The Prog Collective is an occasional project conceived and led by Yes bassist, multi-instrumentalist and producer Billy Sherwood. In the Collective, Mr Sherwood is backed by all-star guests from his compadres in the world of prog and beyond. Their albums usually feature a track list split between Sherwood’s originals and a selection of covers, but this time we have an album of all original material.
Let me say at the start that I don’t listen to Billy Sherwood solo material, I disliked Yes’ Heaven & Earth and I don’t own a copy of The Quest. I have no desire to listen to Arc of Life and I have previously shunned the Prog Collective catalogue, having previously regretted any of the investments I have made into this type of tribute-style offering of re-heated leftovers. However, the Close to the Edge anniversary tour last year ranks as one of the best concerts I have ever seen and Mr Sherwood was the star of the show, so my respect for him has increased significantly since then.
Since Mr Sherwood had few writing credits on The Quest it would be fair to assume that the other side project, Arc of Life, who released their second album in 2022, would have contained the pick of his unused material, which begs the question, what/who is this new Prog Collective album for? Let’s have a listen and find out.
Oh dear. Electric World is a strange way to kick off an album. I just can’t listen to this track all the way through. It’s the Prog Collective’s equivalent of Teakbois, except it has been sequenced as track 1. Very strange; not a good start.
The title track Seeking Peace has a simple, memorable melody, a Steve Howe-esque guitar part, some powerful Alan White-esque drum striking and on bass, Billy’s best Chris Squire impression. Now comes some Yes-choir style harmonies. The feel seems to hark back to Keys to Ascension and is an unexpected treat. The melody drifts along, takes a few interesting turns and the additional instrumentation is restrained but complementary. Verse and chorus tumble over each other a few times and by the time Patrick Moraz offers up a couple of solos the track is ready to be taken up a notch. Unfortunately, the mood and tempo stay pretty much as they were and without the extra progression, I would have been very happy if Patrick and the band had just faded away gently at around 5 minutes. This is a genuinely interesting and fresh Yes song, in all but name.
In An Instant is another meandering melodic track, but it starts with a very ’80s Yes introduction before an almost a cappella couplet that kicks off the melody. When the band joins in, it’s all very measured and precise, reinforcing the song’s main theme. The middle part is a fascinating blend of instrumentation and vocals that is a perfect fit for the overall feel of the track whilst providing interest and intrigue. There appear to be multiple singers and the use of harmonies is once again a feature. False endings are scattered throughout, providing breathing space and allowing the melody to be reset. From the ridiculous to the sublime, is this the future of Yes music?
There’s another understated a cappella opening on Finally Over, which is melodically similar to In An Instant but forms a simpler structure in which Steve Morse provides the window dressing. He delivers a couple of typically exquisite guitar leads, accompanied by a light touch from David Sancious on keyboards. Once again, the vocal lines provide the main element and the instrumentation is nicely balanced, ebbing and flowing as dictated by the song, not by the need to impress. This track is also a few minutes too long, but as it’s Steve Morse providing the outro I can forgive.
The first single from the album, A Matter of Time features Jon Davison on lead vocals. Up to now, Mr Davison has been contributing backing vocals and harmonies, which all seems very appropriate since this is not a Yes album. A Matter of Time may well have been created with him in mind, as it features his voice particularly effectively. The music evokes a dreamy, more upbeat atmosphere, Billy the main accompanist on bass, drums and presumably keys as well, with Steve Hillage outstanding on guitar. Keyboard effects are used judicially in the background and the flute parts are a welcome abstraction.
All four of these tracks are beautifully arranged and produced. They are obviously from the Yes stable but, at the same time, sound fresh. Where Arc of Life’s aim seems to be to imitate, this is definitely about progression. Take the Path has more of an Arc of Life feel about it and is completely out of place on this album.
There are echoes of The Ice Bridge on All Is Meant To Be, with Geoff Downes channelling his best attempt at Journey to the Centre of the Earth era Rick Wakeman, and delivering some great keyboard parts, finishing with an organ solo – because he can. Frank DiMino does a reasonable job with the vocals, but lyrically there isn’t much to work with, and there is a noticeable lack of the Collective choir for support.
So what we have here is around 30-minutes of fine new Yes-style music. Not a bad return considering the recent history of the Prog Collective’s catalogue. If you want to hear what Yes might become in the hands of the next generation then you really should listen to this. It may not happen soon, considering that this has been released at a time when a new Steve Howe led Yes album may already be in the pipeline, but in the future, who knows?
01. Electric World (3:29)
02. Seeking Peace (7:20)
03. In An Instant (7:58)
04. Finally Over (7:14)
05. A Matter Of Time (7:04)
06. Take The Path (6:36)
07. All Is Meant To Be (5:02)
Total Time – 44:43
Bonus Tracks [CD Only]
08. Electric World (Full-Length Version) (5:32)
09. All Is Meant To Be (Full-Length Version) (6:56)
Billy Sherwood – Multi-instrumentalist on all tracks
Jordan Rudess – Keyboards (track 1)
Chester Thompson – Drums (track 1)
James LaBrie – Vocals (track 2)
Patrick Moraz – Keyboards (track 2)
Steve Stevens – Guitar (track 3)
David Sancious – Keyboards (track 4)
Steve Morse – Guitar (track 4)
Jon Davison – Vocals (track 5)
Steve Hillage – Guitar (track 5)
Graham Bonnet – Vocals (track 6)
Frank DiMino – Vocals (track 7)
Geoff Downes – Keyboards (track 7)
Record Label: Cleopatra Records Inc.
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 11th November 2022