American Veins of Prog

18 09 2011

Live prog or jazz isn’t a regular reality in Atlanta, so it was a pleasure when Zappa Plays Zappa recently warmed up for Return to Forever at the Fox Theatre. Not knowing where a melody either would lead or indeed even existed was a thrill. The band landing in the same spot at the exact same time without much if any pre-planning in certain spots was head-shakingly marvelous. This is music as far from the wallpaper as possible. It’s the foreground sending the background into deep retreat.

It’s tough to beat improvisation as a spectator sport when it’s done well.

Nice also to see Dweezil Zappa and Chick Corea take time to shake hands, chat, and pose for photos at the front of the stage after each of their sets. Such a little gesture leaves big impressions.

These are the fleeting yet immense pleasures of prog.

Don’t think of these performances and band lineups as revivals or reunions but as a reminder of the musically rich last 40 years. We’re lucky to have lived in such a varied musical time in America.

It may have taken 14 years to film this three seconds of video. The National Geographic says the film crew used 14 years worth of material to create three videos. Here’s one of them. Things obviously move very very slowly and grandly out there.

Following up on the last Blog Desk post on JSOC and the long reach it’s been decreed, Top Secret America co-author Dana (as in Dantanna) Priest preaches the gospel of responsible reporting with Douglas Feith in this recent C-SPAN Book TV Q & A. It’s a great discussion about what the federal government seeks to hide and what the public needs to know. Feith pushes Priest and it’s a pleasure to watch a genuine back and forth between two DC insiders. Priest parries well but gets defensive at times and won’t let Feith finish a question. Too bad. It’s to her benefit to let everyone hear these arguments that usually take place in private.

Despite its minor flaws, this program is well worth watching because it’s not just two sides of a question shouting at each other. There’s listening going on and should be more of it in our public debate.

The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley. What could be proggier than TR? OK, put Peter Gabriel out of the picture for a moment. Teddy Roosevelt was a proud progressive. It’s not easy to take him and his policies out of context and plant them into September 2011. But cast yourself back to the fresh dawn of the 20th century, when this nation’s forests and wildlife reached a tipping point at the hands of unbridled big business. Roosevelt loved nature and particularly the beauty of the western United States enough to hold up a stop sign to special interests.

The story evolves but it’s still the same question — how far does big business, which drives the country in many necessary ways, get to go before someone says, No. This book is a marvelously evocative and detailed portrait of the United States as it was not so long ago and it is guaranteed to make you wonder how much is truly enough for anyone, business or government.

Jean Luc Ponty Plays Zappa. It’s on Blue Note, which is weird enough, then you get to hear the music. Weird and beautiful. Ponty was a welcome addition to Return to Forever and it was a thing of beauty. This disc is too. Just the idea of Ponty playing Zappa is a thing of beauty. Like Pierre Boulez playing Zappa, the interpretations that actually work, which is all of them, are a reminder of how Zappa’s music fits neatly into different pallettes. Neither are easy listening, until it receives your full attention. And then it gets easy!

By the way, that’s not me deliberately making a heart in my bio photo. It’s actually me holding my phone and trying to be affable in front of a field of lupins in Owl’s Head, Maine.