One of the most difficult parts about a lot of progressive music — be it rock, jazz or avante garde minimalist classical — is that the often intense angularity of the compositions undermine the lyrical message and storytelling within. Thus even in the world of prog rock, there are those who “get” certain bands and others where it just falls on deaf ears.
Consider bands like Pink Floyd, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes and ELP, groups which all figured out ways to soften those dangerous curves in the road with brilliant compositions and sweeping arrangements that allowed them to ascend to pop superstar status. Meanwhile other groups creating arguably more challenging (and perhaps more uncompromising) music like King Crimson, Slapp Happy, Henry Cow and The Soft Machine attracted large but ultimately limited audiences.
Many battled in relative obscurity for multiple reasons too, not just composition style and presentation. Some of the challenge no doubt had to do with pure economics — a band like Nektar was fabulous and should have been as big as Yes and Genesis but for some reason never got the financial push necessary to make them a household name.
One such band from the classic 1970s era of progressive rock was Gentle Giant, a group I admittedly knew about but didn’t really get into until recent years. My first exposure to them was via their album Octopus, but I didn’t really have the connection to them to warrant purchasing their records beyond that. My friend Johanne gave me CDs of some of their other albums and I liked what I was hearing so I picked up more and more of the band’s recordings. Last year I even found a bunch of original UK LP pressings at a garage sale, so I was really able to immerse myself in their music without much risk financially.
My timing for this to happen may be good because there seems to be some fine reissues happening for this band including their 1974 opus The Power and The Glory. I picked this up recently at Amoeba Records.
On this CD plus Blu-ray package, you are treated to a lovely stereo and 5.1 remix by the great Steven Wilson. The CD sounds quite good all things considered and very true to the album’s diversity and density. Actually, the original US pressing I have of this album sounds quite solid, but still its nice to have on a CD. But really, the bigger joy is on the Blu-ray Disc, which, by the way includes a flat transfer of the original mix at 96 kHz and 24-bit resolution.
But for me, its experiencing the 5.1 surround mix where this edition comes into its own. This is a classic Steven Wilson production which remains true to the sound and intent of the artists original recording, yet uses the surround channels to open up the music. Gentle Giant were, after all, a very interesting group vocally, and less about the sort of instrumental pyrotechnics like ELP or Yes. Accordingly, on the surround sound mix choral elements pop up around you, punctuating the music. Of course the often quirky, jittery musical details also fill in the rears and sides of the room. Its very cool, immersive and not particularly gimmicky.
But you know what, Dear Readers? The super cool thing that got me genuinely excited about this release was what was happening on the video screen. Not having seen the band’s promotional materials for this release I can’ t quite scold them for missed opportunities in marketing, but I will say that just listing the video features on the Blu-ray packaging as “album with screen saver” is a terrible understatement (and there is no real mention about what I’m about to tell you inside in the liner notes).