Not sure why there haven’t been more good compilations of rare prog rock from around the world like there have been with psych and post-punk. Wags might say it’s because a lot of prog stinks, but British DJ Andy Votel’s new compilation CD Prog Is Not a Four Letter Word at least makes a case for some kind of incipient prog obscurities boom.
Pretty expansive definition of “prog” here, basically amounting to any ’70s Eurasian rock with some type of leftover psychedelic aesthetic. In the case of the Hungarian band Illes, this means still writing “freakbeat” songs as late as 1973 (at which point they could arrange them with weird synths!). Freakbeat (referring primarily to the more beat-driven English or Continental European psychedelic music from the ’60s) is key, though, because it’s seen as a dance genre and the number of tracks on this CD that are actually DJ-friendly is remarkable. This even includes the English group Egg’s performance of a Bach fugue (the only fugue performed on the album!), which comes closer to Booker T. & the MG’s than to Keith Emerson.
Mid-’70s rock didn’t get much groovier than Turkish acts like Baris Manço and 3 Hür-El, who never gave up on three-minute modal fuzztone/wah-wah pop singles. A French track by Turkish former pop producer Jean-Claude Vannier even sounds like an expansion of the instrumental section of the Beatles’ “Within You Without You” set over a long acoustic guitar, bass, and drums vamp. The Czech group Martin Kratochvil and Jazz Q sound more like “prog” per se, but their wild keyboard soloing is modal, too, and the repeating patterns in the rhythm section keep things firmly in the pocket. Flute solos in another long groove track by the Yugoslavian band Drugi Nacin connote both “exotic” and “Jethro Tull.”
And since dancing in the psychedelic vortex is similar to dancing in prog outer space (in both cases, one is weightless), there’s consistency in mixing this stuff up with fusionoid galaxy jams like Phillippe Besombes’s “Hache 06.” And if fusion is OK, why not throw in some of Embryo’s more Miles Davis–like freaky Kraut skronk-funk, too? Heck, just throw it all in. You’ll have to dance to some stuff in five-four time, but hey, it’s prog!