker Fear Falls Burning, then put aside stage names and began working under his own name.
Dirk’s solo guitar soundscape albums The Origin Reversal and Disorientation Flow, both on Projekt Records, are two of his best releases for me. He is such an important guitar inspiration that I cited him in the notes to my album The White Island.
Dirk works on a huge array of projects with an ever-increasing roster of collaborators, and his domain dirkserries.com now redirects to the label New Wave of Jazz, which he curates. What has remained consistent all the way along is Dirk’s singular determination to explore the music which touches him deepest, regardless of labels and expectations. This quality especially – what to speak of his prodigious musical gifts – has earned Dirk the great admiration of so many of us listeners and fellow musicians.
Stefano Musso’s organic-ambient project has always had a wonderful element of mystery, and can be considered a type of Sacred Ambient. His magical brew of drones, zithers, percussion, natural objects and field recordings is simply intoxicating. He has always been on my dream list of possible collaborators.
Stefano’s prolific output and his long list of collaborators have given him a deservedly large profile, especially among us fellow musicians. I believe many of us concur that no one, anywhere, can match the consistently sublime beauty of Stefano’s album packaging. He appreciates the artistic importance of the full package like no one else.
Continue to Part 5: Two ecstatics, a shaman and a spaceman.