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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Keef Hartley Band

Live At Aachen Open Air Festival 1970

Review by Gary Hill

I’ve never heard these guys before, but based on this performance, what an amazing band they were. These guys were purely on fire. Is this progressive rock? Well, in the traditional sense, no. Prog was still really in its infancy and this sure had a lot of the pieces that merged to create prog. Jazz and rock and present in nearly equal amounts and some psychedelia is married into it, too. The end result is a sound based on shifting and changing music and extended far reaching jams. That’s certainly proggy if not prog. My only real complaint here is the sound quality. The main issue is the vocals which at times are distorted badly enough to be distracting. I really wish there was a better quality recording of this as it’s a great album of a stellar live performance of four extended pieces.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
You Can’t Take It with You

This is pretty amazing stuff. Take a jazz rock vibe and some proggy influences and merge them together in a smoking hot jam. This has a funky groove and a really soulful rock and roll vocal delivery. It’s high energy and very tasty. Around the two minute mark they take it out into a smoking hot instrumental section that feels just a little like early Yes (Banks era) to me, but with a wailing saxophone. They turn that into a really inspired and powerful jam. Eventually it drops down a bit to a less rocking version of itself. It gets a little crazed, though. It gradually builds in intensity, too. After that extended jamming they drop it way down to a slow, mellower bluesy bit before powering back up into more pure jazz rock to continue. The vocals return and we’re completely back into the song proper. The short closing section even has a bit of psychedelia in it.

The Time Is Near
This is more of a pure rock song, but there is still jazz in the mix. The vocals are powerful. The only problem is, they are very distorted. Where the recording issues were only a minor annoyance on the opener, they cause some real loss of enjoyment here. That’s a shame because this is a real stomper in a lot of ways. There is some killer psychedelia meets early prog rock jamming later in the number. It features some meaty guitar soloing. Eventually this gives way to a mellower rock sound as the piece starts to work back upward. As they carry forward it gets more of a hard rocking, riff driven sound. The jazz elements return later as these guys just keep it working further and further upward. It breaks out into a fast paced, more pure jazz section past the eleven minute mark. Eventually that gives way to a return to the mellower song proper.
Halfbreed Suite
Drums start this one. The bass joins. After a time guitar is added to the mix and it starts to resemble a psychedelically tinged progressive rock sound. Horns come into the mix and the thing gets pretty crazed as they continue to move it forward. There is early metal, hard rock, psychedelia, prog and jazz all merged in the mix here. The vocals are less distorted on this one and the whole tune is better in terms of sound quality than the previous one was. They take this out into more freeform jamming that lands in jazz territory at times. In fact, it drops to just saxophone later. It keeps wailing away even after other instruments are added to the mix. There are parts of this that make me think of Hawkwind quite a bit. As the wailing continues they work it towards more melodic proggy territory. Then it drops down to a more pure rock jam from a very short period before working out into more of a prog meets hard rock and jazz jam. They keep changing this thing and take it through several changes. The guitar soloing brings a bit more of a psychedelic rock vibe. More mainstream jazz rock sounds herald the return of the vocals. Beyond that vocal section we’re taken back out into an instrumental jam. This one has a lot of jazz along with psychedelia and just some general weirdness built into it. We get more vocals beyond that. Then, around the eighteen minute mark, it turns to a drum solo. I’m not a big fan of drums solos, but the early parts of this one work pretty well. Unfortunately, this is too long as far as I’m concerned. In fact, it’s past the 23-minute mark before the other instruments rejoin. From there we’re into a more jazz rock based section. The vocals are too distorted on this movement, though. A guitar solo segment guides us into more pure hard rock sounds after a while. There are bursts of jazz rock added into the mix as this continues. Eventually jazzy hard rock jamming takes the piece. Vocals return after a while, even more distorted this time. More jamming ensues after that and holds the piece to its ending, almost half an hour after it started.
Think It Over
A jazzy rocking arrangement opens this thing. The vocals on this one are distorted, but not as bad as those on some of the rest. Eventually this jam shifts out to more of a hard rocking instrumental jam that’s pretty intense. The guitar soloing that ensues has some great psychedelic rock textures to it. As the jazz elements re-emerge we’re taken into more of a fiery jam. Again, I can hear hints of early Pink Floyd on this thing. Somehow this seems like one of the more cohesive and organic jams here. There are changes, but they seem natural. Different instruments lead the way at different points and this thing just plain grooves. We’re eventually returned to the opening riff as they bring the song proper back into play.
 
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