The word “progressive” carries many meanings. When talking about music, it’s the best word to get people confused, as everybody will give a different definition of it. To me, progressive music is not necessarily linked to a genre; rather, it defines the progression of a piece — no pun intended — that defies the typical “verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge – chorus” structure found in most popular music.
Often, but this is not strictly required, there will be many time and key changes throughout the song, and the song itself can be longer, sometimes even much longer, than someone used to pop music might find acceptable. All of this inevitably relegates progressive music to a niche for connosseurs, mostly because it’s seldom music that one “understands” upon first listening to it.
I mentioned genres because most people associate that to progressive rock or progressive metal, with bands such as Yes, Rush, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd; and more recently with Marillion, Dream Theater, Ayreon and others. Yet, any style can show progressive traits, at least according to my definition.
Jazz music is progressive by design, and my favorite example of a gorgeous non-rock progressive piece is Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which I present to you in a gorgeous, albeit much shortened, version by The 5 Browns:
A style that has recently become common is what I call progressive acoustic music. It involves playing an acoustic guitar in unconventional ways, mixing different techniques such as tapping, strumming, plucking and hitting the body in a very peculiar way, producing songs that are progressive not just in structure, but also in feeling.
The most known song of this kind is probably Andy McKee’s “Drifting”:
The independent label CandyRat acts as a hub for many artists who make this kind of music, allowing them to network and come up with little gems like this, by Antoine Dufour and Tommy Gauthier (make sure your speakers have a good bass response):
I also recently came across an Iranian guitarist, Maneli Jamal, whose foray into progressive acoustic is not as bold and aggressive as Andy McKee’s, but is rather sweet and, dare I say it, hypnotic. Here is his live performance on BBC Persian:
Watch it twice: get a general feel for it the first time, then pay attention at how skillfully he uses natural harmonics and how sharp, yet “easy,” the transitions are. What I especially like is that even through the different parts, the whole piece has an underlying rhythm that encircles the music. He effectively joins the best of both worlds.
There is a downside to this type of music. It is so peculiar that just listening to it doesn’t make it justice. The playing style is so much an integral part of it that it has to be watched, especially when played live.
Thankfully, DVDs can be produced very easily and without the need for an expensive service nowadays, so artists can make some money out of their work, and that’s good for all of us. It would be a pity indeed if people like Andy, Antoine and Mameli gave up their skills to get a nine-to-five to pay bills.
As a bonus, here are two of videos of a great duo. What makes their performances is not only their undeniable ability, but also the fact that you can see that they’re genuinely having fun. How can you beat that?