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Proto-Kaw - 2004 - "Before Became After"

(105 min 2CD, InsideOut)


******

Prolusion. The outfit all we know as Kansas is actually the third incarnation of the band. They appeared in 1974 and, apart from the founder, multi-instrumentalist and composer Kerry Livgren, it featured all the members of the other US group, White Clown. Proto-Kaw (i.e. Pre-Kansas) must be regarded as Kansas Mk II, because the band's name never changed. In 2002 Kerry compiled an album of some of the songs they have recorded from 1971 to 1973. The following year Cuneiform Records releases it as "Proto-Kaw: Early Recording from Kansas". Following the success of the CD, Proto-Kaw reformed to record "Before Became After", their second album. This is a totally new studio recording, and although four of the ten songs presented were composed in 1973, they've been rearranged and replayed.

Disc I (65 min)
******

TRACK LIST:

1.  Alt: More Worlds Than Known 7:28
2.  Words of Honor 4:28
3.  Leaven 8:26
4.  Axolotl 6:04 
5.  Quantum Leapfrog 5:42
6.  Greenburg 3:05
7.  Gloriana 9:02
8.  Occasion of Your Honest Dreaming 3:38
9.  Heavenly Man 5:53
10. Theophany 11:43

All tracks: by Livgren. Produced by Livgren
Artwork & design: by Ken Westphal 

LINEUP:

Kerry Livgren - guitars; keyboards; percussion; vocals
Dan Wright - organ & piano; percussion; vocals
Lynn Meredith - lead vocals & vocalization
John Bolton - sax & flute
Brad Schulz - drums
Craig Kew - bass 

Analysis. The first disc of this special 2CD edition contains all nine of the tracks from the album's single CD version plus the expanded version of the single, Words of Honor. "Before Became After" has a pronounced modern sound, while musically it could fairly easily pass for a long lost late-'70s album. Clearly showing that Kerry Livgren's compositional horizon is vastly broad, this isn't music that can easily be pigeonholed into any one genre, as there are elements of Hard Rock, Prog-Metal, both the classic and neo manifestations of Art-Rock, and more. What makes Proto-Kaw sound original most of all is the strong presence of Jazz-Fusion, the component that can rarely be found in Kansas, AD, etc. I wouldn't say that this material completely eschews the Kansas Mk III influence, but it's really obvious only on Axolotl and Theohany. In latent form, it appears on Greenburg and Gloriana and is unavailable on the other tracks. The album's opener, Alt: More Worlds Than Known, and also Occasion of Your Honest Dreaming, taking the eighth position, are vocal heavy and are a bit underdeveloped from a classic progressive standpoint. Here, the band at times approaches a Neo-like banality, but thankfully, there are enough solid interesting ideas too, and I will try not to forget to point this positive aspect out. Many of the vocal-based parts on the neighboring tracks, Words of Honor and Heavenly Men, are also ballad-like in character. Overall, however, these two are definitely better and are very good songs actually. The point is that each of them features at least one extended instrumental section with an assortment of meter and key changes to help keep things from stagnating. The stylistic definition for all the four would be a blend of Hard Rock, Neo Art-Rock and quasi Jazz-Fusion. By the way, the features of the latter sub-genre run all through the first song, which makes it sounding rather unique despite the said minor flaws, and also the lack of tempo changes. In conjunction with these and with what is essentially known as classic symphonic Art-Rock, another innovative element, namely progressive (so much progressive!) Cathedral Metal goes into action on the other songs, replacing Hard Rock. On Axolotl, Greenburg and Gloriana the band provides some pretty complex jams, involving guitar, organ, bass, drums, and wind instruments equally. The music flows through a wide variety of different musical dimensions, from reflective to energetic and even frantic, especially in the instrumental sections. As to the remaining three numbers, these are simply mind-blowing compositions, and by the way, they run more than 25 minutes. Theophany is same for Proto-Kaw as Magnum Opus is for Kansas, and there's much in common between them, by the way. The largely instrumental Leaven is a quintessence of the album's primary progressive styles and far beyond. To say simply and unpretentiously, the music is a combination of Cathedral Metal, Art-Rock and quasi Jazz-Fusion, enriched by elements of Oriental music and those of authentic Jazz-Fusion. The avalanche of different musical events that change each other kaleidoscopically on this inimitable track is like honey to my soul. Quantum Leapfrog (also largely instrumental) is a quite atypical composition, as it's exclusively about Jazz-Fusion. This isn't your typical average Jazz-Fusion, though. It lies on the territory that nobody entered to apart from this band. There are lots of real improvisations, some of which, particularly on sax, are positively wild. Along with Leaven, this is one of my absolute favorites.

Disc II (30 min)
*****

TRACK LIST:

1.  Belexes 6:08
2.  It Moves You 4:26
3.  Words of Honor s/e 3:18
4.  Video interview 14:10

Credits/Lineup: same
           

Analysis. Disc 2 features an interview with the band on video and three songs, two of which I have heard already. Belexes presents Proto-Kaw playing live, before the audience. I believe this tune was on their song list in 1973, while later it became part of Kansas's repertoire. (I well remember Belexes: this is one of the best compositions from Kansas's eponymous debut album.) The performance is top-notch, and Lynn Meredith's voice is almost as high and strong here as it is on the studio material. The single edition of World of Honor is shorter than its album counterpart, and of course, it has been curtailed due to the removal of most of the instrumental section. Well, single is single. The remaining song, It Moves You, sounds unfamiliar to me, and I am almost certain that the band recorded it during the "Before Became After" studio sessions. This is a nice, complicated symphonic Art-Rock ballad somewhere in the vein of Hold On, perhaps with the less memorable central theme, but, on the other hand, with a more diverse instrumental interlude. What is really of great value on Disc 2 is the last feature, at least in my view. Quite simply, it's great to see and hear all the band members (except drummer Brad Schulz, who lives a long way off Kansas), having a friendly chat and sharing their memories and thoughts of the reunion and both of their albums. The interview alternates with brief extras of the band's live performance shot at the "Before Became After" release party. All in all, Disc 2 is a worthy addition to the album's basic material.

Conclusion. There are so many works behind Kerry Livgren; most of those on "Before Became After" are so different from the others, yet, all are unmistakably his. Although the songs here vary by the level of intricacy, everything is done with finesse, taste and a high degree of professionalism. This is certainly one of the best and most welcome comebacks in a long time. Hopefully, there will be more from Proto-Kaw in the future.

VM: February 14 & 15, 2005


Related Links:

Proto-Kaw
InsideOut Music


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