Following Protocol

protocol_adDuring a lifetime collecting music by all manner of progressive and classic rock bands, I’ve occasionally delved into the jazz-rock and jazz-fusion genres. Looking back to the 70’s and 80’s, there was just so much music to discover, these forays into jazz tended to be short lived but always added fulfilling instrumental ear candy to my collection. The attraction back then was usually when one of my favorite drummers joined a project of this kind. The first I can remember was Phil Collin’s work with Brand X and their unbelievable debut Unorthodox Behavior followed by Bill Bruford’s exciting first two solo albums. Many of my friends owned the Return to Forever album Romantic Warrior featuring the amazing Lenny White on drums. I also had Jeff Beck’s 1980 masterpiece There and Back (check out opening track Starcycle), and Mike Rutherford’s underappreciated Smallcreep’s Day (favorite cut Romani) from that same year, not realizing these included the incredible musician Simon Phillips on drums.

Simon Phillips
Simon Phillips

Instead, Simon Phillips name first came to my attention for his work on 801’s Listen Now and 801 Live (w/Phil Manzenera and Brian Eno) both recorded in 1976 but first heard by these ears until several years later. His technically brilliant, often polyrhythmic playing distinguished him immediately – it’s emotive, infectious, and smooth despite its complexity. Simon has plied this trade with scores of musicians and bands since the 1970’s, including a twenty-year stint with Toto.

Andy Timmons
Andy Timmons

Recently I’ve been fortunate to see Simon with PSP (Phillips Saisse Palladino) and last week with his “Protocol” band. The Protocol II album in 2013 established this new four-piece instrumental group with chemistry to spare, including Andy Timmons (guitar), Steve Weingart (keys), and Ernest Tibbs (bass) joining Simon. Last week, they staged a concert as Protocol II at Yoshi’s Oakland Feb 17, 2015.

Steve Weingart
Steve Weingart

It was a wonderful evening as these crack musicians highlighted some of the new work from the upcoming Protocol III album, along with prior tracks, and encore “Gemini” from Protocol II. The music would be considered as fantastic by anyone interested in smooth yet complex instrumental jazz-fusion, characterized by energetic playing, quick changes in meter and key, and abundant solos. With some jazz bands, lengthy solos and pyrotechnic displays can leave me bored and bewildered. Not so with this outfit as none of these elements are overcooked – instead the melodies are set upon solid compositions – with jams fitting tightly into the framework of every piece. Each of the four members are entertaining to witness live – Adam’s smoking guitar leads and sense of humor shine – Steve’s keyboard flights are fluid and organic – and Ernest while not coming up front for leads, consistently fills out the low end of the spectrum with fantastic fretwork. Simon is in a league of his own, sounding perfectly at ease with this band, he amazed us with his intense, precise and yet loose playing, coming to the fore a couple of times for short solos that demonstrated his immense skills. Catch this how if you can – it comes highly recommended!

The Band
The Band

Tempest: Leaving New Tracks

Tempest_TracksWeLeave_1500Tempest are releasing a new studio album, The Tracks We Leave, on February 24th, 2015 – another in a legacy of more than fifteen quality albums over the last 26 years. For the uninitiated, Tempest’s music can best be described as a form of folk rock, incorporating a blend of Celtic, Scottish, Norwegian, and other world music influences within a rock format that often leans towards the progressive. Standout tracks on their new release include the eclectic title track, the Norwegian language “Alle Mann Hadde Fota” (All Men Have Feet), the soft then edgy folk of “Fog On The Bay” (a San Francisco favorite) and closer “Surfing to Mecca” a fun and boisterous remake of their 1994 original sporting tandem fiddle and flute leads.  It’s a potent brew of traditional folk and rock musical forms, all of which goes down easy, while also inspiring dance in any fleet-footed listener.

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Tempest at Don Quixote’s

We caught their recent gig at Don Quixote’s in the small town of Felton, California on a stormy night during which they presented their new album in its entirety. Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and singer Lief Sorbye fronts the band, as it’s founder, and he leads the procession from center stage, playing his double-necked electric mandolin, guitars, flute, and other instruments. He is backed by long time drummer Adolfo Lazo, and new able bass player Josh Fossgreen, who adds adept riffs and solos during their frequent jams. Newer member Kathy Buys, is an award winning fiddle player and vocalist – she plays leads and recalls the best of folk traditions with her lightning fast, rhythmic delivery. Greg Jones plays electric guitar, often adding a harder rock edge to the mix, always invigorating the whole. The band plays together in a loose but practiced manner, exuding an infectious joy in presenting their music to fans and new converts alike.

I had the chance to talk to Lief this week about the band, their new release, and upcoming concerts:

D: Is there a new direction on this album, a change for Tempest?

Tempest_band_3Our musical policy has always been open. When I started the band, I called the music “Celtic Rock” because we needed a label to put on the music we were doing, and people had an idea of what “Celtic” was and certainly what “rock and roll” was, so that was the label we used then in order to get record deals and gigs to play. But it was always a wide-open type of platform – we incorporated music from the British Isles, and Scandinavian influences and Norwegian songs, which have always been part of the Tempest repertoire for the last 26 years. We never said, “no you can’t touch on this or that” – the backbone has always been inspired by and steeped in traditional folk music. Together it always sounds like “Tempest” music and that’s the case with the new album – its part of our history. I don’t know if it’s pointing in a new direction or just painting on the large canvas that we’ve called our own.

When we went into the studio for this new record and worked on it for a month what we come out with is an album of material that’s also a document of this period in the band’s life. Looking back over our 15 or so albums over time they tell a story – they are each real recordings of places and times. We try to do that when we record. The stylistic influences you hear on the new record are a product of the people that are playing together at this point – the stuff we are interested in right now – people bring different things to the table. It’s a spontaneous, organic process.

D: Kathy is bringing some wonderful playing to the band, and this lineup is changed much since the last record.

Yes, it’s a liTempest_liveBWneup that has not recorded before – it’s been 5 years since our last studio album, Another Dawn (2010). That was a culmination of the lineup 2005-2010. After that, we waited to go back into the studio until we had something to say. There’s no point to making a record unless you have something to say – musically or otherwise. You’re making a statement and it’s there forever. The chemistry in this particular band is really important, and we had a great experience together in the studio. Everybody was really excited about the music coming alive during the recording process. We are predominantly a live band – a working band. We play gigs frequently and that’s where the music comes alive for us – so normally we play the songs live first, get them road tested, and then bring them into the studio. This time was a bit different – we had at least a third of the album that we played for the first time in the studio. Everyone worked diligently, had fun, and left good tracks behind, and that’s the title of the album The Tracks We Leave– I felt we left some good footprints for the future and there was a lot of joy in it.

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Kathy & Lief

D: I noticed one of the tracks “Surfing to Mecca” was very tight in concert – the flute really stands out – dueling with Kathy’s fiddle.

That song, “Surfing to Mecca” is the last track on the album, and probably the furthest away from a Celtic rock song, and that’s a bonus track because it’s an older Tempest song from 20 years ago that we re-recorded – it was the title track from our 2004 release.

I had started playing flute again, which I’ve picked up again after not playing it for a long time. Because of that we started playing the song live, which was a hit with our crowd 25 years ago, so we decided to put it at the end of the album. It’s not that different from the original version, though we added Arabic-style drumming to give it a bit more of that flavor.

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Lief w/Flute!

I pick up the flute when I feel the time is right, but have never played it consistently – I have a love/hate relationship with it – now I’ve had it with me as part of our repertoire for the last year and its probably the longest I’ve played it ever. I do play in on Turn of the Wheel (1996) which I think is one of our strongest albums and one of my favorites, and it’s on there because the folks at Magna Carta asked me to play it. With the flute, I feel like I’m dabbling, but I put as much heart and soul into it as possible. If you listen to early 70’s jazz-fusion –like Herbie Mann, and others, flute is all over the place. Then it found a home on late night detective shows with the usual wah-wah guitars and all of the sudden it dropped off the planet. But it’s a cool instrument combined with a fiddle because they are known fixed pitched instruments – you can do a lot of interplay. Right now its fun to play, even though it can be difficult to play and be heard in a rock band!

D: The cornerstone track on the new record is the title track “The Tracks We Leave”- I noticed that keyboards are used on that song, which seems rare.

We have used keys over the years – when we record, Robert Berry becomes like the fifth member of the band, for those occasions where keys add to the soundscape. The history of Tempest is that when I started the band I did not want to have keyboards. Back then it seemed there was no label we really fit into – too much rock to fit in on a folk label and vice versa. I always thought we were progressive with what we were doing with folk music, so I always thought of us as a prog band, but not your classic prog band. So at that point in time, it made the most sense to work with Magna Carta. When we signed with Magna Carta, and their prog rock stable, we were told we should have keys on the record and in studio as they are must-have’s for the kind of music they were after. I met with a few keyboard players, and we started working with Robert Berry as a producer and engineer – he had a band called 3 where he played with Keith Emerson so I asked him if we could get Keith to play on the record, he introduced us, and we hit it off. Back then people were dabbling in DAT tapes, so we traded back and forth and Keith recorded in LA – what he did was really cool, and it worked well – I think that helped us with the prog community. We’ve always used keys carefully so you wont miss it on stage – we never arrange a song with keys as the featured instrument. Though the title track this time has a bit of grand piano, most of the time we only use a Hammond B3 organ. That’s the keyboard that has the great organic sound, like Jon Lord, I love that sound and it fits with our music.

D: “Alle Mann Hadde Fota” was a standout track during the show. Reading the English translation of these Norwegian lyrics, the story seems a bit unusual!

Especially if you try to translate it directly –it’s very curious – it has a macabre nursery rhyme quality to it. During my upbringing I believed in some of our folklore, like Trolls – if you’re a kid and you walk around in a dark forest in that part of the world, with its majestic mountains – rich in that heritage – it’s possible to believe! A lot of cultures have their own characters and share them – it’s fun to dabble in that as inspiration and source material for a rock band – as it’s been around for 100’s of years – being able to keep that around and drink from that well is great. When you are inspired by so many traditions you never run out of things to create.

Tempest_Josh
Josh Fossgreen

Back to the title track, the melodic and harmonic structures in “The Tracks We Leave” for instance are steeped in the traditional music of those northern hemispheres. That proverb “we will be known by the tracks we leave” was a Native American proverb. I liked that, and Robert said that would be a great title for an album, so I snagged it and then needed to write a song with that title. Record companies like it when you have the title in advance – you can plan graphics and start talking about the work publicly. Normally I like the title to come spontaneously while recording the album – usually something happens in the studio while creating, and the title appears. This time I had it in advance. The reaction was “Oh of course – you are a musician – and you are recording tracks, leaving tracks behind” and I think its got other meanings too – the ecology of it – leaving a carbon footprint and the tracks you leave on the planet, and then there is the spiritual aspect. Last summer, my wife and I went back to Norway to visit my mother and we three took a holiday in the mountains in a rustic cabin – a significant experience with a profound impact on all of us. Patricia has been writing with me for a long time and wrote the lyrics and it all fell into place. The song was the last thing that got written and arranged just before we entered the studio. It was fun this time to have the title and concept before we had it all finished.

D: What are your plans for touring to support the album?

Greg Jones
Greg Jones

We’ve worked up a three-hour repertoire for the road, so we have lots of material to play – lots of variety. We are doing a series of 20 concerts in Las Vegas on the week of St. Patrick’s day, where we wanted for our own sanity to be able to play different shows, with some alternate tracks, so we will have a good time on stage, which will be our home for the week. From there we embark on a wider tour of the states.

Though we will play tunes from throughout our history, I like our Magna Carta releases better than what we recorded before 1995 – we’ve had the opportunity to record throughout the history of the band – from day one. It’s all there showing the progress of the band. For our fans, their favorite is always the record they got when they discovered us, when they got introduced to our music, which might be the time they were introduced to Celtic or traditional music – ours might have been an eye opener for them – when that happens we treasure that. We have a huge catalog to play from and we listen to fans requests – sooner or later everything comes around again.

And of course we will play several tunes from our new record – which is high-spirited, and fun – if you arrange traditional folk and dance tunes a certain way you have all sorts of tempo changes and time signature changes and all the elements you would find in classic prog rock. You can add anything to rock and roll and make it your own – it’s a great form of expression.

Recommendation: get yourself a copy of the new Tempest album The Tracks We Leave when it’s released this month, and catch them live this year, in sunny Las Vegas if you can make it!

Tempest_band_1

A Second Ending for U.K.

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U.K. in 2012

U.K. is a progressive rock band formed after the disbandment of King Crimson’s 1974-1976 incarnations, which had included John Wetton (bass, vocals) and Bill Bruford (drums). Eddie Jobson overdubbed violin and keys on Crimson’s live album USA, had known John from Roxy Music, and had impressive credentials playing keyboards and electric violin with Curved Air, Roxy Music, and Frank Zappa. Alan Holdsworth, most well known for pioneering guitar work with Soft Machine, and Gong joined the band on guitar, and a progressive rock supergroup was born with the 1978 release of the self titled “U.K.”

Terry Bozzio
Terry Bozzio

After this release, and a supporting tour, both Bruford and Holdsworth left the band, and they became a three piece with Terry Bozzio (ex Zappa) joining the group for their second release Danger Money (1979) and final offering, a live album from that same year titled Night After Night. Though of short tenure, being hatched really at the end of the 1970’s prog boom, U.K. left an indelible mark on the musical landscape. Each member contributed some of the best work of their careers to this outfit – Eddie with his manic organ, space age synth patches and lightning fast violin solos, John with his smoothest strongest, oft urgent, vocals and power-bass riffs, Alan with his fusion guitar leads, and Bill, then Terry each incorporating their stunning trademark style on finely tuned drum kits. For proof, check out “Ceasar’s Palace Blues” live in 1979.

Eddie Jobson
Eddie Jobson

I was able to catch one of U.K.’s final 1970’s performances supporting Jethro Tull on that band’s Stormwatch tour, itself the end of an era for Ian and company, at the Long Beach Arena, November 13, 1979. The short set list afford U.K. that night left the audience wanting more, even though the three piece band tore through aggressive renditions of several prog tracks, including their defining debut suite, “In the Dead of Night” and “The Only Thing She Needs” a similarly epic track from their second. But it was the inclusion of several new songs, two that had already been played live and captured on Night After Night and a new one, “Waiting for You” that impressed me that night, so long ago. These newer tracks had more commercial appeal than the more complex song-suites, and I believed at the time these pointed to a more accessible third album to come.

John Wetton
John Wetton

However, at the end of this tour, U.K. disbanded. Stories abound but the one that seems to stick is that Eddie was looking to build longer, more instrumental compositions, and John was favoring a more song oriented, accessible direction. John went on to record his excellent solo album Caught In The Crossfire, sounding very much in parts like what could have been U.K.’s third (check out “Cold Is The Night”), then formed Asia, another supergroup with massive commercial appeal. Eddie joined Ian Anderson for one album that became Jethro Tull’s A (1980) along with the fabulous tour to support it, then went on to solo work. Terry released the jazz infused debut album from the relatively unheralded band, Group 87 (try “Magnificent Clockworks“, the album is a must-have entry in any prog collection), then joined his wife Dale to form 80’s pop sensation Missing Persons. Though they burned brightly, the brevity just seemed a bit of a loss – U.K. had straddled the line between prog and pop in a way that could have sustained the band. The strength of the group had been the balancing of both styles, and U.K. had been more than the sum of its parts but that was not to last. I thought at the time they were better than Asia, and could have carried on with a similar balancing act for at least a few years during those increasingly dark days for the genre. Ultimately, the individual members went on to record a number of successful albums with multiple collaborators and various bands.

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2012 Tour

After a long hiatus, actually thirty long years, Eddie Jobson and John Wetton began to stage a small series of occasional U.K. reunions, beginning with a night in Poland in 2009. The personnel on drums and guitar have varied across these outings. The culmination for me was being able to catch their show in San Francisco in 2012 when they returned to the three-man lineup of 1978, with Terry Bozzio back on drums. It was fantastic to see the band again, tearing through precise and energetic versions of nearly their entire catalog, finally experiencing the complete set list I, and so many others, missed all those years ago.

We were also fortunate to catch another variation on these performances on the Cruise To The Edge voyage, April of 2014. Then, last October, Eddie reported a new and final series of concerts, after which he intends to return to new projects.   He released a statement that reads in part:

After several years of assorted reunions, I have decided to permanently retire “UK.”  … It has been a privilege to work with John Wetton again and to bring the music of UK back to audiences worldwide; however, this was always meant to be a temporary arrangement and it is now necessary to allow our legendary band to slip into a graceful retirement.  

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Europe, then Japan, and US

Eddie and John will be appearing with Alex Machacek on guitar, and two drummers, Chad Wackerman and Mike Mangini in San Francisco at the Regency Ballroom, on April 21, 2015 after some dates in Japan, and we will be there again to catch the last hurrah. Check out concert dates for this final tour here, and if you are a fan of prog rock, think about traveling to one nearest you!  Though there will be fans in many geographies who miss the short tour, this does seem a fitting time to bring U.K. to another end, unless or until there is new work to promote, so the oldies don’t get a bit too cold. Who knows, maybe after another thirty years? Fortunately, it’s a happy ending in contrast to a darker lyric in that epic 1978 composition “Thirty Years”:

Sometime when you’ve time to spare
Dreaming of missed opportunities
Spare a tear and douse your bridge
(Burning)
Thirty years and on the ledge
(Learning)

Lyrics from “Thirty Years”, album U.K. © Bruford, Wetton, Jobson

Ty Segall’s Glam and Grind

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Ty Segall

Ty Segall is a 27 year old indie rock wunderkind from San Francisco. Ty has released eight studio albums, beginning with 2008’s Ty Segall and continuing thru to 2014’s rocker Manipulator, building a solid fan base of these last seven years. In addition, he has released more than two-dozen singles and EP’s and played on as many albums by other indie bands. The man is prolific – just this week shipping a live album on vinyl appropriately titled Live in San Francisco, adding to this lengthy catalog. We caught up with him here last week, for the second of two packed, fantastic shows at the Great American Music Hall on January 30, 2015.

TS_band2Ty’s influences come from rock, glam and punk heroes of the past (think T-Rex, Velvet Underground, Stooges, and the Ramones) with some garage rock, space rock (Ty lists Hawkwind as an inspiration), psychedelia, and alternative thrown in for good measure. These influences are skillfully mixed into his unique sound, ending up in a fresh new stew of melody and noise. Multiple guitar tracks bring fat power chords and ferocious solos that build to intense crescendos along with shimmering symbols and melodic bass. Ty’s vocals are clear and strong, sometimes treated, and recalling a young Marc Bolan. Ty even titled two of his EP’s Ty Rex.

TS_plusdrumOver time, Ty’s work has become more refined. The latest studio release Manipulator, is a watermark album, brimming with ideas. Check out tracks like “Feel” (arguably his best to date) or “Tall Man and Skinny Lady” or bass riff driven “Mister Main” as examples. The work is accomplished, and while still muscular, has started to lean away from his more punk roots – a journey common to many before him, and one that often results in very interesting developments, which is the case here. It’s one of our favorite records of 2014.

TS_band1Ty made a triumphant return to the stage in his original hometown of San Francisco having just completed a fairly extensive tour of the UK and Europe last fall. We arrived at the venue with great expectations. From the first note it was clear that Ty’s punk roots remain strong. Hard core fans populated a mosh pit up front, slowing to rapt attention only during some of the new numbers, and building to a fever on the rest. The performance was energetic and unrelenting, as Ty, dressed in workman’s jump suit attacked both guitar and vocal leads with aplomb, recalling an early, angular Pete Townsend, though channeling less anger, more excitement (he is from California after all). With nary a break, he led a three piece backing band through a blistering set culled from his packed catalog, including opener “Wave Goodbye”, “Finger”, “Girlfriend”, “and mid-set placement of “Feel.” Herein lies a key takeaway – Ty’s work is maturing – as his new compositions favor groove over grind, his audience will grow and change as well. Despite a mid-set trio of tracks from Manipulator, on this night his focus was on the grind. No acoustic guitars or keys, though one can see that coming, as Ty expands his palette. Instead we were treated to the best of his white hot rockers feeling as though we caught this young artist at a perfect moment, as he steps onto a larger, global stage.

TS_dissoIt’s going to be fascinating to see where he travels next. The ride is recommended.