It doesn't happen often that one CD high jacks my player for weeks at a time, refusing to make way for the other seemingly inconsequential music lying in wait, before finally heading off to the CD shelf to be filed away for later reference. But this is exactly what has happened since I acquired a copy of Glass' latest release Live At Progman Cometh, which was recorded at the Moore Theater on two different occasions at the Seattle festival in 2002 and 2003. The progressive rock trio from America's west coast have certainly been keeping busy since their return to action at the beginning of the new millennium after a thirty year hiatus. The past few years have seen Glass re-issue their archive release, the magnificent two disc No Stranger To The Skies, consisting of studio and live material recorded during the bands first stab at success in the 70's, plus they also recorded an excellent album of all new material entitled Illuminations in 2005. Live At Progman Cometh acts as a bridge of sorts at least chronologically, between those two releases but more importantly, it leaves the listener with no doubts (if there was any in the first place) as to if the Sherman Brothers, Jeff (bass, keyboards) and Greg (keyboards) along with drummer Jerry Cook, are capable of reproducing their lush and vibrant studio sounds live onstage. The performances on this disc not only confirm that fact but actually render the thought absurd. The band achieves this in part by inviting a few friends, including a couple of Soft Machine alumni, Hugh Hopper (bass) and the late Elton Dean (saxophone), along for the ride to help fill out what is already an immense aural canvas to begin with.
The first three tracks on Progman were culled from the bands performance at the 2002 festival and it's these songs which feature Dean's superb complimentary sax work. He only puts in a brief appearance early on in the first track "Dedicated to Mike (but we can't find him)", but the sonic colors he adds are unmistakably his. This song like track number three "The Catch" are twenty minute epics of pure unadulterated musical bliss and are performed as a medley, which includes some of the bands most well known songs such as "Give The Man a Hand", "Patrice Mersault's Dream" and "For Ursula Major and Sirus The Dog Star". Guest guitarist Pete Pendras plays some tasty licks on both acoustic and electric locking in perfectly with the overall groove on "Dedicated" as Greg's piano work along with Jeff's thick and meaty bass lines and Cook's deft work behind the kit lifts the song into the stratosphere. By the time the final "Crossing" section comes around the band have taken flight into some serious jazz territory. Next up is the beautifully sublime "Miles, Monk, Elton and Mom", a Jeff Sherman composition that originally appeared on his solo CD Above & Beyond, lovingly recreated here as a tender duet with Dean. Jeff's delicate work on the Fender Rhodes is the perfect companion for Elton's melodic sax soloing. The third track "The Catch" begins with plenty of funky drum work from Cook before segueing seamlessly into "Patrice Merseault's Dream" which once again finds Dean adding his eloquent solos overtop a wonderful keyboard arrangement. The pace quickens again for "The War Song" section and then slips straight into the majestic beauty of "For Ursula Major and Sirus The Dog Star". This track features the brilliant dual keyboard work from the Sherman Brothers as Jeff plays the rhythms while Greg pulls off a solo for the ages to rival the original studio version. Quite simply it all comes together brilliantly.
"Big Sur 9-14-2000" (which was recorded in 2003) is another Jeff Sherman track from his solo disc Above & Beyond and features the contributions of Hugh Hopper on bass guitar and effects, as well another key member of the Canterbury scene, Richard Sinclair (Caravan, Hatfield and the North) on voice and effects. This track reproduces the environmental sounds of nature found on the original version over a rather minimalist arrangement. It's highly effective for the emotions it stirs within the listener and also because of its laid back and subdued feel. The final song, the title track to their No Stranger To The Skies album (recorded here at Baja Prog in Mexico in 2002) is certainly one of the bands best all round compositions and one of my personal favourites. Check out Cooks speedy drum work while the atmospheric tension builds as the layers of keyboards and Mellotron threaten to engulf you. It all comes to a head with a break down in the middle section when things quiet down for a brief period. Then just as the Mellotron builds things back up again ever so slowly, Greg rips into his classic solo section which eventually closes out the nine minute tour de force.
In closing Live At Progman Cometh is a truly stunning display of intelligent, well crafted music. This is Glass in their natural element, onstage interacting and feeding off of each other, carving out new sonic landscapes as they go along. This is a true delight from beginning to end.
1) Dedicated to Mike (but we can't find him)
a) Give The Man a Hand
b) Dedicated To Mike
d) The Border
2) Miles, Monk, Elton and Mom
3) The Catch
a) The Catch
b) Patrice Mersault's Dream
c) The War Song
d) For Ursula Major and Sirus The Dog Star
4) Big Sur 9-14-2000
5) No Stranger To The Skies