Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Skyscraper Souls - Downes Braide Association

When we are teenagers popular music is the narrative of our youth. I was a teenager when popular music was exploding, developing endless possibilities. As one grows older you realise it was THE time to be a teenager and the real wisdom is to see the 60's/70's and those possibilities as THE answers. 

What can we honestly expect now, post scripts choreographed bucket listed unfinished business, for me that is the best we can expect, and yet this new offering does something else. It plays to a narrative with every bit as much power and connection as the narrative of youth. 

At the risk of not appearing to value the beautiful arrangements and playing, which are of the highest standard, I find myself riveted by the lyrical journey. 

From the searing emotional refections of prelude to the atmospheric ocean tide section of  the long title track one is caught by something I feel very close to "Life is to be Lived Not Avoided" and if it is we will be buffeted by the kind of emotional insights reflected in these thoughtful beautiful lyrics which are delivered with a real emotional power.  


"This is a song for those who never stop believing", "even when life seems so unfair" 

Skyscraper Souls 

"If we can't turn back the clock searching for a place called home". 

"Ocean child take me away from all the madness we are one we are one" 

"Just keep turning on this rock" ... "with our Skyscraper Souls"

Skin Deep 

With a great vocal from Marc Almond.

"pulling you in better watch out" "it might spit you out again" "well you wanted love when you felt so alone" "I know whats behind this indestructible"  

The lyrics speak to those deep into there lives who hold on to the magic of the 1970's when demanding music was the thing and an 18 minute track like the title track was de rigour and where their personal lives are a metaphor for that yearning that searching for more than a 3 minute answer where dangers and disappointments abound as well as wonderful revelations. 

When you consider the blurb and the inclusion of very idiosyncratic talents like Kate Pierson and Marc Almond you might think the music might display a slightly fragmented vision but their contributions simply strengthen a cohesive and clearly developed musical foot print. Andy Partridge's guitar support is just that and you do not find yourself thinking thats A P instead you simple feel the playing is highly sympathetic. Indeed on "Darker Times" the vocal arrangement puts me in mind of the work with Andy Paley on Brian's "Getting Over My Head".

Music journalists need labels "pop progressive", "80's pop" to steer people and reference.     

For me this is just music, at 5.15 and at 6.40 the instrumental work on the title track becomes internalised and complex and shows a sophistication which adds to the growing sense of collective journey but I do not see it as a prog fix, just music. Did a few of AP's licks echo the late Peter Banks ...YES. Like all really great music its not an exercise in instrumental gymnastics its making a point reprising building strengthening the sense of a special cohesive journey which takes twists and turns to reach its conclusion. The great strengthen of the title track is it has that twin effect of feeling over in a flash but whilst you are inside it, time stands still. 

"We are mountain climbers you and I" as the music builds to a crescendo from about the 10 minute mark.before falling away at the 13.22 mark to Ocean Child achingly beautiful. Right now this piece is the best extended work the most satisfying the most emotionally engaged since .......whenever. 

So great humanist lyrics which make you smile, cry, yearn and reflect offered in a highly sophisticated sound palette.  

Side B is not a retread of the first two albums because of the support from the players rather than machines it sounds warmer and packs more punch.For me the stand out piece from this section is "Skin Deep" with a magnificent contribution from Marc Almond a great tune and arrangement but it is the vocal narrative dripping in emotional resonance which lifts this piece to another level. 

Pieces like "Tomorrow" remind you of Geoffs capacity for finding great melodies. It has a nagging echo of something off the second Asia album indeed the vocal progression echoes the more robust style of the late John Wetton, I am certain this is because David Langdon is singing unison vocals with Chris giving the vocal slightly more weight. David also plays some lovely baroque wind on this piece. Similarly "Lighthouse" sounds like a high quality offering from either of the first two albums except Tim Bowness produces some wonderful counter point and harmony vocals giving the music more character. 

"Dark Times", probably because of the spoken introduction, feels more akin to the title track and the lyrics have that melancholy quality that informs the latter. For me the vocal arrangement match the kind of thing that Brian W can find in his reservoir of genius.The "What energy" section with its squiggly sumptuous counterpoint horn playing is, if you want to make a comparison, pure "Smile" 

So to the finale reprising those key vocal themes "searching for a place called home with our skyscraper souls". Beautiful.

My heartfelt thanks to Chris and Geoff for investing so much passion and dedication to this project which for this listener is exactly what I need and is more than mere unfinished business or bucket listing it is for us now.    


Sunday, 26 March 2017

Soul Survivor - no just a survivor.

Enthusiasm for art, and in this case a 1970's rock band, must start somewhere very honest. It is what draws you in in the first place. When you are young and idealistic and wish to belong to the right fashion you may be driven by the crowd but on the whole with Yes there was no crowd in that sense. To like Yes was to go against the grain. 

At what point does that original enthusiasm and enquiry tip over into something else, some thing which cannot be considered purely from a place of intellectual curiosity. I suspect its when we consider something "US". Yes defines a part of who I am. 

The difficulty is even if our connection remains unchanged what we are committed to will change and in the case of Yes radically. 

For many we will stay until the bitter end, whether thats for us or them, but I find myself on a twin track with the band I fell in love with as a teenager. 

On the one hand I value its effect on my musical journey more than ever recognising it is the bedrock of everything to do with my interest in music (Fairport are in there to) but on the other hand I am now completely disinterested in the latest series of territorial disputes and angst created by it, in a word I am bored.

Last night I telephoned the Theatre in Chipping Norton for a ticket to Fairport 's annual concert at the lovely little theatre there. I didn't check the setlist or the line up or whether someone is in or out I just attend having great confidence it will be a lovely evening of the familiar and the unfamiliar. 

"Yes" have destroyed that simple choice for me and I think its because there is an attitude amongst some of those associated with the band that they are more important than the music and I believe many fans feel the same way and whether they like to admit or not it consumes a good deal of energy. My sense watching numerous clips of ARW Yes is that desire to be there and have a great time (for themselves) is so great that the communication of the narrative has become lost. They and in particular Jon are delighted to be there (look at me I can still do it), fans think its fantastic that they and he (look at him he can still do it) are there and everyone is smiling and certainly in the United States taking pictures. But is it profound have the musicians sublimated themselves to the message of the music or is the music just a bi-product of whats going on. Is there a profound connection with the music or the personalities, everything I have read suggest the latter so if like me your interest is in the music then what have you to go on. Many musical elements, which frankly I do not respond to, and underlying it all a sense that the soul of the music is absent a bright shiny thing is on offer to have fun with but can it be felt ? Ironically the tribute to Chris is probably the one element where a connection is made a gifted player pays homage to him and a connection is made, because the artist has sublimated himself to the musical task.   

For the first time since 1970, when I did not know Yes and checked it out and liked it, I have made a decision determined by a simple qualitative judgement based on my view of the music rather than an auto choice driven by connection, that is a substantial change.

I am bound to say thats a shame and it was the act of buying a Fairport ticket without hesitation last night that reminded me how far I have traveled in my interest in Yes. I am connected to Fairport and feel comfortable with them I no longer feel the same way with "Yes".  

I only have to play any other music I love to realise that "Yes" have made the whole business of enjoying their music more complicated. I can do it and particularly with music which was made many years ago unaffected by the current distractions. As a listener it cannot be helpful to sit there finding your responses are about arguments which are swirling around in your head, not arguments of your own making but ones you are aware of from without, about legitimacy, about this might be the last chance about he is the original not about what the music offers you. I have heard a good deal about the former but very very little about the latter. For some that is clearly enough, for me to dress Yes music "as we are the real deal and we are having fun" is to miss the point. The only deal is the music and ones dedication and love for it as a player and as listener, creating it with love and care and receiving it with love and care with an open curious mind and a beating heart free of earth bound considerations. 

Monday, 24 October 2016

A Stellar Brew Steve Howe Civic Centre Trowbridge

The first surprise was the venue, set on the edge of a park and next to an Odeon Cinema and ubiquitous eateries, it was modern and fresh. 

The crowd, a very pleasing and probably 150, nearly filled the Centre and Mr Howe (D) Subterraneans, which was played over the PA, set the mood for the evening. 

Dressed in a suit Mr Howe (S) launched without ceremony into "Classical Gas" a wonderful combination of an anchored strong repeating melody but with room for exploration and variations the true stuff of the original progressive rock, blending the accessible with the surprising in a communicative way. Ambition drove the musical choices as he played and sung the "Leaves of Green" section of the Ancient and this set up a recurring theme through out the recital. This was an evening by the Yes Guitarist in a solo setting always bringing the music and the conversation back to his dedication and love of the mothership. 

"J's Theme", one of the strongest pieces from Natural Timbre, is played with a real sense of Invention music pushing the boundaries. He also played "Corkscrew" which for me is every bit as memorable as Clap and Mood and should have been a solo piece on Yes Tor rather than developed into the song Countryside. The classical set closed with "Mood For A Day" which the crowd appreciated. What I really appreciated was the reverential silence that Steve was accorded and the Holy of Holy's in 2016 not a smart phone in sight. 

The more gritty metallic sound of the Steel String sets followed. The highlights were "Intersection Blues" and the one I played on the journey home both Timbre and Band version, the criminally neglected "To Be Over"

The pairing of the early verses from "The Remembering" and "It Was All We Know" made me smile because I see the latter as evoking the same semi folk style of the song section of Remembering. Steve sang and his voice was very anonymous and lacked attack and clear diction, the only time in the evening when I wished he had not sung. The piece though is a bona fide gem from Heaven and Earth and if wasn't for the politicisation that exists around Yes, people would see it as a great miniature with a nice curved ball in the middle.

The break and whether it was the glass of Merlot but the 175 section came over with its echo and effects in a dreamlike reflective way almost like his Sutin CD as he played Dorothy and a couple of trio pieces including Sweet Thunder. A sort of guitar tone poem of themes.       

The concert is well paced and for a man on his own you never feel the result is to narrow but in this last quarter we get the man laid bare. A wired version of "Sketches of the Sun" another top ten Steve Howe solo piece. His homage to Chris "Last year was a shocker", where we were encouraged to sing along with him had me in tears during "Onward" and tapping away to "Good People"

The encore set the seal on this being a solo Yes concert and entirely connected, with a great "Roundabout" with all the elements included and because it is solo reminding us how great the arrangement with Bill and Chris was. Steve reminded us on number of occasions that Yes = arrangements and that may bode well for any new music. Thats the distinction between the Bruford Band and all the other eras, spurred on by Jon, the other four "Built" music. The closest they have come to that is with oddly enough Trevor Horn and his auteur production. 

Clap and Yes we did. 

It was great to see Pam for the first time since Malcolm's funeral. 

I am quite happy growing old in tandem with Steve he is a man of passions and those passions are existential rather than mirroring. He is not there to feel the love or show how clever he is, he is there to celebrate the things he loves and so was I and it was a great celebration.    

Friday, 16 September 2016

Home Service - Tune in and enjoy


So why would a blog site ostensibly about Yes include a review of the reborn Home Service's new project. The seed was planted in 1975 with Gryphon, a kind of renaissance progressive rock band, supporting Yes's 1975 Relayer Tour. My interest was peaked by the astonishing "Rising Up Like the Sun" LP from the Albion Band which had a breadth and audacity which took the term "folk rock" to a new level. Many of the members of the core band morphed into Home Service with an expectation that journey begun on "Rising" would continue.

Now 30 years after the excellent "All Right Jack"comes a reborn band with new players and a new CD.

"New Ground" 

Overall Impressions

The introduction of John Kirkpatrick as vocalist, replacing John Tams, reminds me how important it is to have a singer who has their own identifiable style. John sits snuggly inside the "Home Service" ethos but is entirely his own man with a solid purposeful tenor voice, rich but not manufactured, which gives the music a sense of self without being to plaintively "folky".

The sound has evolved from "Jack" and it is as if the wind and brass instruments have been promoted into the front-line. Graeme Tayor's playing is beautifully featured but concise, so the brass and wind sound gives Home Service their unique signature sound and as a result you notice a real broadening of styles and moods.


"Kellingley" starts proceedings with a classic restatement of HS's pre occupations with the nobility and sacrifice of the mining tradition. The brass sets up the riffs and the pace but there are some wonderful atypical flourishes wrapped around the verse sections, this is entirely in the tradition of the unorthodoxy of 1977.

"The Last Tommy" begins with a grungy echoing guitar figure and forms into a classic folk marching song the vocals are authentic and heartfelt but it is the trumpet interjections which gives the piece its specialness and adds greatly to the pathos.

So far you may feel your about to receive a programme of folk music but next up in the delightful "Papa Joe's Polka" striking up images of vaudeville and a parisian street band, gorgeous fun.

These three pieces set out the stall for the rest of the project heartfelt songs in the folk tradition laced with fascinating new ideas mixed with wonderfully left field contributions.

"New Ground" is a signature piece high point, whereas "Wallbreaker" has a distinctly "Harry South" feel, sophisticated drumming, beautiful playing from the reeds and horns creating some thing fresh and new and John keeps it nailed in the bands personality rather than sounding like a random experiment. This bandwidth of styles is what makes the CD such a captivating experience.

"Dirt, Dust, Lorries and Noise" is a chant song with some squiggly interjections from the flugelhorn giving the piece a strange and wonderful enchanting feel. No obvious musical answers here hurrah for that !

"Kings Hut" takes me back to Gryphon, with its formal renaissance dance feel, but unlike 1973 the arrangement is more about the piece and less about clever playing. A great tune and one of the quantities this piece highlights is Michael Gregory, like all the great Fairport drummers, drums for the piece, no more no less, he is there at the root offering propulsion, as Bill Bruford would say this is about expressing oneself for the greater good rather than drum magazines.                    

Next up is the beautiful evocative "Melting" a lovely plaintive introduction on the piano then the brass before a heartfelt but unsentimental reading from John. I hope one day to hear this played live it would be a great stage performance. How do you follow such a gorgeous ballad, well you do not the accordion lead "Ten Pound Lass" is a restatement stylistically of previous achievements. Strong wind and brass building to a strong marching vocal and then on to the lollipop "Cheeky Capers" vaudeville, dance fun and a chance for the horns and brass to stretch out offering long languid lines before a final howling solo from Mr Taylor.

There is a great deal to enjoy here and what is most precious to me is the notion that thinking knowledgable musicians still want to eschew the obvious, stretch themselves and communicate something emotional and real which stays with you just as "Jack" has over 30 years.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Adrift On The Oceans

With the band reviving two sides of "Topographic Oceans" for their American Summer Tour  and the marketing of "Invention of Knowledge" drawing attention to Yes's seventh and most controversial project it is a good time to look at why the Yes family draw accusations of making music which meanders and lacks form. 

I remember when I was sixteen listening to those de rigour live albums by bands like Cream or Bootlegs from Led Zeppelin or even the Allman Brothers and what they all had in common was taking neat and concisely organised arrangements that were created in the studio and then stretching them out in concert. What worked in a live setting in the cold light of day sounded indulgent and essentially musical ideas where stretched beyond their original point making, eventually devaluing the original idea. Rather like an overlong car chase in an action movie you cry out for the crescendo and to get on to the next idea. 

Up to and including "Close To The Edge" the band had developed a reputation for making concise well ordered music and as pieces became more ambitious they responded by ensuring within the longer pieces each musical idea was strong and fully developed before moving on. By using repeats and inversions they also gave the pieces a sense of connection deepening your emotional commitment and providing a pathway through which you confidently strode to the conclusion. The furious piece of improvisation from Rick Wakeman after the long tranquil elegiac piece in "Close to the Edge" is a perfect example of binding you to a pre existing narrative but in a gloriously fresh way.

With "Topographic Oceans" you can find examples of the qualities that had made previous compositions work. The tension and release of the percussion movement to the song on Ritual the building up of themes and motifs to a crescendo on "Remembering" but equally both those qualities are lacking for many moments of the music. 

Jon Anderson's "Olias of Sunhillow" begins with a mysterious slow instrumental chant, moves into a choral section and then a neat song. Each section is fully developed and has its own clear personality is fully realised before moving on to the next section and Side 1 ends with an uplifting song. The "Revealing" from Oceans begins in almost the same way builds to a song but after that there are numerous sections  which in themselves are pleasant but are not building to anywhere. They have a sense of randomness and never complete, being killed off to get to the next section. When the refrain emerges at the end of the piece it obviously echoes the beginning but in the meantime we have been busy going nowhere, rather than ascending a path, "zig zagging" it sounds like a series of musical cull de sacs where we cannot make up our mind where we are going, simply asking lots of questions with no answers.It is neither the brevity of Brian Wilson or the the building up and realisation of musical ideas of Sibelius. 

Side 3 and 4 curiously have a different set of problems there is a much greater sense of personality and development of each section. The problem is a lack of self discipline and timely resolution. An instrumental idea will begin well or a song section and they will be fresh and audacious but they fail to resolve remaining on the same level for far to long, existing beyond their natural life. 

The rejection in the British press of Topographic in 1974 (a strike related to the press meant many reviews did not appear until the new year though Chris Welch's review in Melody Maker appeared with the double LP in November 1973) was unanimous after having loved the band since 1968, these days aficionado's hail it as a misunderstood masterwork but the number of people who think back to Yes's hey day who have long flown the nest would look at the Bruford Years as the summit of their career. 

The reason I find this interesting is that I see echoes of these failings lack of resolve a sense of flatness without real tension and release in both ABWH the 1989 project with Jon,Steve,BIll and Rick and the new Anderson/Stolt work. Lots of ideas coalescing some of them very attractive (In the Big Dream and the Knowing obvious examples) but nevertheless those who enjoy them describe them as having great snippets wonderful hidden moments when for Sibelius 7th Symphony to work it has to be a glorious whole building through full realised ideas to a marvellous climax. Yes achieved that with "Close To The Edge', "Awaken Part 11" and "Endless Dream". These pieces whilst very different are architecturally sound, each idea is memorable and the playing is exciting and cuts through displaying the personality of the players (Endless Dream of course excludes TK). "The Remembering" comes very close but the playing in places and the climax is anonymous and weighed down. 
So with Steve leading the charge are they merely repeating two sides of Oceans or have they looked to revive them and strengthen them as pieces, knowing Steve's penchant for faithfulness I suspect the live performances are repeats. With a new set of very talented players I hope through repeated performances they look critically at the originals and take them to another level. Geoff for instance is the perfect foil player for much of The "Revealing" and Jon's range suits the music of "Ritual" perfectly and could give the dirge like verses before the percussion segment some much needed focus and power even reduce the musical idea to a quote before moving on. 

In art you never want to be "looking at your watch" for much of Yes's career the music was over before you knew it constantly astounding you leaving you wanting more. However with the release of "Invention of Knowledge" and the revival of two sides of "Topographic Oceans" for me the passage of time ticks up in the listening experience.

As Bill once said they got lucky with "Close to the Edge" slightly self deprecating, you make your luck, but he is acknowledging that pulling off extended works in the rock idiom is a real challenge. Many extended works are song cycles strung together by the lyrical narrative, a much easier challenge than designing a piece of music which is essentially one singular journey.   

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Invention Of Knowledge

The second part of the Anderson Trilogy has now been released. It is an inter-net collaboration between Jon Anderson and Roine Stolt the guitarist with the Flower Kings and Transatlantic.

Jon sent Roine a number of his music files of demo’s recorded with various collaborators and Roine, with the help of band mates and musical accomplices, fleshed out those demos and the results were traded back and forth until they were happy a final result had been achieved.
Part 1

A Prog - Rock Musical Soundtrack Olias comes to Hollywood.  

The first suite of three movements begins evoking the spirit of the re introduced beginning of Tales From Topographic Oceans, before a neat flurry from Tom Brislin (Keyboards). The main melodic riff is a variation from Yes’s ”The Ancient” which Roine Stolt constantly borrows quotes from as the piece proceeds, indeed the quotes from The Ancient are passed baton like between Jonas Reingold (Bass), Tom and Roine Stolt with a particularly nice reference to Steve' Howe's Pedal Steel playing at one point. The final refrain from the overture before Jon's verse singing is one of the big riffs from Gates of Delirium overture. All of this I am sure is intended both to entertain as well as set out the stall for the aspiration and direction of the music.
They have poured a good deal of music into the first suite with many ideas coalescing to create a totality which sounds like the soundtrack to a rock musical, up lifting major key rather than minor key tunes with lush orchestral inserts. There are neat brief runs from Roine the odd fill and roll from the drums but it sounds orchestral rather than jazz influenced. There is no tear arse playing or extensions; the dominant feature is Jon's vocals. 

This lack of instrumental development gives the playing a sense of homage making. Tom Brislin offers exciting spirited flourishes avoiding stock “prog rock” mannerisms but the dense claustrophobic arrangements extends to all of the playing so rather than each player expressing their own personality and giving the music a sense of self it feels like a rather sophisticated homage.

The second movement takes the vocal melody of "Unbroken Spirit of Mine" and moves into a nice groove called "We are truth". Indeed low down in the mix you can hear Jon’s customary rhythmic acoustic guitar playing. There is a real sense of performance with this section and I feel the band is communicating the music outward towards myself.
The piece moves through some standard up lifting key changes and then it comes off its crescendo and falls into a kind of mood music feel. This isn’t the cool mystery of Sibelius but much more the obvious communication of John Williams. This is too Holly wood for my taste but a great success.  

The third movement begins with a recapitulation of the main melody of the first movement but those large scale crescendo's undermine the crescendos in the second movement; the music rises falls back with a rather unconvincing ballad section and rises again before that quiet intriguing Tales opening reappears and drops out via some musical progressions from “Close To The Edge”.
If they really wanted to evoke the spirit of Yes they should have taken several of the themes and written some really strong instrumental passages to give more of a sense of journey rather than the disengaged routine feel of the Musical Soundtrack it sounds like. The music lacks a kind of compositional robustness and tends to drift rather than develop which in part is due to Jon’s wordy fussy delivery.

The piece also demonstrates the towering importance of Chris Squire to Yes's functionality. For many this will sound like Yes but on closer examination it is quite different. Chris would often play the root of the note, the tonic, that Jon was singing, on the Bass, as well as harmonize vocally so Jon was getting double support from Chris. 

The bass playing here is more atypical and will tend to trade the riffs with the guitar or keyboard, that is why when Jon isn't multi track chanting his voice tends to sound more organizationally lonely than when in Yes. It also an issue here of sound. If you sing Counter Tenor there is no better way to give it context than to underpin it with a warm rounded Bass sound to create light and shade and give the Counter Tenor a musical "home". With that absent the voice is exposed and its lack of timbre and depth becomes clearer. In choral terms it is as if you are singing 4 part harmony with three parts with the root missing so it has no foundation.    

There are occasional moments when the backing vocals respond to Jon but this is not the close harmony of Yes. In the second movement there is a rare example of the bass playing the tune and shadowing what Jon is singing, which is why it is probably the best element of the suite. Indeed I have listened to this first suite with just Jonas and Jon’s playing and singing in focus and far to often Jon’s vocal dance and phrasing is out of step with Jonas’s playing, indeed when they come together the music becomes much stronger and more powerful. Listening to the second movement where the playing and singing are in sync that sense of randomness disappears.    

After repeated listens I realized I wasn’t really captured by this project and I did not quite realize why. So I listened to “Love Devotion and Surrender” a very spiritually fused project from John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana and Roine’s latest project with Transatlantic “Kaleidoscope” again driven by a very spiritually energized Band. What struck me forcibly were three qualities: -

1)    A very real sense of performance with powerful crescendo’s and beautiful diminuendo’s which communicate real emotion.
2)    The music is more organic, the core vocal contributions are powerful and incisive allowing the instrumental players to really let go and express themselves.
3)    Whilst strongly spiritual, not every ones ‘cup of tea” the message in the lyrics and the vocal performance was much more compelling.
4)    The songs all had much more personality and variety.      

Part 2 

The remaining six "sections" operate quite differently from the first suite. Organized into three separate pieces, two suites and an extended piece, they are essentially 6 separate straight forward songs, mainly MOR pop melodies, where an attempt is made to give them significance by collecting them self-consciously into extended works. 
Mission Praise Plus
Everybody Heals/Better By Far/Golden Light are three almost entirely disconnected pieces (movement 1 and 3 share some musical verse ideas). The playing here is so much better than the basic musical ideas and Jon’s dirge like vocals contrast with the occasional skilled intervention by the team in Sweden. This feels like a poor man’s ABWH channeling the feel of Brother Of Mine and Quartet which contained much better “songs”. 

"Everybody Heals" is the low point of the project with its generic Christian Praise vibe combined with a brief interlude at the end with some good work from the band which feels tacked on and musically random, one is longing when Tom comes in and plays some spirited acoustic piano responding to Roine to really get down to some serious and communicative music making. Indeed the suite finishes with two "Rock Musical" vignettes, Better By Far begins with the opening musical riff from the Overture of Fly From Here and ends with some good acoustic piano work, which feels like an after thought. This isn't Igor Khorshev's beautiful ending to Home world, which was anticipated and brought in by Steve Howe's guitar, it simply comes across as some late night playing of a couple of inversions of the themes. Technically its right but it has no emotional gravitas whereas Wally Minko rhapsodic introduction to Wondrous Stories, that he plays in the APB live set feels real, fresh and emotional. The overall experience of this suite generates no sense of completion or real communication. Elements to admire within the overall musical arrangement for a Yes musicologist but nothing complete that you can form a relationship with.  

I am bound to say the lack of real musical "trading" going on between Jon and the Stolt team shows here with Roine working really hard to make a silk purse out of sows ear. The playing and musical arrangements flatter the routine ideas.  

Delusions of Grandeur.
"The Knowing" and "Chase and Harmony" include within them some very attractive melodies and a vocal arrangement, which has real personality and is genuinely memorable. If it had been shaped as a 6 1/2 minute pocket symphony with neat tight movements it would have been very moving and a powerful musical moment. Instead the ideas lose their impact by spreading them over 17 minutes, demonstrating the impact of too self consciously trying to frame music beyond its natural life span. 
The overall impact of this piece is further decimated by taking ideas, which belong within the "Knowing" and placing them in the similarly named "Know". The refrain is placed after a long Jazz Ballad instead of being a 90 second piece of genius connected to the original work. 
The refrain then leads into a 6-minute section, which then reruns the main melody from the Knowing all over again with endless variations. There is a real sense of music overstaying its welcome, four beautiful musical ideas which Brian Wilson would have encapsulated in 6 1/2 minutes are extended over 28 minutes and when the piano plays out the theme yet again, it has no impact. This is no grand exit it feels like a computer being shut down at the end of an over long day. 
The sense that these six pieces are instrumentally more ambiguous and generic is only half of the musical story. The other being that Jon utterly dominates the music. This over inclusiveness spoiled elements of both Ladder and Magnification where the instrumental part of the equation did not breath properly. Without the Yes Harmonies this puts Jon's vocal arrangements and lyrics even more in the spotlight. 

On the former there is a real lack of imagination and variety, the core arrangement of the vocal melody of the Knowing being an exception, endless chanting and repeats come across as one dimensional and uninteresting. What’s more the actual lyrics themselves are rigidly formulaic; the dense imagery of yesteryear replaced by endless platitudes heard so many times before. When his voice is another instrument it is less important, the melody and the sound can carry it through but frankly his trite lyrics and restricted vocal dance is not capable of carrying the music as is intended here. The overall effect is tiresome and repetitive. 
This is not so much an Invention of Knowledge but an "Exercise in Indiscipline" and getting to know this music, once you get past the entertaining opening suite, is an exercise in perseverance.       
Once again I decided to listen to a Pop Album with a twist “Lucky Old Sun” from Brian Wilson. It to is thematic and offers repeats and reprises as well as a narrative, a dangerous approach for pop music. What I noted was: -

1)  The really outstanding melodies were showcased with the right kind of brevity in     concise well crafted modular disciplined arrangements.
2)   Overall the music seemed to have a much greater sense of what it was so when the themes are reprised it adds to the cohesion of the piece growing its unity rather than sounding like endless variations. I suspect this is because Knowing and Know fall between two stools. They are neither structured like a Yes “Rockaphonic “with real tension and release and a sense of journey nor careful orchestral musical. Instead a series of pop songs are treated almost like a jam of melodic ideas, there is a distinct lack of compositional focus.

There is a slight irony to these remarks because there is a really advanced demo, which has been heard by aficionados, which treats the Knowing musical ideas in the kind of self disciplined format which like the best of music leaves you satisfied but feeling you want more.

Jon has talked about wanting to get back to longer works but the music has to justify such aspirations and live up to such ambition. The basic ideas that he sent to Roine to kick-start this project weren't all necessarily intended to be included in 25-minute multi movement suites and it shows. 
Roine the eager foot soldier has added his insanely detailed music to the pieces at a tactical level, what much of the music needs, even the successful first suite, is a producer who would look at the music strategically, the overall quality of the ideas and make changes so the good music is much more dynamic and exciting, drop the routine pop songs and present the remaining "Know" ideas in a self disciplined tighter format.  

One positive that emerges from his project is Jon's voice has regained its brightness and color that may bode well for the final element of the Trilogy, the up and coming project with Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman. It will be interesting to see how Trevor Rabin, who always leads his projects, harnesses Jon's current approach to music making.


I do not consider myself an audiophile but as regards those last six pieces two matters stand out about the mix.

1) The Drums and Bass are very anonymous contributing to the generic sense of the music.

2) Jon's voice on several occasions is far to loud. A particular example is when the "Know" theme is introduced midway through the final piece it sounds overloud, harsh and unattractive which is only made more obvious through the back up singers who sound melodious and sweet to listen to. As someone who listens to the very best vocal performances Streisand/Krall/Sinatra et al who dominate the sound spectrum there is a real difference of quality from the aforementioned when Jon is placed in a singular spotlight. Indeed I find after several moments, rather like the Ladder in parts, the performance sounds wearing and a trial rather than seducing me into the narrative.    


Who can deny the man has energy and enthusiasm after recovering from challenging illness, for me that energy and enthusiasm needs to be applied with more self discipline and dare I say it so that all involved can really express themselves and do something genuinely memorable which flourishes. I sense Roine was to eager to please Jon rather than consider objectively what was needed. However as the two men have only met twice, once after the recording was completed, entering into a really powerful honest dialogue was unrealistic, given the circumstances you could argue what has been achieved represents a real achievement.

Roine and his guys did their best and should be proud of what they managed to achieve but Jon needs to be open to the kind of interaction that took place between 1968 and  1972. Then we may get something really special.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

And The Word is - Time

Yes UK Tour 2016 

Glasgow - The Power and the Glory

For the first concert on the UK tour in 2016 the band began in Glasgow. I was fortunate enough to attend the concert and my overwhelming impression was of the renewed energy and commitment of the band, which was given full reign on the first ever complete performance of Drama, an album which itself was an attempt to reconnect with a more direct and powerful vision for Yes. 

This was the first UK date since the CEO of Yes Chris Squire had passed away and so the much loved Billy Sherwood, Chris's acolyte, had a number of challenges and not all purely musical ones. Billy played with gusto and drove the material he was charged with from Drama, like Does It Really Happen, which is lead by the Bass, with exactly the right amount of focus and pace. But Yes is not just about great instrumentals it is about great vocals and I was fascinated to see how they would build on both elements of the performance after the right kind of start on the first night. 

Bristol - All of Us Waiting For Time.

Great performers know one of the keys to the very best outcome is time giving ourselves time to stand outside of the moment and plan in a split second what comes next.  If we are just a split second ahead we are ready and prepared. Tonight in Bristol I was not only struck by the equally committed performance but Jon and Billy seemed just that little bit more relaxed which gave them more time to prepare as the music evolved. 

Jon sang several of the Drama pieces with more power and depth so the sweetness in his voice was complimented by a rounder fuller sound. Indeed all of the Drama music seems to benefit from the sense that he was just that little more in control. The power of the chant in "happen" was accompanied by authority across the whole song. The exposed moments in "Lens" were richer and bolder and "Run Through the light" wit its unusual staccato start was sung and played in Bristol as a full blown concert piece rather than an oddity. Billy, for I suspect different reasons, appeared more in  control of his vocal duties, his pitch was great and the character of his voice began to emerge complementing Jon on the quiet parts of Messiah as well as the fast paced call and repeat "Friends make their way into systems of chance"          

His beautiful vocal underpin of Jon on "Time and A Word" his Baritone to Jon's Tenor was gorgeous and each benefited the other. It sounded about a semi tone between them and could be the beginning of a new and different vocal sound. At the end of a highly energetic performance on the encore of trooper not only did he play a very unique and special bass solo which was more about creating sustained powerful block phrases, than the kind of runs which he carried off with such aplomb on Fish, but his wordless vocals, perfectly pitched, were bell like and very musical. 

"We Have Heaven" celebrated four part harmony and was probably Steve's best vocal moment but next up with Southside the rocking section once again benefited from more power and attack from Jon, that to me as a singer suggests a modest change in approach more chest and less head singing.    

Tonight with mental time on their hands to build on the power and the thrust, the vocals began to blossom and flourish. Yes - great instrumentals and great vocals with m.o.r. melodies and underground arrangements, sounds like a plan, and tonight it worked well. The slight change to the order in the second half, crescendoing with Fragile, worked a treat with Sunrise leading us to the summit of the evening.

The crowd, though remaining in their seats with no rush to the stage, gave the band a warm reception after both half's and my sense was the evening was thoroughly enjoyed. 

At Glasgow Geoff Downes was in the zone from the get go audacious and burning in equal measure. Tonight being on Steve's side of the stage you could see how tightly woven together they were providing arguably the most entwined and empathetic twin lead combination Yes have ever had. Not simply great technique past back and forth but like two halves of the orchestra welded together in a deadly embrace almost like one musical being offering rhythm and pulse, colouring, layering and then great defining musical statements of whatever melody was being extended and laid before us in dazzling solos with of course the guitarist in pole position from the first piece to the last, from the hugely prophetic statement of the power of machines, which have come to dominate all, to the wildly elegiac and poetic harnessing of the power of the sun.  

My favourite memory from the concert was the magic hat. It played drums all night with real power, commitment and great timing and came out at the end of each half with Mr Alan White underneath it, perhaps he was responsible as well !