I didn't find progressive rock until 1984, when Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show sprang it on me at the same time as every other form of rock and metal from Steely Dan to Venom, but I was never in any doubt that it was a gamechanger a decade earlier. I imagined people who had grown up knowing exactly what music was (whatever they grew up listening to) hearing it for the first time and being shocked into wondering what was happening. In the eighties, however, it was just prog rock, as we had come to terms with what it was, put boundaries around it and labelled it off.
I mention that because this second album from Compassionizer, a musical project built around the keyboardist Ivan Rozmainsky, feels like it has to be prog rock but maybe isn't, as it ignores just as many traditions as it adheres to. This doesn't sound like Yes or Genesis or King Crimson, if they're what spring to mind when you think of prog rock. Maybe there's some Canterbury here, especially on The Man That Sitteth Not in the Seat of the Scornful. Maybe there's some krautrock in here, on An Ambassador in Bonds (Part 3), with what sound like seagulls flying out of the synths. However, I'd suggest that it doesn't sound like whichever bands you think of in either of those genres either.
So what else could it be? It isn't jazz, either, even though the main instrument is often the clarinet of Andrey Stefinoff. Yeah, I said Compassionizer was built around a keyboard player and it is, with those keyboards primarily being synths and also frequently harpsichord, as at the very outset on the intro to Follow After Meekness, but this isn't remotely Vangelis or Jean-Michel Jarre. Maybe there's some Tomita here, not that you'd ever confuse the sounds, as the main reason it isn't jazz is that every piece feels carefully built and every moment is precisely what Rozmainsky wants it to be. He's not just playing with the air to see what happens when he does interesting things to it.
And that makes me wonder if the closest comparison ought to be to contemporary composers, not that this is classical music, even with so much harpsichord and clarinet, but it is very deliberate in its composition. Rozmainsky doesn't seem particularly interested in songs with hooks, far beyond this being entirely instrumental; he's much more interested in riffs and rhythms, as well as more esoteric things like contrasts and layers, making a lot of this play out to me like a folk prog take on Philip Glass albums like Glassworks. And there are responses. This album often feels as if it's really a conversation between instruments, especially on An Ambassador in Bonds (Part 1).
If musical experimentation for its own sake sounds like an emotionless endeavour, I should point out that this is very emotional music. Different Sides of Ascension, as the title suggests, plays in a lot of different tones that elicit very different emotions. It moves from cheerful celebration into darker, more thoughtful tones but reemerges somewhat into the light before it ends. I am Sitting on the Pier is wistful. Hard-Won Humility is questioning.
Surely the most striking piece here is the title track, which appears in three very different parts. The first is thoughtful and it shifts from gentle to volatile, with the most overt guitarwork on the album. The second is martial and processional, unfolding in bold brass. The third, later on, returns to pensive and adds playful to the mix, before it gets really interesting with the introduction of an array of layers, undulating like an ocean. I should add that everything here is interesting, so when it gets even more interesting, we ought to pay attention.
If there's a problem here, it's that all these pieces of music feel like they ought to run forever, but they end and usually sooner and less clearly than I wanted them to. It's immersive stuff and I just wasn't ready to climb out of any of it. At least, there's an earlier Compassionizer album for me to check out, 2020's Caress of Compassion, and a whole slew of albums by Rozmainsky's main band, a possibly similar chamber prog outfit called Roz Vitalis, who have released ten studio albums and nine live ones since their founding in 2001, including a 2007 album called Compassionizer. I guess it may be the key to this.