The DropBox overfloweth this week: two live sets, an interesting prog/jazz offering, and the new Gazpacho album.
First up, Flying Colors’ third live album, Third Stage: Live In London, recorded during the tour in support of 2019’s excellent Third Degree. The prog supergroup of Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson, and Neal Morse just gets better and better. This is a two-disc set featuring the cream of their crop of arena-rock style prog. The rhythm section of Portnoy and LaRue is insane, especially LaRue’s funky bass. If you aren’t familiar with Flying Colors, this is the perfect introduction. If you’re a fan, it’s the best document of their scorching live prowess yet recorded.
Next up is Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. This is a real treat: Nick Mason, original drummer for Pink Floyd, put together a talented group of musicians to play a relaxed set of pre-Dark Side Of The Moon classics at the Roundhouse. If all you know about the Floyd is DSOTM and later, these songs (with the exception of the Meddle ones) will surprise you. They are playful and psychedelic in a very charming way. Gary Kemp, of Spandau Ballet fame, handles vocals, and he is terrific. It’s obvious both the band and the audience are having a great time, and Nick Mason has not lost his chops one bit.
The Magic Stag, by Hungarian group Djabe, is hard to categorize. The first few songs sound like some sort of raga/smooth jazz hybrid, as if Bob James found himself in Bollywood. Okay, I exaggerate, but there’s definitely an Indian feel to “Power of Wings” courtesy of a sitar jamming with trumpet. Steve Hackett lends his always tasteful guitar to seven of the eleven songs, and he and his wife wrote the lyrics to the title track.
The sixth track, “Unseen Sense” is the highlight, with some outstanding acoustic guitar work supporting a beautiful melody. This is a song worthy of stellar fusion artists such as Oregon, Weather Report, or Mark Isham. The rest of the album maintains the high standard set by this track. If you are looking for a nice album to play on a lazy Sunday morning, Djabe’s The Magic Stag is a perfect choice.
Anything new from Gazpacho is big news, and it’s been two years since we heard from them. Fireworker is their latest, and it is somewhat of a departure from previous efforts. I, for one, am glad to see them stretch out a little. The past few albums were starting to sound a little interchangeable. This one kicks off with the 20-minute epic “Space Cowboy”, which features a huge choir. It’s as if Carl Orff took his Carmina Burana and scored it for a prog rock group. That sounds ambitious, but Gazpacho pulls it off with aplomb.
This song cycle, like most of Gazpacho’s, has a unifying concept. In the words of keyboardist Thomas Andersen,
“There’s an instinctual part of you that lives inside your mind, separate from your consciousness. I call it the ‘Fireworker’ or the ‘Lizard’ or the ‘Space Cowboy.’ It’s an eternal and unbroken lifeforce that’s survived every generation, with a new version in each of us. It’s evolved alongside our consciousness, and it can override us and control all of our actions.” In order to get us to do what it wants, he clarifies, the “Fireworker” will silence the parts of our mind that feel disgust or remorse so that we’re unable to stop it. The conscious part of our mind, Andersen notes, will actually “rationalize and legitimize” those thoughts and actions so that we never discover the beast behind-the-scenes. No matter how we feel about ourselves in terms of identity, accomplishments, and value, we’re all just vessels—or “Sapiens”—that the creature uses until it no longer needs us. “If you play along,” Andersen explains, “It’ll reward you like a puppy and let you feel fantastic; if you don’t, it’ll punish you severely.”
From arena prog, through psychedelic pop, to jazz prog, and finally Norwegian choral prog (for want of a better term!), this is the most eclectic batch of music we’ve ever pulled from the DropBox. I’ll leave you with a little Djabe and Steve Hackett: