Emerald City Council - Motion Carries

Kev Rowland

One of the wonders of the modern recording age is there is no longer any need for musicians to be in the same room to work together, and here we have an example of a band where they have never all been in the same place at the same time. This band came about initially from a project by saxophonist/keyboardist Brent Bristow, who is Professor of Music at Arkansas State University-Beebe, who wanted to feature the saxophone in a non-jazz context to show the versatility of the instrument. To make this a reality he brought in singer Jake Livgren (Proto-Kaw, Kerry Livgren) and drummer Noah Hungate (The Band Perry, son of Toto's David Hungate), along with bassist Jeremy Nichols (Erin Coburn) on bass, and guitarist Seth Hankerson while Brandon Goff (Associate Professor of Music Industry at Francis Marion University) also contributed significant guitar.

I have long been a fan of the sax as an instrument, something which is rarely used in the prog context anymore, which is a real shame as it definitely has a voice of its own. There are few saxophonists who have really made their name known in this genre, Jack Lancaster and David Jackson of course springing immediately to mind, yet they tend to be more in your face then Brent who here uses the instrument rather more sparingly than one might imagine given the reason for bringing the project together in the first place. However, another more recent band which uses sax is of course Proto-Kaw with John Bolton, but are they really recent? The nerdier of us progheads know that the Kansas we all know in love is actually a rebranding of a band called White Clover, and it was then that Kansas brought in the violin. It was only in 2002 when Cuneiform released the excellent ‘Early Recordings From Kansas 1971-1973’ that we were able to hear the likes of “Belexes” in its original form, with saxophone, and it was the reaction to that release which inspired Kerry Livgren to reform the band. Jake provided some backing vocals as a guest on the first reunion album, ‘Before Became After’ before becoming a full member and as he also plays sax, he has a strong knowledge of what can be achieved.

With all that in mind, and the backgrounds of those involved, it is perhaps not surprising that what we have here is a wonderfully commercial symphonic progressive album which is highly accessible right from the start but contains layers which means the listener gets more out of it each time it is played. Brent has ensured that Jake is more to the fore than he is, with arrangements which are designed to lift the vocals with a complex simplistic symphonic support which is a delight. There is one bar in “Phantoms of Illusion” where in a slight lull Jeremy runs down the scale and one can only smile as it is not in your face but provides an additional level of finesse and polish. There are a huge variety of keyboard sounds on offer, and there is very much the feeling of this being a classic Seventies release being brought up to date with its commerciality and production. It is a very American-feeling release, and one can hear hints of 90’s bands like Ilúvatar and Timothy Pure, all blending with the modern take of Proto-Kaw to deliver something quite special.

The response has been very positive indeed, with the first run of CDs already sold out, so let us hope there is a second album to follow soon, and the band gets out on the road.

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