Ahead of the release of Acolyte’s new single Resentment on April 16, Prog sat down with keyboard player Dave Van Pelt to talk about his favourite synth solos used in progressive rock.
Dave's a bit of a keyboard and synth nerd, with a very impressive vintage keyboard and synth collection featuring a lot of classic sounds from the 70s prog era. A lot of these sounds are having a resurgence in the modern prog scene and are of course a big part of Acolyte’s sound.
"Synthesizers are truly magical instruments," he says. "They bring with them a palate of rich tonal colours that are only as limited as the imaginations of the musicians who program them. With the turn of a knob or the push of a slider, a synthesizer can move from a velvety sonic caress to sounds that can cut through a concrete wall with both power and precision.
"Below are five synthesizer solos that not only introduced me to the wonderful world of progressive rock, but fuelled my insatiable desire to collect and play vintage analog keyboards live. Our next single Resentment uses genuine vintage synths, and will hopefully capture fans of both modern and classic prog.”
Acolyte release new single Resentment tomorrow and their second album Entropy on May 11.
1. Rick Wakeman – Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Minimoog
While Rick Wakeman was responsible for many brilliant synth solos’ during his time with prog rock heavy weights Yes, it was his solo work that, to me, highlighted what a brilliant synthesist and incredible player he truly is! Journey To The Centre Of The Earth is an analog masterpiece. His proficiency with the Minimoog takes centre stage on this record and I was in awe of how his lead lines cut through the guitars, drums and even the orchestra to create a truly otherworldly landscape. Give the ‘right’ player the ‘right’ instrument for a project and they will make magic and this album is nothing short of sonic wizardry.
2. Weather Report – Black Market – Joe Zawinul – ARP 2600
Weather Report? Prog? Really? Absolutely!
While many claim that Weather Report was partly responsible for the Jazz Fusion movement in the 70s, their ability to improvise and navigate through a plethora of time and tempo changes clearly puts them in the prog camp for me!
The lead synth line on Black Market is so lyrical and organic that it could easily be mistaken for a flute. Keyboard legend, Joe Zawinul, was a master of his craft. When performing Black Market, he would invert the keyboard on his ARP 2600 meaning that he actually played the solo backwards during live performances! This unique sound together with the technical brilliance of Zawinul make this solo something quite special.
3. Pink Floyd – Shine On You Crazy Diamond – Richard Wright – Minimoog
Richard Wright was a master of using keyboards to create just the right atmosphere. Seldom did he ‘shred’ to impress. Instead, each note he played felt both considered and even understated. That was his magic. Playing a solo that leaves enough space to maintain or even amplify atmosphere is a skill and one that is difficult to truly master. His Minimoog solo on SOYCD is nothing short of brilliant. The brassy timbre of the lead line floating above the Solina String Ensemble pad is truly haunting. It was his sensitivity in honouring the space between the notes that made it such a melodic and delightfully melancholic solo.
4. Genesis – In the Cage – Tony Banks – ARP Pro Soloist
Any synth player who has tried to replicate the In the Cage solo note-for-note ends up both hating and then deeply respecting Tony Banks. His ability to make things look easy while playing incredibly complex solo lines is legendary! I remember hearing this solo for the first time when I was just 15 and thought ‘I’ll give it a shot”. My poor parents had to tolerate many a profanity before I thought I was even close to doing it justice. Nevertheless, that is often the sign of a great solo; when you are simply lost in the melody and tone colour and don’t realise just how hard it is to play! Well done Mr. Banks. I solute you.
5. Steven Wilson – Regret #9 – Adam Holzman – Moog Voyager
This magnificent solo really took me by surprise. The beginning of the track hints at some serious 70s prog rock vibes with a healthy helping of Fender Rhodes and Mellotron, but after some heavier moments it drops down considerably and then enters ‘that’ synth solo. Adam Holzman is a brilliant keyboard player and his work on this solo is just mesmerising. Holzman builds his solo very slowly and melodically before doing some very tasty shred work and then exits via the same path as he came; slow, deliberate and melodic. The sync lead tone on his Moog Voyager suits this track perfectly and the fact Steven Wilson gave him over three minutes to solo is testament to both his technical skill and phrasing ability to keep a solo both interesting and melodically engaging.