OLD English progressive-rockers apparently never die, but they did seem to be fading away -- or at least, like Genesis, going pop -- for a while. But now Capitol has inaugurated a new label, Cinema, to specialize in prog-rock. And Cinema's first two releases join a modest flood of other discs featuring veterans of such quintessential English art-rock ensembles as Yes, Roxy Music, King Crimson, Asia and Camel.
And, though many of these records are clearly studio-bound, the musicians behind two of them are appearing in town this weekend.
PETE BARDENS --
"Seen One Earth" (Cinema ST-12555). Cinema insists its artists will not cater to the new-age-noodling audience, but its first two releases argue otherwise. "Earth" is so laid-back that even those who still hate disco may be relieved when the dance beat kicks in on tracks like "Man Alive." Bardens, a founder of the respected but lesser-known Camel, shows a respectable range, from the rock ballad "In Dreams" to the pleasant piano solo "Home Thoughts." But the tone is set by such underwhelming space-rock mood pieces as "The Stargate" and "Seascape."
BILL BRUFORD'S EARTHWORKS --
"Earthworks" (Editions EGED 48). Bruford is a veteran of Yes and King Crimson, but there's none of that mock-orchestral spaciness here. Bruford's rock background comes through in the vigor of his quartet's playing, but "Earthworks" is jazz, not jazz-rock: Its non-traditional accents tend to come from Third World sources, Balinese on "My Heart Declares a Holiday," North African on "Bridge of Inhibition." Bruford's playing is imaginative and assured, but this is not a solo album; in Earthworks, who play Sunday at the Bayou, Bruford has an accomplished, powerful ensemble.
FRENCH, FRITH, KAISER, THOMPSON --
"Live, Love, Larf & Loaf" (Rhino RNLP 70831). Not all aging art-rockers make sober-sided discs of instrumental music. This one-shot product of former Captain Beefheart drummer John French, ex-Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith, prog-rock vet Henry Kaiser and Fairport Convention founder Richard Thompson is an eclectic feast. The fare includes a "Surfin' USA" (here credited to Chuck Berry, the man from whom the Beach Boys borrowed the tune) that gets progressively loonier, and a traditional Japanese folk tune, "Hai Sai Oji-San," played as a jig. There's lots of the mournful English folk-rock that Thompson's dusky voice renders so well but the album also features quirky Beefheart- ian quick-change rock that showcases French's impeccable time-keeping and the three guitarists' skittering interplay.
PATRICK MORAZ --
"Human Interface" (Cinema ST-12558). The instrumental forays on the Cinema premiere from this former Yes-man (now a Moody Blue) sound alternately like soundtrack music from a cornball sci-fi epic or pseudo-baroque theme music for PBS public affairs programming. Moraz employs a koto-like sound (digitized, of course) on "Kyushu," but tracks like "Hyperwaves" and "Stressless" are constructed chiefly of cosmic tonal washes. This meandering assemblage, low-key to a fault, makes Barden's companion disc sound positively tough-minded.
ANDY SUMMERS --
"XYZ" (MCA 42007). Sting has probably gotten too much credit for the Police sound; the familiar flavor of "Love Is the Strangest Way" and "Nowhere" demonstrate that Police guitarist Andy Summers also has a valid claim on that loping, insinuating style. Still, Sting walked an important beat with the Police: He wrote the songs. Summers, who appears Saturday at the 9:30 club, has penned a few memorable tunes for "XYZ," but even the assistance of Devo's Bab Casale and former Go-Go Charlotte Caffey can't keep Summers' solo outing from being a bit bland.
"Wetton/Manzanera" (Geffen GHS 24147). When these guys put John Wetton's name first, they weren't kidding. The singer-songwriter- bassist, who played briefly with songwriter and guitarist Phil Manzanera in Roxy Music but has also done time with chart-toppers like Asia and Uriah Heep, dominates this collection of timid mainstream rock. Songs like "One World" and "It's Just Love" are just high-gloss pop fodder, but they are catchy and melodic. Those who crave the jagged, aggressive style that characterized Manzanera's playing with Roxy and on his solo albums, though, may wonder why his name's on the record at all.