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

Background

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.

Detail

"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.

Sound 

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.    

Summary 

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 !
    

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Anderson Ponty Band - Les affinit├ęs ne sont plus un mirage


Malcolm Birkett September 2014.
“I have to go to Aspen, this maybe my last chance to see Jon”

Jean Luc Ponty August 2014
“…. and will film our very first concert in Aspen. This way people can find out what to expect when we tour in 2015. It’s better than trying to explain with words”. 

Jon Anderson August 2014
”It’s going to be a live show, because that’s who we are. We’re a live band. Right away, we said, “I don’t want to go into the studio and make an album. I want to do a live show.” It’ll be a two-hour live CD/DVD. It’s what we are. We’re not trying to make a hit album. We want to make a damn good live show, and that will transform itself into a video and sound experience”

So with Jean Luc’s and Jon’s remarks ringing in my ears it seemed only right to experience the DVD first as it would explain what we can expect in the coming touring cycle better than any words would do. It also helped to have read  Sean McKee’s sober assessment of the challenges of producing the material shot at Aspen.

Jon spoke extensively about how he designed the show into sequences of approximately 15 minutes, which would blend their heritage and showcase some new ideas where the sum would be greater than its parts.

After the exciting intro which quotes from both principals work the first cycle begins with “One in the Rhythms of Hope”, a jaunty staccato piece where the logic of these two idiosyncratic performers coming together is immediately apparent. Counter Tenor and classically trained Violinist backed by a highly intelligent "top of their game" band. Cleverly the staccato motif is slowed down and provides the backdrop as we move into a new composition written by Enrico Tomat, a mood composer, who provides a soft soundscape, which Jon and then Jean Luc ascend out of reaching beyond the lush backdrop. In concert this section was completed by the refrain from “Yours Is No Disgrace” but instead the third piece up is a swift change of pace and a version of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” which swings thanks to the crisp pertinent “Bruford like” drumming of Rayford Griffin. Indeed I am reminded of Bruford’s crisp incisive playing more than once listening to this CD. Rayfords playing provides Jon with the kind of Jazz Swing and empathetic playing and support that seems to come more naturally from a Jazz background than Rock, he is crucial to the feel and atmosphere of the music. Wally Minko re energizes the harmonics of the piece and Jean Luc swaggers all over the solo section.

So 15 minutes in and the calling card is laid out and now we can relax as the band really gets into its stride and we enter a four song section of wonderful grooves out of which emerges beautiful rhapsodic playing, gorgeous flights of fancy in a riveting dream like manner. “Listening” with its vibes sounding keyboard intro gives way to one of three superb vocalizations before a sublime solo from Jean Luc with Jon switching to gentle ripples on the harp. This cool jazz groove gives way to a different type of groove the reggae version of “Time and A Word” which now makes sense in a full-blown band context. This piece shows what clever musicians the Atlantic Years Band are as they offer an authentic and authoritative reading and like “Listening” you wish this piece would never end the playing is such a joy. In concert JIG with its roots in Amharic music cleverly followed the reggae piece but we now move into another double song section. It begins with the sophisticated jazz of “Mirage” with a particularly comfortable insert from JA. It picks up on the same vibe as “Listening”, before seguing into the next groove the calypso inspired piece, which has been a staple on Sound Cloud for a year now. “Soul Eternal”. That early Sound Cloud version from Azigza shows just how much these players can add to a piece it really is lifted beyond its original groove by the additional dynamism of the playing as it moves to a crescendo with great Violin and Guitar trading between Jean and Jamie.

These four pieces are the core of the DVD sublime effortless music full of atmosphere, hidden depths and great playing. The DVD program now switches to a more reflective mood, an after hours smoky “Smooth Jazz” rendition of “Wondrous Stories” and the magical beauty of “Renaissance Of the Sun”. These two pieces bring out on the latter Jon’s most empathetic reading and on the former the most uncertain. The tone and cadence of JA’s voice on WS works well particularly as he clearly has an older voice these days but his syncopation and phrasing does not move far enough away from the 77 version, so you have a sense that whereas Wally and Jamie are nailing it Jon has not travelled the full distance toward the reimagined spirit of the piece. In the hands of Diana Krall or Holly Cole even Streisand they would bend the phrasing much more whereas Jon’s performance is in limbo. What definitely breaks the mood is the wordless quotes from “Your Move” a wrong one. But Renaissance is the highlight of the DVD serene beautiful music making, more harp from Jon, and beautiful elegant music making from the leads Wally and Jean Luc. 

The formal part of the concert DVD over Baron returns for a neat and clever Bass Solo that leads into a perfectly respectable but unsurprising re arrangement of Roundabout. The hour over and the credits play out over a roaring version of Egocentric Molecules entitled (Re Remembering Molecules) a perfectly fitting way to provide a balance of the two heritages.

They set out to offer a calling card to a touring cycle now a year later it is here - Mission accomplished.

Post Script


Malcolm once said to me if you cannot think of anything good to say about a piece of music or a concert then I believe people should stay quiet. As I have dedicated this review to his memory I will hold to this thought and simply say for me the DVD works perfectly but the CD, which loses some music and gains other pieces, covers ground on which I will “Stay Quiet”                 

Friday, 3 July 2015

Chris Squire The Route To Glory


The Bruford Years

Chris and Bill made six albums together culminating in his solo album "Fish Out of Water",  the latter was recorded three years after Bill had left Yes, an interesting statement about their artistic relationship.

They both have said see they saw their relationship as one created out of musical differences. What I see  is a substantial meeting of musical minds both determined not to be shackled by the orthodox principles of the rock rhythm section.  Once they really got up a head of steam and found their own vocabulary on a piece like "Long Distance Runaround" they made Yes sound like an electric string quartet. The rhythm and momentum of the piece comes from all the players short runs, staccato bursts and melodic interjections were as likely to come from Chris's Bass as Ricks keyboards. It gave the music a lightness, warmth and colour and sense of joy that can often be missing from a more sexually driven, angst ridden rock and roll perspective.

The great legacy of those first five albums from Yes is to take pleasure in the extra ordinary linear development of the bands music and none more so than the Bruford-Squire rhythm section. By the time they had arrived at the spring of 1972 they had reached that blessed place where restraint and space were as important as action. The outcome maybe highly sophisticated and demanding of the listener but the internal logic was as clear as a bell because fussy over complication had given way to highly sympathetic artistic choices. There final album together oozed a beautiful control, logic and symmetry which had a curious affect on their reputation in the long run.

Chris's death has offered many of us with a surprising insight into the high regard in which Yes and Chris are held, having travelled for a very long time with the notion that Yes represents some kind of establishment anti rock and roll stance. The reality is and always was quite different "Close To The Edge" may look very polite and well behaved from a distance but it is highly unorthodox and all of the players including Chris made provocative and obnoxious choices and this was carried through to Chris and Bills final album together.

"Fish Out of Water" may include flute, woodwind and a church organ but is mixed in with Chris's grinding churning unorthodox bass playing at turns pumping away giving momentum or offering a beautiful melodic figure. "Safe (Canon Song)" is haunting and cinematic but the three key set up runs from Chris where he takes the lead and stalks around like a giant four legged spider are audacious and a forerunner of so much playing from others in the years ahead.

I for one have taken huge pleasure from Chris's advocacy of his relationship with Bill in recent years. At the time Chris Welch said it was like Rolls quoting Royce and they certainly were the rolls royce of rhythm sections.

The White Fish Years. 

Yes continued to expand with broad screen albums right up to the summer of 1977 but that clarity and punch of the earlier years was replaced with something more informal and warmer. Ironically as  the band catapulted itself into the 80's with Geoff and Trevor the really noticeable quality of the Drama music was that Alan and Chris seemed at last to have developed their own form of clarity and controlled incisiveness that had characterised the first rhythm section. But the really glorious element of Chris's career from now on was his development into a much broader and rounded musician who was able to play with complete authority a huge range of styles and infuse whatever piece he was playing with his own musical personality. This I suspect is what is at the heart of his respect by his peers. The pop rock playing on "Owner of A Lonely Heart", "It Can Happen and "Big Generator" made you think he would have been quite capable of fitting in with "Duran Duran", "Rhythm  of Love" a hard rock outfit.  The ska influenced "Lightening Strikes', reggae of "The Messenger" and A.O.R. "The River" all work and largely because of the authentic playing of Chris. Through out this period from 1983 to 1999 there would always be something signature from Chris and I particularly liked the way his friend Billy Sherwood, with whom he made the Conspiracy albums, caught his playing on a piece like "New State of Mind"

Driven by Jon Anderson "Zappaesque" desire for left field musical adventures Chris's final album with Jon highlighted the other crucial element he brought to Yes his vocals whether singing in unison or harmony. Chris's contribution to "We Agree" is sublime. Indeed his vocal talent underwent something of a renaissance in the first decade of the new century recording "Swiss Choir" which is at its best when Chris sings the beautiful solos on "In the Bleak Midwinter" and  "The Three Kings".

A Route To Ones Self. 

Whilst the final years of his life will be remembered for his determination to bring the Yes experience to their fans without J. A. in attendance for me the most personal and interesting element was his belated decision to prepare a second solo album. The music was eventually used elsewhere but when you look at "The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be" and "Can't Stop The Rain Falling" these are highly personally statements from an older man capable of self awareness and self deprecation. I like to think that shows he had finally found happiness and some sort of groundedness within the crazy rock and roll lifestyle he inhabited. Certainly the vibe I picked up from my fellow travellers, whom new him much better than I, was that was the case.

On the 2011 tour in the UK he finished every concert by thanking us for our loyalty. Thank you Chris for yours it is treasured. Onward On The Silent Wings Of Freedom.