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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Ars Nova

Fields Of People: Elektra & Atlantic Recordings 1968-1969

Review by Gary Hill

This new collection gathers up the music of Ars Nova that was originally released between 1968 and 1969. You probably figured that out from the title, though, right? The thing is, it says that the first disc includes music taken from the self-titled album and the second from "Sunshine and Shadows." The truth is, CD one is "Ars Nova" and CD two is the second album, in sequence. This is a nice set, really, and comes with a nice booklet. These guys were doing quintessential proto-prog, playing with combinations of folk, psychedelia, classical music, jazz and more. It's quite an effective set of songs. I'm glad that it's been released in such a nice format. If you've ever wanted to check out these guys, I can't imagine a better place to start.

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Track by Track Review
CD One


Pavan for My Lady (Fall, Winter, Summer and Spring)

Intricate acoustic guitar opens the set. The cut works out to a folk based arrangement that has plenty of classical music built into it. There is a real old world vibe to this, but it's also related to the folk music movement of the 1960s.

General Clover Ends a War - Enacte: Le Messe Notre Dame
Now, this is energized and rocking. It has a real 1960s psychedelic vibe. That said, it's informed and augmented by jazz and classical elements. The vocals bring more of that folk thing. The shifts and changes on this are definitely proto-prog.
And How Am I to Know - Enacte: Dancer
A classical horn arrangement opens this number. After that introduction, the cut shifts to a psychedelic rock movement led by electric guitar. Again, the vocals bring more of that folk edge to the piece. There is some killer guitar of the psychedelic variety on this thing. The cut has some definite blues rock edges to it, too.
Album in Your Mind
An organ introduction begins this song. The cut shifts from there to a fast paced guitar based jam that is so cool. I hesitate to call this proto-prog because it is definitely progressive rock. It has some quirky elements and fast paced sounds. Sure there is a psychedelic edge here, but this is decidedly proggy. That said, in some ways it makes me think of the band Tomorrow which featured Steve Howe before his time in Yes. This is a fun and quirky thing. The vocal performance is sort of a conversation between youth and older people that was such a big part of the 1960s counter-culture.
This is a version of the classical piece that everyone knows as the theme song to "2001: A Space Odyssey." Well, at least that's the basis of it. They take this into all kinds of explorations including some surf guitar and neo-classical zones.
Fields of People
Psychedelic folk would be a good description of the opening of this cut. It has some energized sections built into it. It also gets some powered up bits that make me think of the classical meets jazz treatments the Beatles sometimes did. The cut really has a lot of change and variety in it.
Automatic Love
This comes in decidedly classical music based. It works to more of a psychedelic rock jam from there. This is fast-paced and fun. It's also tastefully weird. They take it out to a full on old-school jazz jam a couple times later in the number. This is very dynamic. Late in the piece some applause gives way to a quick bit of weirdness. Then a new song, a purely folk music thing, emerges.
I Wrapped Her in Ribbons (After Ibiza)
As this number comes in as an up-tempo folk piece, it feels almost like an extension of the previous bit. The cut works forward with some psychedelia and a bit of a classical edge in the mix.
Song to the City
The song proper on this is very much a pure folk rock arrangement. In fact, it doesn't move far from that, but there are some bits of exploration in the mix. There is a very classical bit at the end.
March of the Mad Duke's Circus
The psychedelic music that starts this makes me think of Jefferson Airplane a bit. Some hints of classical emerge at times, and the cut has some folk music based parts, too. This is actually quite dynamic with different sections bringing different influences and sounds.
CD Two
Sunshine and Shadows

Psychedelic rock and folk music are driving factors on this up-tempo piece.

I Was Once
There are some hints of other things here, but overall this is a hard rocking psychedelic stomper that feels a bit like Jefferson Airplane meets H.P. Lovecraft (the band not the writer).
Temporary Serenade
Acoustic guitar opens this cut. We're taken into a dreamy kind of folk ballad. It has jazzy, classical elements built in over the top of it.
She Promises Everything
This is another folk meets psychedelia type of number. It's classy, but not a big change.
Well, Well, Well
More of a real rocker, psychedelia merges with jazz elements and a lot more on this killer tune. It has a great arrangement and the guitar weaves some great lines with a cool fuzz sound.
You Had Better Listen
The horns bring some definite jazz to this powerhouse instrumental. This is part "Tequila" and part progressive rock meets jazz rock. It's a smoking hot tune that works very well.
Round Once Again
Folk music, psychedelia and some jazzy horns make up the concept here. This piece has a good amount of proto-prog built into it. It's particularly effective, too.
Walk on the Sand
I like the moving groove on this cut. There is plenty of jazz in the mix here. That's true from the guitar chording to the horns. Yet, this has a healthy helping of psychedelia and folk music, too. I really love the fast paced acoustic guitar soloing on this, too. This is one of my favorites of the set, really. It is also one of the longest cuts here.
This is probably the jazziest thing here. It has an old-school Dixieland kind of sound to it. It's fast paced, bouncy and so much fun. In fact, this is probably my favorite tune of the whole double-disc set.
Please Don't Go Now
I love the folk rock arrangement that leads this thing out of the gate. There is a real drama and magic to the cut, but the vocal arrangement has some rough spots for me. There are some jazzy things that come into the song later, largely from the horns.
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