Proto-Kaw: Before Became After (2004)
In 2002 progressive rock record label Cuneiform Records released a compilation of demos and live recordings of a band that subsequently enjoyed immense popularity and staggering record sales. Originally known as Proto-Kaw—a band modeled after the fertile, late-‘60s, early-‘70s progressive rock movement—the music and methodology was closer to the likes of King Crimson, Genesis, and others. Hence, the release titled Early Recordings From Kansas 1971-1973 depicted a precursor of what eventually evolved into a unit that melded tricky time signatures with hard driving rock grooves. But time passed by and the members went on to lead normal lives within the more traditional job market.
Inspired by the Cuneiform release, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Kerry Livgren reunited the band for this new studio recording. Here, Livgren revives four works from Proto-Kaw’s original set list with the addition of five newly composed pieces. And for my money, this rendering of the pre-Kansas scope and sound rates as one of the finest progressive rock outings this writer has heard in perhaps a decade or more.
Fronted by lead vocalist Lynn Meredith, the sextet’s chemistry is rooted within layered, woodwinds-synth-guitar arrangements, complete with harmonious themes and a touch of grandiosity. Ultimately, Livgren’s compositions boast staying power and memorable hooks. There’s an air of majesty that fuses its way into the preponderance of these wonderful tunes! At times, the ensemble interconnects boogie vibes and booming rock motifs with its repertoire. Yet the music is texturally orchestrated and perhaps less frenetic than that recognizable Kansas sound, as they (perhaps inadvertently) ring up the sounds of the wonderful prog-rock movement of yore, but with a contemporary muse.
Listen to “Axolotl,” for example, where you’ll be treated to John Bolton’s wistful flute lines atop Meredith’s dreamy lyricism. No doubt, this piece could loom as a future classic! It’s addictive, folks. Here, the group interrelates a sense of regality via climactic chord voicings, featuring keyboardist Dan Wright’s synth strings and Livgren’s crunch chords. Other works are constructed upon anthem-like passages and thriving crescendos, amid breezy vocal parts and precisely executed riffs. At the end of the day, Livgren’s writing style bonds the best of both worlds, where sustainable melodies are woven into commanding choruses and subtle shifts in strategy. For prog- rockers, this release should signify an important event! This superior outing could not have been issued soon enough. (Feverishly recommended...)
Note: this review version is not the same as the Special Edition release: a 2xCD special, limited, digibook edition that comes with an extra CD including a live track, some more studio tracks and a video interview.
Track Listing: More Worlds Than Known, Words Of Honor, Leaven, Axolotl, Quantum Leapfrog, Greenburg, Glickstein, Charles, David, Smith and Jones, Gloriana, Occasion of your Honest Dreaming, Heavenly Man, Theophany
Personnel: Kerry Livgren (guitar, keyboards, vocals & percussion), Lynn Meredith (lead vocals & narration), John Bolton (tenor sax & flute), Brad Schulz (drums), Dan Wright (keyboards, vocals & percussion), Craig Kew (bass & vocals)
Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock