I never cease to be amazed at the breadth and depth of talent in the modern day Progressive Music community. About 45 years ago, Progressive Rock feared for its life and kept its head above water with the neo-prog movement. Now, it is very much alive and well, expanding in nature, and sates the desires of those predominantly brought up musically in the ’70s. The Emerald Dawn have been around a little while, approaching 10 years, and are about to release their fifth album, In Time, which is sure to attract significant attention across a huge range of musical tastes in a genre almost of their own making, combining classical, folk, prog and jazz into an elemental and experimental fusion that harks back to roots of 50 years ago, and extends right up to the modern day. They really are unique.
With this latest release, it has been a huge privilege to have been part of the band’s journey, almost from its conception, as chords and riffs have developed into demos and sectional pieces of music worthy of stand-alone pieces. But The Emerald Dawn pride themselves on long-form compositions, a musical curation if you will, of musical ideas into a coherent concept based work of art. In Time takes, understandably, time as the core theme and illustrates how the passage of time is experienced in different ways; for some, time passes quickly, for others it lingers. This is the musical journey that encourages the listener to reflect as they soak up three long-form tracks over 46 minutes.
Out of Time, at over 23 minutes, is an immediate show-stopper. Straight out of the blocks, Tree Stewart’s piano introduction draws you in, and very soon Ally Carter’s signature guitar sound fills the room. Immediately Dave Greenaway’s bass line is prominent, more so than on earlier releases, and Tom Jackson’s percussive beat completes the instrumental sound. But then Tree’s vocals, pitch perfect as ever, with the slightest echo, take it to another level. “Steal a moment in time, and make it last forever…” rings in ones ears throughout.
Just over three minutes in, jazz rock fusion takes over and the energy steps up a pace. Dave gets his first bass solo, supported by a synth-line, jazzy, funky, almost ’80s disco, yet still progressive and experimental, with Tom’s exceptional beat keeping the sound tight. I’ve been saying for years now that the rhythm section has the skills and experience to be front and centre stage, and we get it in spades; think of any number more than 8 and less than 19, and that’s your time signature.
Technically complex, yet retaining a clear, foot-tapping melody, all this in the first seven minutes of the first track, before the central guitar theme returns; you can sense Ally’s expressive tone is consuming him. Oh, to see this live… And then at nine minutes, it’s all change as it goes down-tempo, the band collective in their thoughts, Tom’s beat leading us into a Bedouin-shaped section with mesmerising vocals and the first of Ally’s jazz sax solos; a scene from Egypt and Arabian Nights, charming Ouroboros from its basket to illustrate the cycle of life, death and re-birth. It’s a reflective section before building again with rasping guitar, somewhat repetitive (and designed as such) before returning to the calm introductory piano-led theme and Tree’s beguiling vocals as a closing section, complete with a superb false ending. We’ve come full circle, and this track is sure to enter the annals of history as a progressive experimental epic. All quite exhausting really, with a huge adrenaline rush and leaving the listener with the broadest of smiles.
And that’s just Side A, for all you vinyl aficionados… more of which later. Next up is a somewhat shorter track, Timeless, at a mere 15 minutes. Immediately, Dave’s 6-string fretless bass and Tom’s percussive beat sets the scene; these guys are as complementary as you will find on the present eclectic prog circuit. Tree’s keys enter and soon give way to Ally’s tenor sax. The theme changes and one is left waiting expectantly for Ally to relinquish his woodwind (yes, saxes are part of the woodwind family…) for guitar. The changes come continuously, as if to draw one through a series of doors into exciting explorative rooms of sound and discovery. One really does get the sense of both time travel and time standing still, all the while waiting for Tree to explain the journey with her glorious vocals:
Our state of mind exudes the pulse on which our time depends,
And as the night begins to fall and consciousness retreats,
No rhythm marks its signature nor joins the missing beats.
Waiting for that cold embrace,
And when the chime is out of place,
Lost in time and lost in space.
Timeless. Spaceless. Senseless.”
And then Tree launches into a flute solo; pastoral, folky, almost Medieval. It has a very early Genesis feel to it, earlier than the revered 1970 Trespass album, and yet it has a ‘timeless’ modern aura surrounding it. The penultimate section, dominated by guitar and an irregular beat, is almost cinematic in nature before returning to the familiar theme to close, a racy end as if time has run away with itself with Ally playing 50 sax notes to the second, and Dave’s bass line left lingering in isolation at the end.
The final track, The March of Time, at just over eight minutes, starts with a reassuring and varied synth introduction, supported by the marching drum beat and monotonous yet effective bass riff. It develops into a swirling mass of keyboard and rhythm section whilst maintaining melody throughout. The march moves on to a section filled with urgency as the band members trade notes with each other. I can imagine this requiring huge concentration by the whole band to stay ‘in time’ when playing to an audience as they pass the solo baton from one musician to another. It’s a trait that the band have perfected over time, as they glance at each other, sometimes fittingly, at other times with concentrated stares. The close to the track, and indeed the whole album, is a glorious anthemic chant by Tree: “As Time goes marching on…”, with Ally’s guitars, Dave’s bass and Tom’s percussive genius fading into the distance.
it’s been quite a journey…
The band are very conscious that their skill lies in long-form compositions. All those years ago, labels and radio stations would pooh-pooh this as not being radio friendly and talent would go largely unnoticed. Of course, there are radio stations, such as the ever-increasing in popularity Progzilla Radio that do not shy away from airing long-form epics, but one can’t help but think that certain bands constrain themselves with the lack of short tracks. Not so here, I might add… but rather than attempting to recreate a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody moment’, the band have cleverly produced a delightful 3+ minute version of Out of Time to plug that radio gap. Entitled A Moment in Time, it stands on its own two feet and illustrates EVERYTHING great about this band. Tree’s gorgeous vocals seem to truly shine bright on this short version as the ear worm of “Steal a moment in time and make it last forever” is drilled into one’s psyche. We’re lucky to have the 23-minute version if you yearn for that to be so, and I wish them all the very best on radio stations the world over with their ‘single’.
I must mention the CD and vinyl artwork. Tree is the artist and, yet again, she has produced some masterful visual images which warrant the widescreen format, hence, the vinyl production will be a gatefold sleeve. This artwork continues the theme from the band’s previous albums and, indeed, they are produced such that all her artwork can be placed alongside each other with more than a degree of connectivity. All the artwork is available to buy as prints through the band’s Bandcamp page:
Knowing the band and their music as I do, this is the first album where it is clear that all members have contributed enormously to its composition; all of them have their parts to play, and it is a true delight to see the rhythm section with a more prominent role. Dave Greenaway is at the top of his – and any other bass player’s – game, and Tom Jackson has the chops to give the King Crimson drummers a run for their money. Both Tree and Ally have huge versatility in their musicality to garner the attention of even those with only a passing interest in this gifted music. The album has exceptional spatial sound with a mix that seems to emulate a complex surround sound setup, despite being pure stereo, and the vinyl mastering is amongst the very best I have EVER heard. It warrants playing with the volume hiked up, or through headphones for the full aural experience – and what an experience it is. The CD is released on 23rd September 2023 (orders through Bandcamp from 4th August) and the vinyl package will follow a bit later in the Autumn. Advance orders for the vinyl are available HERE, where you can also hear some excerpts from the album.
01. Out Of Time (23:13)
– i. A Moment In Time
– ii. Temporal Disruption
– iii. Ouroboros Affronted
– iv. Temporal Reconciliation
– v. A Moment In Time Recalled
02. Timeless (14:42)
– including The Eternal River And Janus Divided
03. The March of Time (8:17)
– including The Time Weaver
Total Time – 46:12
Tree Stewart – Vocals, Keyboards, Roli Seaboard, Flute
Ally Carter – Guitars, Saxophones, Keyboards
David Greenaway – 6-string Fretless & Fretted Basses
Tom Jackson – Drums