Proto-Kaw

Early Recordings from Kansas 1971-1973

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This collection ought to be cross-listed under Kansas, as it consists of recordings made by early versions of the latter band, as members -- most notably guitarist Kerry Livgren -- drifted in and out of the lineup of the group carrying that name and a related band called White Clover. Given the fact that they didn't even have a major-label contract, or the prospect for one at the time that this material was recorded, it all sounds astonishing polished and accomplished, and resounds with the boldness that comes with youthful confidence -- the bandmembers' reach may have exceeded their grasp when it came to presenting extended progressive rock-style suites such as "Nactolos 21," but their musicianship was such that it could just about carry the 11 minutes and change that it runs. Dan Wright's rippling keyboards, John Bolton's sax lines and lilting flute passages, and Rod Mikinski's bass are all outstanding features -- echoes of Soft Machine, early-'70s King Crimson, and other iconic progressive bands abound, but these musicians do succeed in putting their own stamp on the best of what's here, which is fully two-thirds of the contents. "Totus Nemesis" goes a little over the edge, if not exactly the deep end, but even there the virtuosity is intriguing. And the following track, an achingly lyrical exercise in balladry called "Greek Structure Sunbeam" (sort of this band's answer to "Cadence and Cascade" by King Crimson), more than makes up for the excesses. "Cyclopy," by contrast, sounds heavily influenced by Emerson, Lake & Palmer off of their first album, mixing a self-consciously heavy organ intro with a boogie-driven middle section that recalls the more rocking parts of ELP's adaptation of Pictures at an Exhibition. It's astonishing to think that those involved were making music like this in the middle of the American heartland -- it all sounds so Central European -- and even more so that they managed to survive in any form long enough to create the final, successful incarnation of Kansas.

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